KC Gardens

Container pot care for winter

Concrete container

Tip of the Week

Container gardening is as popular as ever. Who cannot resist a colorful pot on the front porch or patio? I know at the Patton household it would not be summer unless the patio was full of mixed containers, providing an added splash of color while relaxing in the lawn chair or standing at the kitchen window.

Over the years I have collected a number of containers. Some are fairly inexpensive plastic, while others, nice ceramic pots, I picked up after watching for sales. Now that winter has arrived, what should we do with our containers to help ensure another season of beauty? Some pot materials will tolerate the freezing and thawing that occurs, while others could crumble under winter’s harsh conditions.

Plastic Containers

Plastic pots are not harmed by the freezing and thawing that takes place, and will be at home exposed to the elements. The concern with plastic containers is the sunlight. The ultraviolet light will, overtime, fade the color and make the plastic brittle. This brittleness can lead to cracks and splits. I know from experience. I have picked up an aging plastic pot by its rim, only to have it break off in my hand.

With plastic, you can either leave the pots exposed to the elements, or you can move them into a shaded area to reduce sun exposure.


Concrete is a durable material that will last forever. Concrete pots are heavy and not always easy to move. Concrete, if of good quality, should be able to withstand the winter conditions. But over time, the freezing and thawing of the moisture in the material starts to break down the bond. Concrete pots are usually left to the elements for the winter. But protecting them from moisture absorption will help extend their life.

Clay and Terra Cotta

The classic pot is, and probably always will be, terra cotta. There is just something about the rich, earthy color that works so well with so many plants. The issue with most clay pots is the fact that they are porous. This porous nature is one of the reasons they make great growing containers. It is also the quality that can spell doom over the winter. The pots absorb moisture. This moisture in the pot then shrinks and swells with winter freezing and thawing. This swelling is what causes these pots to break up under winter conditions.

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, or out of the elements. 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 is dry — moisture will wick from the soil into the pot and the results will not be good, come next spring.

Ceramic, Glazed and Fired

The latest trend in containers is the decorative, glazed pots. They come in a variety of styles and colors for any garden. Unfortunately, these are really just clay pots with a decorative coating. Because of the glazing and firing process, these pots can be expensive and why you should protect your investment. The result is, they will absorb moisture if left outdoors and will breakdown like their plain, clay cousins.

My recommendation is to remove the soil and store these pots indoors, such as in the garage. This is the safest way to ensure survival. To help facilitate the move indoors for winter, I do not pot my plants directly into the fired container. Instead, I use a plastic insert. Once the season is over I pop out the plastic pot. The glazed container is fairly clean, lighter and ready to be stored. This way I do not have to handle loose soil. If you do not have room in the garage, the pots could be stored dry or wrapped in plastic outdoors.

I completed my container storage chores a few weeks ago. I did leave some plastic and concrete pots on the patio and front porch. Now, if I can just find time to transform them into festive holiday décor.


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