Preparing container plants for winter
Winter is a tough time for most plants, but it poses a specific threat to containers. This time of year is the perfect time to do all your important prep work. That way, you don’t need to worry when the time comes. Low temperatures and harsh elements can damage even the hardiest of specimens. However, with a little bit of effort and attention, it's possible to protect your plants from winter's icy grip. As well as protecting them from the damage that freezing temperatures can cause, October is also the time to stop feeding as your plants start slowing down for the winter.
It might not be obvious, but plants in containers are arguably more at risk in cold weather than plants in the ground. Firstly, their roots aren’t as well insulated as they would be if they were planted in the ground. When it’s really icy, wet compost can actually freeze which kills the roots of your container plants. Secondly, waterlogged compost that expands when it freezes can also damage or break the containers themselves. Any pots that are sat in water are at risk of cracking when it freezes. A bit of safeguarding will help to see them through the winter and save you from having to replace dead plants or cracked containers.
Waterlogging poses a big threat to your pots and containers when the freezing conditions come in, so it’s crucial that you prevent it where you can. Any saucers or drip trays should be removed ahead of winter, to keep them from freezing over. Similarly, raising the pots is also important to prevent them from sitting in water. Terracotta containers in particular are vulnerable to the cold, so stand them on bricks or special pot feet to lift them up, improve drainage and keep the bottom of the pot out of the water.
If you see a pot labelled as frost-proof, that means it’s water-resistant. What it comes down to is a material that’s better suited to winter conditions than the typical terracotta. Plastic and fibreglass are popular choices for frost-proof containers, as well as a lot of glazed ceramic pots. Glazed is crucial- unglazed ceramic is porous, which means the walls of the pot will absorb water. Great for letting excess water seep out in the summer but not ideal for freezing weather. Check for good drainage, which is essential for preventing the compost from becoming waterlogged.
It’s around this time of year that your plants start to slow down in preparation for their dormant period. They don’t grow again until the following spring, so stop feeding altogether. Even winter-flowering plants don’t really require feeding. When it comes to watering, be careful and make sure to check the compost frequently. It can soon dry out, but you also need to be careful to avoid overwatering. Try to position your pots in areas that get as much light as possible during the winter months. This helps the foliage to stay green and healthy.