Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Overwintering Potted Gardens

Garden Ghosts

Garden Ghosts

Hello fellow readers,

With the recent below freezing temperatures my garden ghost routine of covering pots with sheets to keep them from freezing has begun. Admittedly it’s silly as acceptance that the growing season is over will eventually set in; about when I grow weary of the ritual or when the ghosts are more in view than the plants left in hiding.

Potted gardens have become more than annuals as many include perennials and even small shrubs to kick them up a notch. Mary ‘hug-a-tree’ feels guilty letting plants that can come back die in their pots, but truly it’s okay to let them go. Our annuals are perennials in warmer zones after all so what are we supposed to do, save the world? Sound convincing? I’m not buying it and neither is Ron from Bangor who asked how to overwinter his pots. I’ll bet Ron has ghosts too (smile).

Concrete, glazed or terracotta pots with or without plants will crack if left out in the winter with the exception of the fancy schmancy ones made to withstand old man winter. Generally fiberglass, polyethylene, or structural foam pots can remain outside and while insulating, even plants that are suitable in our zone will suffer from the freezing and thawing of roots if left unprotected. Some say that 2 zones hardier (zone 3 plants in zone 5 for instance) may overwinter just fine. Still they can be easily killed if water accumulates and freezes so be sure they drain well.

You can plant the pots themselves (if freeze tolerant) in a holding spot dug in soil to the top of the pot until next year. Or gather them against the north or east side of your home and cover with a foot of shredded leaves or straw. Containers moved into an unheated building such as a garage or shed where temperatures remain slightly above freezing is ideal especially for breakable terracotta.

Regardless of your technique, roots must never dry out so keep plants moist until the first hard freeze and check the soil whenever the temperature rises above 40°F. Lastly it’s important to allow your plants to go dormant before putting them to rest. So maybe my garden ghosts aren’t so silly after all? Boo!

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