Wintering in pots

Thistle and Maize(Zone 5a- Eastern IA)August 4, 2014

Just curious how some others (especially in zone 5 and northern) handle wintering your hostas that are in pots. I only have 2 right now (4 if I keep the lakeside paisley prints I just received in the big container I stuck them in until I had a permanent spot ready for them and could play around with sun amount by moving the pot)
I put Great Expectations and a tiny Empress WU in pots. The Wu was just tiny when it was shipped to It had two small leaves. I figured in a pot would lessen the chance it got lost or I would weed it by accident. And the GE was potted because it wasn't doing well in the ground so I put it in a pot and it's already doubled its size this summer so I guess it likes it there.
But the winters in Iowa are not forgiving, and I've never bothered with potted plants outside, thinking it would be a headache to deal with them and worry over freeze, too much water from melted snow stuck in the pot and unable to drain because the soil is still frozen, etc... WInter is hard and spring thaw can be a different kind of difficult when all the snow melts but the soil is still frozen.
So... any midwesterner or further north uppers have any advice? They're small pots so I could stick them in the garage, but do I need to remember to water during the winter even if the plant is dormant? If I do leave them out, should I wrap the pots or bundle them with mulch?

This post was edited by ThistleAndMaize on Mon, Aug 4, 14 at 16:50

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I've lost every hosta that I've tried overwintering in pots.

What has worked 100% for me is slipping them out of the pots in late fall and 'planting' them in a pile of wood chips from the tree trimmers.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 12:47PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I have, several times, wintered-over hostas in pots by storing them near the back (i.e not close to the doors...) of our uninsulated/unheated garage. The pots are watered before they go into storage in late November, and not watered again until late March when they have thawed out. The pots are not covered or protected, but we do store a fair number of pots in there for the winter, all grouped together, so the mass of them probably provides some protection.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 1:03PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

especially in zone 5 or higher

==>> of what significance.. are warmer zones to you???.... i suspect you meant colder than you.. which would be lower ...

anyway ... get them dormant.. and keep them dormant.. and you will have no problem.. and the colder it is.. the better to accomplish such ...

and it is best to not allow black pots in winter sun .. in case they warm too much ...

and tip them over.. so they dont accumulate water in late winter .. they do not prefer to be frozen into an ice cube.. roots need air ...

and this is no different than any other plant in a pot in winter.. in the midwest ... and we will include IA ... lol ...

if you try the GW or google search.. you ought to find a lot of lod posts on such.. it would be a great way for you to get some learning ... so as to ask more specific questions ...


ps: expect the GE to die... just expect it.. and if it doesnt.. be pleasantly surprised... i dont want any expectations on your part.... that it will be something you did wrong ... its carp ... so dont blame yourself ...

pps: tiny TC EWu ... might also be a winter problem ... because its a tiny TC.. not because its an EW ...

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 3:36PM
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hostas_for_barb(6b Ontario)

I am in 6b across from Detroit. Last year I overwintered my pots in my unheated shed. When it was warm, a couple of times, I went out and dropped some snow on the pots for moisture. The pot I left outside under a canoe stored about 3 ft high got just too much rain/snow I guess and the crown rotted and I lost the hosta. Someone told me that when they have a pot that is too big to move inside or are out of space, they just tip the pot over on its side so that it doesn't get too much rain or snow. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 3:46PM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

I'm in Texas, so I'm repeating what others have said. (I usually just leave my out where they sit.)

Once they freeze, tip them over on their sides. Place them on the North side of the building so they don't get any sun. (Some people cover them with tarps, but it also draws critters that might eat the roots, so you have to monitor them.) Don't upend them until pips are clearly showing.

Some people dig a hole and plant the pot in the soil after they've gone dormant. I hope I remember this correctly: add a little bit of soil on the top to make sure it's at the level of the soil around it. Don't leave the edge of the pot higher than surrounding soil or it will hold water. When you dig them up in the spring, remove that extra soil, so that you are back to the original soil depth of your pot.

There are several ways to do it. The point being like Ken said, get them dormant, keep them dormant. Others will chime in who've actually done it.

