Tips for winter garden: keep pots from cracking; evergreens are a must

evergreens in pots in Williamsville NY garden
The dwarf Alberta spruces on each side of the bench are in seven-gallon nursery pots, then placed into even larger decorative pots in the garden of Jay Jinge Hu in Williamsville. The evergreens replace faded annuals to add autumn and winter interest. Photo courtesy Jay Jinge Hu

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Now that it’s autumn, have you turned your back on your gardens, or will your landscape give you pleasure even throughout winter?

Keep your autumn and winter gardens appealing with these two tips from Jay Jinge Hu, who shared his Williamsville landscape on Open Gardens for the first time this year.

annuals and bench in Williamsville NY garden in summer
In summer, white begonias are on each side of the bench and hostas were leafing out. In autumn, this area would look sparse without the evergreens; see previous photo. Photo Jay Jinge Hu

Keep ceramic & cement pots from breaking in winter

I have always advised gardeners to bring their concrete or ceramic pots inside for the winter. When the water inside the container freezes, the water (now ice) expands and can crack the pot.

I left a couple of large containers out during the winter, and even though they were plastic containers, they split, too. I don’t want to take a chance with my prettier and more expensive ceramic pots, so I bring those inside.

But Hu doesn’t do that.

“With the amount of pots I have, it’s impossible to move them all inside,” Hu said.

His trick to keep his pots safe? Empty plastic bottles.

When he’s planting up his pots in spring, Hu sets the empty drink bottles in the pot as a buffer, then adds his potting soil. In autumn and winter, when the water in the soil freezes and expands, the soil squishes the bottles rather than putting all the pressure on the sides of the pot.

square pot summer in Williamsville garden
A pink mandevilla is just one of many flowering plants in summer, and in winter, evergreens add interest. See the photo below. Photo courtesy Jay Jinge Hu

Evergreens are backbone for winter garden

“We’re drawn to things that flower,” Hu said, but in the winter, you need evergreens.

Evergreens are the backbone of your winter garden. They give you color and texture, and if you clip an evergreen into a topiary, it gives you varied forms, he said. Evergreens also shelter birds and other animals from the wind and cold.

“Evergreens are very important,” he said.

From what he has read, evergreens should be at least one-third, maybe even one-half of your plants.

While you can choose large evergreens, you can also choose smaller varieties and plant them in pots. Hu keeps evergreens in smaller nursery pots. In autumn, when the showy annual flowers in a large, decorative container are done, he places the evergreen, nursery pot and all, into the larger decorative pot.

“The large containers provide extra insulation and shelter to the potted evergreens,” Hu said, “and we have some extra winter interest.”

Keeping evergreens in pots makes it easy to move them around. Evergreens may need full sun in summer, but in winter, they do better in a sheltered and shaded spot to minimize desiccation (drying out), he said.

In late spring, he takes the evergreen out of the decorative pot and replaces it with annuals.

evergreens in autumn in Williamsville New York garden
This topiary golden arborvitae was in a nursery pot all summer, but is planted directly into this rectangular container because it needs more room. It will be taken out of this container and repotted into a larger nursery pot in the spring. Notice all the other evergreens, too. Photo courtesy Jay Jinge Hu

8 Comments on “Tips for winter garden: keep pots from cracking; evergreens are a must

  1. I use plastic bottles in the bottom of my pots for an additional reason. Since my big pots would be super heavy for me to move, plastic bottles occupy space and I only need half of soil for plants I will put there in spring. Works well for me.

  2. I love the tip about putting plastic bottles in large pots, thanks! This year I’m trying to cover my cement birdbaths with heavy “construction” grade plastic bags. My husband and I turned the empty tops over the bases with some old towel in between for and residual moisture. Fingers crossed… it doesn’t look pretty but we have other things to look at that are.

  3. To Connie: I keep the caps on, so the bottle does not get messy when I need to rework the containers. If it is a rigid plastic, I would leave the cap loosely on rather than tighten it.

    To Linda Young: No need, plastic bottles stay in good shape for a long time. I usually keep and reuse the potting mix and bottles in pots, and plant new annuals directly, with some slow-releasing fertilizer in spring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Name *