Cold weather’s coming, but that doesn’t mean gardening has to come to an end. Plant containers are a great way to bring life and color to your landscape, and their portability allows you to move them around to get the best light and warmth winter has to offer. A plant container’s portability also allows outdoor plants to be kept indoors or in a greenhouse during freezing temperatures.

Winter can be hard on both containers and plants, so follow these tips to keep your containers and plants happy and healthy even in the coldest of cold snaps.

Choose the Right Containers

Learning how to grow flowers in pots can be a challenge. It is important to choose the best container to keep your plants happy and healthy during winter. Here are tips for choosing the container that will suit your plant’s outdoor needs: 

  • Materials: Concrete, terra cotta, and other porous pots absorb moisture, which can freeze, expand, and crack the container. Opt for non-porous plastic, resin, or glazed ceramic containers instead. These materials will not absorb excess water, avoiding potential cracking. 
  • Drainage: Make sure containers have drainage holes so excess water can escape. Elevate pots above trays or saucers so they do not sit in water.
  • Insulation: Larger containers hold more soil and retain heat better than small pots. Group smaller pots together for added insulation.
  • Size: Match pots to the size of the plant. Overly large containers with small plants allow too much wet soil to surround roots, leading to rot. 

Select Hardy Plants

Choosing the right plant that can withstand winter temperatures is crucial if you want to have outdoor potted plants all year long. Check plant tags or seed packets for the recommended growing zones and the lowest temperatures the plant can withstand.

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Choose varieties rated at least one zone colder than your area. Plant hardiness zones are based on the average annual minimum temperature. Selecting plants rated for colder zones ensures they can survive your winter conditions

Several plants are suitable for winter weather, including temperatures below freezing. The following plants are excellent candidates for an outdoor container during winter:

  • Cold-tolerant annuals such as pansies, violets, snapdragons, and ornamental kale or cabbage can survive light frosts.
  • Ornamental grasses add texture. Many varieties tolerate cold temperatures once established.
  • Evergreen trees and shrubs such as holly, pine, and spruce maintain their foliage all winter long.

Prepare Soil

Containers require well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Garden soil is too heavy and dense, not allowing adequate water and air movement. Here are tips on how to prepare the ideal potting mix:

  • Use a commercial potting mix, not garden soil, which is too heavy.
  • Mix in compost for nutrients and drainage.
  • Add a slow-release granular fertilizer at planting time, which will feed plants over many weeks. Liquid feeds applied during winter may damage roots.
  • Soil in containers dries out faster than garden beds. Check moisture before watering by squeezing the soil with your hand. If it crumbles, it is dry. If it sticks together, it is moist and does not need watering. Do not allow pots to fully dry out.

Water Wisely

Containers are more prone to rapid temperature swings than in-ground plantings. Their soil can dry out quickly. Use these winter watering tips:

  • Water in the morning, so the soil warms during the day. Avoid wetting foliage at night when it can freeze.
  • Add moisture-absorbing polymers to the soil to reduce watering frequency. These release water as needed.
  • Move containers under eaves or cover with burlap for protection from heavy rains. Do not let pots sit in water.
  • Before a hard freeze, water thoroughly so dry soil does not wick moisture from plant roots.

Give Winter Protection

Despite choosing cold-tolerant plants, it is important to take some precautions when the climate reaches freezing temperatures. Smaller containers can be moved inside. However, there are many options for supporting large outdoor containers during the coldest of temperatures.

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Here are some precautions for limiting frost damage to your plants:

  • In cold temperate climates, move pots to sheltered areas out of the wind and cold. Place near walls or fences.
  • Insulate containers with straw, burlap, foam jackets, or other materials if leaving outside in cold weather.
  • Cover plants with fabric row covers, cloches, or cold frames during freezes. Remove plastic during the day to prevent overheating.
  • For trees, wrap trunks with insulation to prevent freeze damage. Mound soil or mulch for insulation around the base.
  • Place smaller pots inside a larger insulating container filled with bark chips, leaves, or potting mix. This will provide extra protection and warmth for small plants.

Provide Optimal Sunlight

During winter, sunlight is weaker and days are shorter. Optimize sunlight for containers with these tips:

  • Place containers in the sunniest spots possible, preferably facing south or west. North-facing and east-facing sun is often the weakest and coolest. 
  • Prune overhanging branches that may shade your containers during winter when sun angles are lower.
  • Turn pots weekly so all sides receive equal sun exposure and plants grow evenly.
  • Supplement natural light with full-spectrum grow lights on cloudy days or in darker areas.

Perform Seasonal Maintenance

Even the best plant care can still lead to plant decay during the winter. As seasons change, containers need appropriate care:

  • Trim back leggy or damaged growth but leave most of the plant intact going into winter.
  • Remove weeds, fallen leaves, and other debris that can harbor pests and diseases.
  • Repot rootbound plants in fresh potting mix to encourage new growth. Trim back roots.
  • Wash empty containers with a mild bleach solution before storing for winter to destroy pathogens.
  • Drain and store hoses and other irrigation supplies. Insulate spigots and backflow devices.

So, Is Caring for Winter Flower Containers Difficult?

In my experience, keeping potted plants thriving through the cold months does require some extra attention. It really starts with selecting the best plants for fall and winter that will enhance your yard during the gloomiest seasons. But with the right practices, your pots can remain attractive outdoor accents all year-round without too much extra work.

FAQs About Caring for Winter Flower Containers

Should I bring flower containers indoors for winter?

In very cold climates, you may opt to overwinter containers in an unheated garage or protected entryway. But with the right potting mix, plant choices, and cold protection materials, most flower containers can stay outdoors all winter.

Do I need to fertilize container plants during winter?

Fertilization during dormancy is usually not needed. In fact, high-nitrogen feeds can damage plants. Focus instead on water, sunlight, and protection from cold. Resume fertilizing when plants show new growth in the spring.

What signs mean my containers need more winter protection?

Wilting, leaf browning, leaf loss, damaged bark, or splitting stems all indicate cold damage. Check soil moisture and add more insulating materials like burlap or foam wraps to keep roots warmer if needed.

Should I prune or deadhead plants during winter?

Avoid heavy pruning that could shock plants. But removing dead blooms or limp foliage, helps limit disease spread. Cut back long stems to prevent wind damage. Wait for spring growth to resume full pruning.

Can I plant anything new during the fall with winter containers?

Planting 6–8 weeks before a hard frost gives roots time to establish. Hardy annuals, ornamental kale/cabbage, pansies, violets, and cold-tolerant perennials are good choices to plant for winter color.

Editorial Contributors
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Lauren Greene

Staff Writer

Lauren Greene is a passionate storyteller with over 4 years of experience writing and editing. She attributes her expertise from working at local magazines, newspapers, and corporate marketing and communications teams. She has worked on content with topics ranging from plant care, home decor, and home improvement. Lauren resides in Raleigh with her adorable Shih Tzu. You can catch Lauren attending to her plants, spending time with her puppy, enjoying the greenway, or lifting weights at the gym when she’s not writing or researching the latest home improvement topics.

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Casey Daniel

Casey Daniel is a writer and editor with a passion for empowering readers to improve their homes and their lives. She has written and reviewed content across multiple topics, including home improvement, lawn and garden care, sustainability, and health and wellness. When she’s not reviewing articles, Casey is usually playing board games, repainting her bathroom, or quilting.

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