The thing you want to avoid is freezing and thawing that leaves the crown sitting in wet dirt (or water) for prolonged periods at a time.

There is always a risk of losing a plant whether it's in the ground or in a pot. The weather is not always the same, so what worked last year may not work this year. We had a particularly bad winter this year with lots of resulting losses. Everyone will be particularly negative this year because of their high losses in pots. Take that into consideration with what people say.

I, too, lost a lot of mine. I've never watered in the winter. This winter, I should have. I was so afraid of rotting the crown that I used a few ice cubes to wet them a little. I should have taken the water hose to them. But, I live and learn.


    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 4:26PM
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Thistle and Maize(Zone 5a- Eastern IA)

Higher meant northern, Ken.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 4:49PM
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I've wintered over more than a dozen hostas in gallon-size black plastic pots for the past 4 years just by setting them on my concrete breezeway up against the house foundation. I'm no longer surprised when they come up every spring since they've been doing it for so long no matter what the harsh weather brings.

Is there any guarantee they'll come back again next year? It's gardening; there ARE no guarantees.

They're small pots so I could stick them in the garage, but do I need to remember to water during the winter even if the plant is dormant?

I wouldn't expect anything to come through the winter in a "small" pot; none of my perennials have survived winter in anything smaller than a gallon pot in good growers mix. As soon as temps warm in early spring, I generally will either water the pots or else let melting snow or rain do it for me.

Your "tiny" Empress Wu likely has a root system proportionate to her size which suggests she could survive the winter if given sufficient soil to allow her root system to resume growing once the weather warms in Spring.

"...the winters in Iowa are not forgiving"

Nor are the winters in New England but miraculously plants survive whatever Mother Nature chooses to throw at them. They adjust/adapt in much the same way as humans do and survive as best they can. They can (lucky for them) go completely dormant when conditions are too severe. The only plants I've lost over the years have been those that are "iffy" or short-lived perennials.

Roots don't absorb more water than the plant needs; if there's too much water, the healthy roots ignore it. I need to remember to water during the winter even if the plant is dormant?

Ask yourself a question: what would the roots of a dormant plant do if it was watered?

I've wintered over many gallon pots of perennials, hostas included, and left them to the mercies of the weather. Left on the breezeway to get snowed on or tucked inside the unheated garage where they go completely dormant with no supplemental water, mine have survived.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 8:10PM
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I had four large pots that I left right out in the garden for several years with absolutely no issues. BUT last year I lost them all. Won't be doing that again!

This year, I'll take them out of the pots (they're cement and too heavy to move) and find a place to temporarily plant them, or will put them in moveable pots somewhere more protected.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 8:22PM
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Thistle and Maize(Zone 5a- Eastern IA)

Small pots = 16 inches. I said small because they're small compared to free roaming underground space they'd have if planted.

Anyway, thanks for all the replies.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 10:30PM
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One winter, and one winter only... I took my planter hostas (amongst other various plants) and buried them in the compost heap, threw a thin layer of mulched leaves over the top, and kept it from drying out until the first freeze hit. Im getting the itch to mess with planters, sooo if I do, I will try it again, as it worked great through a typical central WI winter and couldn't have been easier. I most certainly already regret the work I am even thinking about creating for myself in watering and upkeep :/

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:05AM
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I have large pots and small pots of hosta and they all do fine stored over winter in my unheated garage. The hosta I lost this spring was one that was planted outside in the garden. Stuff happens.

After the hosta go dormant, move the pots into your garage. When stored in a controlled environment, imo there is no need to blanket or insulate the pots.

Every few weeks, or at least once a month, stick a finger a couple of inches into the potting media. It shouldn't feel especially wet, just cool and damp. If the media is dry, sprinkle a handful of snow or a few ice cubes on top. Check again the next week. If it is dry like before, add more snow/ice cubes.

Be vigilant when you find the potting media seems to be drying quickly. It might be helpful to schedule a particular day each week to check this.

