Preparing & Storing Garden Containers For The Winter

Learn how to properly clean and store garden containers to ensure blemish-free pots and disease-free plantings next spring.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

As the gardening season comes to a close, it’s time to empty, clean and store your decorative containers. If you live where the temperatures regularly dip below freezing, and your garden containers are not frost-proof, moving them to a protected site is a must for the winter months. With the right care, storing garden containers for the winter will prolong their life and save your gardening budget.

Attractive, quality garden containers aren’t cheap, and if they’re made of a permeable material, such as terra cotta or glazed ceramic, moisture can easily get into the pot where it’s subject to freeze and thaw cycles. The constant expansion and contraction that takes place through the winter months can cause containers like these to crack or crumble. Take action now to prevent this from happening.

Tips For Emptying Garden Containers

At season’s end, you can always use garden pots to house holiday greenery, miniature evergreens or other seasonal decorations, but ideally, storing garden containers for the winter safely means emptying them first.

As you disassemble your containers, you may find yourself asking if you can reuse the potting soil from year to year. While reusing potting soil is very tempting and high-quality soil is not cheap, ideally, you should fully replace your potting mix at the start of every season. By the time the end of the growing season arrives, the soil is largely devoid of nutrients and often filled with many fibrous roots. It could also contain soil-borne diseases, such as blights and leaf spots. Because of this, you should fully replace the potting mix every year. This is especially important when growing disease-prone vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

When freezing temperatures arrive, pull the plants out of your containers and toss them onto the compost pile. The used potting soil can go there, too, or you can use it to pot up perennial divisions to pass on to friends.

Cleaning Empty Garden Containers

Give your pots a good scrubbing with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water) before storing them. This kills most plant pathogens, including both fungal and bacterial diseases, that might otherwise survive the winter clinging to the container itself. Use a stiff brush for this task, and rinse and dry them well before storing garden containers for the winter.

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Storing Garden Containers For The Winter

After your scrubbed containers are dry, invert and stack them in a garage, basement, shed or other dry, protected site. If you don’t have such a space, stack them on a palette or patio, making sure their bases are elevated up off the ground. Cover the stack of pots with a sheet of plastic or a plastic tarp; anything that will keep water from seeping into their pores and causing them to crack will do.

Come spring, you’re stored containers will be ready to roll. They’ll be disease-free and in great condition for the coming gardening season.

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