Prepping your customer’s container gardens for winter

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Updated Nov 6, 2019
This winter container follows the thriller, filler and spiller method, but doesn’t limit itself to just plants.

Photo: The Contained Garden
Photo: The Contained GardenPhoto: The Contained Garden

With the seasons changing, your customers may be asking what needs to be done about their container gardens.

While there are some plants that may need to be removed, others like evergreens and hardy shrubs might just need a little bit of a boost to keep them looking good throughout the season.

Take a look at a few tips you can talk to your customers about this winter to help them get the most out of their container gardens.

Take stock

The first step in the process is to take a look at your customer’s plants and see what you’ll be working with. What you’ll need to either keep or throw out will also depend largely on the extremity of your region’s winter climate.

If your customers have evergreens in their containers, these plants should still be able to continue on throughout the winter. Hardy dwarf trees and shrubs can stay planted in the containers, but more tender plants should be taken to either a greenhouse or a sunnier spot indoors.

Some perennials will be able to stay in their containers through winter and some can be planted out in the landscape, so be sure to do a bit of research before making a decision.

When it comes to warm-season annuals, those have got to go. If your customers have a compost pile, these plants can serve as an excellent addition to it.

Once they’ve finished their fall display, ornamental grasses can be cut back to about 4 inches tall and remain in their containers, or they can then be planted out in the landscape.

Hardy vines should be able to survive outdoors, but weaker, more tender ones will need to be brought inside.

If the winter isn’t as harsh in your area, succulents can stay outside in their containers for a while longer, but once the temperatures become too severe, they will need to be brought inside to overwinter.

Protecting containers

Generally speaking, most plants can survive in containers if they are rated at least two USDA Hardiness Zones lower than the zone you’re planting in.

It’s also important to remember that once the ground freezes under the container, water won’t be able to escape out the bottom. The container is more likely to thaw before the ground, and if you happen to have a few rainy days throughout the season, this could result in water being left to stand in the pot. This can cause root rot or the water to freeze once the temperatures drop again. However, this can be avoided by tilting the pots slightly.

Also, pay close attention to the type of containers your customers have and gauge whether or not they are strong enough to last the winter. The more porous a container is, the more likely it is that it will crack during the winter.

For example, untreated terra cotta will absorb water and expand when frozen, which will lead it to crack.

To give your customer’s containers a better chance of survival this winter, be sure to check the amount of soil in the pot. The more soil in the containers, the better insulated the roots will be. If you’re able to, also consider putting some of the existing containers inside other, larger ones and pack the sides with soil or mulch.

You can also take your customer’s containers and cluster them together into one sheltered location, such as next to the house. After they are clustered together, you have a few options for surrounding them with protective material, but be sure to talk to your customers about what they are and aren’t comfortable with having near the house.

One possibility is to put up chicken wire around the clustered containers and fill it with mulch or leaves. Another option is to create a cold frame by surrounding the containers with bales of hay, and follow this by covering them with an old window, glass door or plexiglass sheet. If this is the option your customers choose, be sure to warn them to keep an eye on the internal temperature, as fluctuating temperatures can make it heat up under the glass and harm the plants.

If you’re dealing with small trees or shrubs, they can be protected by driving three or four stakes around the perimeter at about 8-12 inches from the branches, and finally, wrap them in burlap. Be sure not to let the burlap touch the leaves or needles, as this could lead to frost damage.

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