Two or four pots shouldn't be a giant hassle to care for, but could be forgotten with the winter holidays and such.

You already have the right idea for storing your potted hosta in your garage. As to your concern about watering, just remember to check them every so often. Other than that they should do fine.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:26PM
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Last winter when I moved I didn't even have enough pots. I dug them all up and left the soil on the rootball. Sat them all up against the house and left them all winter. 100% success rate planting them all in april. Most even flowered this year

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 1:11AM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

I've done that with other perennials....something always ends up plunked against the fence....but never a hosta. Proof as to how tough they are! Glad you didn't lose any!

Hope you are enjoying your new home! Would love to see some latest pics..:-)


    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 1:29AM
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mikgag Z5b NS Canada

I just throw mine under my garage...never lost one.

3 key factors:

1) dark
2) unheated
3) dry

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 9:35AM
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Thistle and Maize(Zone 5a- Eastern IA)

Ahh - snow or ice cubes for watering - very smart idea. I'd throw them in the ground but that Great Expectations was unhappy in the ground but now doing really well in a pot. (as Ken said - I'm expecting it to die but I'm kind of hoping it will be an exception because there have been some beautiful GE pictures here lately)
Thanks again everyone.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 9:53AM
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newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

For those overwintering in pots, here is my experience:

In 2011 I overwintered pots by storing in my unheated garage. I added no water until I saw growth begin in spring. 100% success.

In 2012 I overwintered pots again in the same garage, buried some in the garden (pot and all) and put some in a north facing window well with a wood deck walkway built right over top of it. 100% success.

But that year the spring rains worried me as I watched the top of my buried garden pots fill with water. I cut a notch out of the top of some of the pots (if I could) which allowed for drainage, and I removed the pots that were not frozen to mother earth (thanks to Ken for his advice!). In early spring, I also noticed that some of the pots in the window well had had a lot more moisture in them while others were dry.

In 2013 I did the same with a few minor changes. I buried pots in the garden and chose garden areas that were dryer and leveled the soil of the pot to equal the garden soil. I also lightly covered the hostas that were in the window well with plastic . And thank goodness for that as last winter we had a lot of snow. So the plastic cover protected the pots from snow melt. I lost two hostas. Both were in small 5 inch pots in the garage.

If I had a choice, I would overwinter ALL my pots in the garage (except for the small ones), but there is only limited space. So I put all my most precious hosta there. From my experience and learning from others, I believe that small pots are at most risk of perishing (6 inches or less) and should be buried in the garden, and this is what I will do this year. Storing in the window well works, but as it is covered by a wooden walkway, snow melt is a worry. The plastic covering provided protection. I will do that again.

My challenge is how to pack in more! If I stack them on top of each other, then I need to know which hosta come up earlier than the others.

So, while my husband is out of the house, I will inspect the garage once more to see if there is any available storage space that I have missed. (But it is his domain and what he says goes.) The double car garage is filled with two cars, my husband's car supplies, and all the "I might need it one day" stuff. Sigh. But that won't stop me!

The other thing to consider is that potted hosta emerge earlier that garden hostas. And that is another challenge!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 12:54PM
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bragu_DSM 5

Iowa here:
if you can, bury the plant - pot and all - in the ground. i also have taken pots in and put them under the unheated stairs to the basement, where they stay cold and dry.

i've tried other outdoors tricks, and the Iowa winters tend to be harsh enough not to trust in if i have a hosta i don't want to lose.

i have very good success burying the pots on the east side of my house, behind the drip line. my house faces south. just don't leave them out and mulch over them. the crowns will rot with the freeze and thaw cycle.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 4:57PM
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CEFreeman(DC/MD Burbs 7B)

Lots of work!
Sure, I'm far more south, but we still get some brief, frigid weather.
I've always either buried them in the ground with their pots, or just grouped them together in a raised bed and on the ground. On the raised bed I put mulch around them, on the ground, I just hoped for the best and got it. This has been my practice for the 12 years I've been gardening, and the 8 years I've had most of my gardens in pots. (Long story)

Good luck to you all up there!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 9:26PM
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