KC Gardens

How to maintain your container pots through the winter season

Whether plastic, ceramic, concrete or terra cotta, containter pots can survive the harsh winter season if properly stored.
Whether plastic, ceramic, concrete or terra cotta, containter pots can survive the harsh winter season if properly stored. Kansas State University Research and Extension

Container gardening is as popular as ever. Containers can range from inexpensive plastic to pricy ceramic. Now that winter has arrived, what should we do with them?

Plastic pots can be exposed to the elements, but the concern with them is the sunlight. Over time, ultraviolet light fades the color and makes the plastic brittle. This brittleness leads to cracks and splits. With plastic, you can either leave the pots outside, or you can move them into a shaded area to reduce sun exposure.

Concrete is a durable material that will last forever, but concrete pots are heavy and not easily moved. Good quality concrete should be able to withstand the winter conditions. But over time, freezing and thawing of the moisture in the material breaks down. Protecting them from moisture absorption will help extend their life.

The classic pot is made of terra cotta. There is just something about the rich, earthy color that works with many plants. The issue with clay pots is they are porous. This is one of the reasons they make great growing containers. It can also spell doom over the winter. The pots absorb moisture, which then shrinks and swells with winter freezing and thawing. This swelling causes these pots to break.

Extend the life of clay pots by storing and keeping them dry. Pots exposed to the rain will eventually fail.

The best recommendation is to remove the soil and store indoors. If left outdoors, they can be placed under a deck or wrapped in plastic. If the soil is left in the pot and stored outside, make sure it remains dry — moisture will wick from the soil into the pot.

Glazed and fired ceramic pots come in a variety of styles and colors and can be expensive.

Depending on the quality they will absorb moisture if left outdoors and will break down like their terra cotta cousins. The best recommendation is to remove the soil and store these pots indoors, such as in the garage.

An alternative is to not pot directly into the fired container. Instead, use a plastic insert. Once the season is over, simply remove the plastic pot. The glazed container is left fairly clean, lighter and ready to be stored. If there is no room in the garage, the pots could be stored dry or wrapped in plastic outdoors.

Be sure to leave some containers out for winter as they can easily be transformed into festive holiday decor.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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