GARDENING CLIPPINGS: Shifting the soil from pots earlier than winter begins

GARDENING CLIPPINGS: Moving the soil from pots before winter begins

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Cheryl and I love container gardening. There were over 30 at last count. Most have now been emptied apart from the five or six on the front door which have recently been decorated with bright yellow mums. In a few weeks I’ll be swapping them out for festive Christmas greens.

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Growing flowers in pots has always been a thing, but it’s only in the last few decades that container gardening has really picked up steam. Growers are now producing plants, both vegetables and flowers, specifically geared towards container gardening. The entire line of Proven Winners annuals are plants that have been selected to thrive in containers.

The troublesome side of container floriculture is their constant need for water. It’s a 10-minute job, which I usually accept from Cheryl because she gets home from work before me.

Tidying up the containers before winter isn’t a party. The small conical shaped pots are a breeze, but the larger round pots pose a challenge.

Gardeners often wonder if it is necessary to remove all soil from pots before winter. By late summer most of the nutrients in the potting soil have been used up and it makes sense to replace it with new soil next spring. But if the pots are more than 12 inches deep, leaving old soil at the bottom of the pot will save you a few bucks.

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What to do with soil that comes out of the pot? Small pots are usually so full of roots that it is almost impossible to salvage soil from the root-bound container. I toss these in the compost heap and in the spring they are easily broken up and added to the mix with other organic matter to slowly create nutrient rich compost.

When I’m tidying up flower tubs, I often get a wheelbarrow or two full of loose, light potting soil that’s good to use. I look for weak spots in the lawn that will benefit from a layer of peat-based soil and a handful of grass seed. Alternatively, the sandy soil vegetable garden will appreciate the addition of peat-based soil, which gives a little water storage capacity.

The best place to store pots over the winter months is in a dry garden shed. For us, that’s fine for the smaller pots, but the larger pots are emptied and turned upside down against the east side of the house, which rarely gets rain or snow. To avoid frost damage to cement, ceramic, or clay pots, I set the empty containers on pieces of wood to ensure the pots don’t come into contact with wet soil underneath.

Next spring I’ll get some bags of soilless growing medium to fill up the containers and get them ready for new plants in May.

I’m often asked if it’s okay to use topsoil in containers rather than the more expensive growing medium. Peat-based growing medium like Pro-Mix potting soil is mixed to hold nutrients and drain easily. Top soil, loam, and triple mix are best used in vegetable gardens and landscape beds.