The cold weather season is upon us. Just because the temperatures are dropping, it doesn’t mean that you need to give up on your container gardening.
In fall, your yard is usually filled with the yellows and oranges of mums and asters alongside pumpkins and cornstalks. But once the snow falls, you may be tempted to just stop gardening altogether. However, it’s not necessary to bring in all your plants or leave your pots empty each winter. You just need to know which plants withstand the frigid temps of the season.
The summer months are the perfect time to plant plenty of annuals, which in cooler climates only last one season. But once fall rolls around, now it’s time to plant perennials. These plants are hardy and stand up to the cold.
Always check the plant’s rating. For the best chances that your plant will survive through winter, choose perennials that are rated two zones colder than your area requirements. The roots of plants in a container are not as well protected from the cold as those that are planted in the ground.
Some perennials that should withstand the cold include:
- Coral bells
- Creeping Jenny
- Hens and chicks
- Lamb’s ear
While most annuals fade away when the temperatures drop, there are choices that last beyond the first frost. Some annuals don’t even mind a little flurries or a thin blanket of snow. You won’t find marigolds or zinnias in this list, but you will be happy with an array of sturdy annuals for your container gardening.
Possible annuals include:
- Creeping wirevine
- Flowering cabbages
- Flowering kales
- New Zealand Flax
Consider the Container
When continuing your container gardening through the winter, be aware of which pots you use. Some pots are not made to last in cold weather and may break apart if they freeze. Avoid using ceramic, terra cotta, or thin plastic pots, as they aren’t likely to last through the season. Instead, use sturdy materials such as fiberglass, metal, thick plastic, or concrete.
You may also consider using nontraditional planting spaces, like those listed below. However, it’s important to ensure that your planter has clear drainage holes and is raised from the surface to prevent freezing, which can not only endanger the life of your plant, but may also break your pot.
From Frost to Freezing
To prepare your plants for the winter, there are a few things that you need to know. While you will need to continue regularly watering your container garden, you should stop fertilizing them at least six weeks before the first predicted frost date for your area. This is particularly true for perennials. Fertilizer can prompt new growth, which cannot survive cold temperatures. In fact, new sprouts on your plant may even weaken or kill your plant.
Different freezes will affect plants differently. A light freeze, which is between 29ºF and 32ºF, will kill tender plants. A moderate freeze (25ºF to 28ºF) can cause damage to both tender and semi-hardy plants, while a severe freeze, which is below 25ºF will kill all plants except hardy ones.
Ideas for Winter Container Gardening
When enjoying your container gardening hobby during the winter months, there is no need to stick to traditional plants and containers. As previously mentioned, using sturdy containers is essential during colder months. However, you don’t need to just use regular planting pots for your winter displays.
Some ideas for unique containers include a vintage wooden wheelbarrow, a metal mailbox, an antique tool carrying tote, and even vintage metal toy trucks. Really, the ideas are as varied as the plants you can use to create your masterpiece.
As winter arrives in full force, you may wish to steer away from traditional flowering plants. Instead, think more along the lines of winter options, such as:
- Winterberry holly
- Fir or pine branches
- Dried eucalyptus
- Cedar branches
Consider mixing live and dried materials for a tactile and colorful arrangement. Preserve your late summer and fall flowers, such as hydrangea and allium, by drying them for use in winter containers. When utilizing plants with berries, try misting them with wax spray (available at your local florist or craft store). This will lock in moisture and keep them firm and attached to the branches longer.
Some Final Tips
Container gardening for winter can be a rewarding experience. As you prepare your containers for the winter season, you may wonder what you need to do with the plants that you already have planted.
Dig your perennials out of the containers prior to the first freeze and plant them in a garden bed, unless they can be turned into a houseplant. Each plant responds differently to being kept indoors. Some plants that go dormant may be kept in the basement or an unheated garage. Since each plant responds differently to different conditions, research your plant prior to making a decision about its placement.
As each winter approaches, you need to take a good look at your plants and determine if everything is worth the time and effort to save. If a plant doesn’t look its best or it’s not your favorite, you may just want to get rid of it. This is particularly true if you really enjoy buying or growing new plants in the spring. You can donate the live plant to a friend or add it to your compost pile if you decide not to keep it.
Winter container gardening is an enjoyable hobby when done correctly. Use hardy plants, especially perennials, and be sure that your container is suitable for the cold winter months. Experiment with plants and containers to try something a little different for the winter months, like a window box filled with white pine branches and intermingled with holly branches. When topped with a new layer snow, this arrangement will be a delightful display despite its simplicity.