What To Do With Outdoor Containers In Winter

Big, beautiful glazed pots, simple terracotta pots, lightweight resin or fiberblend pots, plastic pots and concrete pots filled with gorgeous, summer blooming annuals that will soon die back. (October 23rd is the first expected frost date in Western North Carolina.)

Question: After the annuals are gone, what do you do with the pots? Will they freeze outdoors? Is it best to take them inside? Let's look at the different types and determine.

FYI: All of the below assumes your pots have drainage holes in them.

Terracotta Pots

In or Out: Don't leave these pots outside in winter. These are non-glazed, porous clay pots that absorb moisture, creating a freeze-thaw heaving that can break or chip the pots. They're great because the pots breathe, allowing air to circulate the roots of the plants, but they're missing the necessary protective sealant from the cold. 

Try This: If you don't have room to store them, or you need that classic look for your winter topiaries, then try a clay pot sealant. Your local hardware or hobby store should carry it. If you can't find the clay pot sealant, try stone sealant. It's quick, dries fast, and is easy to use. An immediate fix is to line the pot with leaf bags. The bag helps keep moisture away from the pot but remember to adjust your watering accordingly.  If all of this sounds tiresome, then store indoors for winter. (A garage or shed is fine, so long as it stays above freezing.)  To store, remove plants and soil, clean the interior of pots with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, and let dry completely before storing. 

Terracotta pots are loved for their simple look, and neutral colors. They're best moved indoors for the winter, where the non-glazed clay won't break or crack.

This clay pot full of succulents needs to go inside for the winter, Neither the pot or the succulents are winter hardy. 

Glazed Pots

In or Out: Ceramic, glazed pots are heavy and hard to move. Once they're placed, do you really want to move them? Probably not. The good news? You don't have to, but you do need to follow a few handy tips.

Handy Tips: The pots should sit on a hard surface to drain well, not flush with dirt or grass. Raised up on pot feet is even better, as water will flow away, avoiding the inevitable mess on the deck or patio. Do not use saucers that collect water. When the water freezes, either the saucer or container will crack.  The goal is to keep water running through and away from the containers. Or, turn them upside down and store in place. 

Best advice: Keep water running draining by planting a winter container garden. The soil will keep the pots evenly moist, and you'll have pretty pots all winter.  

This ceramic pot is sitting on a hard surface, the stone. It isn't used for container planting but does stay out all year, as water drains away from the pot. Notice the stone is slightly tiled for better drainage.

Glazed ceramic pots like this one can stay out all winter. Once these mums are gone, a winter container garden can be planted. Just remember that your winter containers need watering, too. Root drench them at least once a week. 

Concrete Pots

In or Out: Outside! This is good news, due to their weight and size. Eventually, like all pots, they will chip or crack, but sometimes moving any container around is worse for their wear than leaving them in one place. Moving them, and potentially banging them into things, can cause small fractures that become cracks.  

What to do with them: Plant a winter garden. Why not? Instead of large, blank pots all winter, add topiaries or evergreens that give winter interest. If you're tired of gardening (really?), clean them as noted above and store in place. If you're still worried about leaving them out, you can cover them with a container cover or tarp. If they're small, turn them upside down and store in place.  

A winter garden in a concrete container.  Concrete pots can stay out all winter, and look best if you plant them. In this pot are evergreen boxwoods, evergreen 'Cintronelle' heuchera and evergreen ivy. The pansies will die back but show again in spring.

Concrete containers come in all styles from fun to traditional. They're easy to plant in winter, adding evergreen conifers and grasses with a few pansies for added color.

Plastic, Resin and Fiberblend Pots:

In or Out: Out is fine for these pots. The summer sunlight breaks down plastic quicker than the cold. The resin and fiberblend are frost proof but will be fine in the freezing temperatures of winter. If you decide not to plant them for winter, clean them out and store indoors.

Get Them Ready for Spring: For all pots, if you take them indoors, remove the soil (use a scrub brush to get as much of the soil out as you can) and clean the pots with 1 part water to 9 parts bleach. Then rinse well and allow to completely dry before storing. 

Hypertufa pots can stay outside all winter, as well. This one is planted with a selection of small conifers available in the store now. 

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, blog writer and outside sales staff.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.