Your flowerpots looked gorgeous all summer, but the seasons are changing. You want to know what to do with your outdoor pots in the winter. (Good thinking!)
Before you start getting winter snow and freezing temps, it helps to:
1) Empty the dead flowers and dirt (or “soil” in garden lingo) from your outdoor pots.
2) Move your empty pots someplace dry. Ideally, you’d store them someplace that stays above freezing (like an attached garage). If that isn’t possible, you could put them on a covered porch or in a shed.
If your pots are too heavy to move…
3) Turn them upside down or cover them with a thick plastic tarp to help keep the moisture out.
Why does it help to protect your outdoor pots?
If you leave the soil in your containers and moisture gets in the soil, the soil can freeze and expand, damaging your pots.
Even resin (plastic) pots can get freeze damage and crack open.
I learned this the hard way when one of my resin flowerpots cracked down the side, like a man splitting his pants.
Some flowerpot surfaces can hold moisture too, like glazed ceramic and terracotta pots.
Here are examples of winter freeze damage on several of my neighbors’ flowerpots.
Do you have to do anything with your outdoor pots in the winter?
It’s a matter of your risk tolerance for your pots.
I used to leave my pots outside all winter with everything still in them. But after having several pots get ruined, I’m all for protecting my pots during the winter.
With that said, I have friends who don’t do anything with their outdoor pots in the winter. They’ve NEVER had issues with their pots breaking. And they have glazed ceramic pots that should be vulnerable.
It all depends on how much you want to risk it.
If you have pretty outdoor pots that you don’t want to lose, it’s a good idea to protect them from freezing winter conditions.
Friends, the end of the flowerpot season is like the end of a dinner party.
You’ve had an amazing evening of laughter, stories and delicious food. (“Oh my God, that was so good! I need that recipe!”) Your heart feels so full.
And then… you walk into your kitchen.
Sweet Mother of Lassie.
Your counters are lined with dirty dishes, empty wine glasses and serving utensils you didn’t even know you owned. You have caked-on pots and pans tucked into the stove, the refrigerator and other secret hidey-holes.
And ugh, your dishwasher only holds so much!!
I always have a similar feeling after a season of gardening.
After a summer of pretty flowers, there’s some flowerpot clean-up to do.
And let’s be real, the clean-up isn’t going to be the highlight of your season. 🙂
“Wait, whaaat??? I need to clean my pots?”
Rest easy, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do!
But a little clean-up can make a BIG difference for your flowers next season.
With just a little cleaning, you eliminate those issues.
Here’s what to do with your flowerpots when your flowers are dead.
First, here are supplies for cleaning your pots that are helpful to have handy.
1) Empty out the dead flowers, roots, and used potting soil.
I suggest you set up a garbage bag and a compost bag. Compost bags are often available in the fall at local hardware stores.
The trash bag is for dead plants that looked diseased. Throw away any plants that looked diseased at the end of the growing season, as well as all the potting soil from that flowerpot. (No judgment! These things happen.)
The compost bag is for dead flowers and roots that were healthy. They can get turned into “compost.” Compost is an awesome material we can add back into our garden soils to improve their quality. Pull the dead plants out of your flowerpots. Add all of your dead plants that were healthy at the end of the season to the compost bag. (You also can create your own compost pile, but that’s a topic for another time.)
When your flowers are dead and you’ve emptied everything out of your pots:
Brush off any lingering dirt and white residue from the inside (and bottom) of your pots. I use a soft bristle brush from the hardware store. Avoid brushes that are too stiff because they can scratch your pots. If you can’t get the white residue off with a brush… You can try using a plastic puddy knife to scrape and get under the tough spots. It works pretty well, particularly on residue at the bottom of your pots. You also can try soaking your flowerpots in a mixture of vinegar and water. (If you’re wondering what the white residue on your flowerpots is, scroll down for quick explanation.)
Rinse your flowerpot with water. I like to set the hose nozzle on the “jet” setting. It typically does a good job removing dirt.
Remove any roots that have grown into the holes at the bottom of your pot. You want to make sure the holes are free of any debris for the next growing season, so water can drain freely from your pots.
Repeat these steps for each pot.
“What IS that white stuff on my pots?”
Many of us have hard water. That white residue is likely a build-up of calcium and salts from watering and fertilizing.
It won’t be great for your plants’ rootsnext season.
I’ve found it’s easier to get the white residue off when it’s fresh in the fall, rather than waiting until the spring.
It’s kind of like the pan you cook lasagna in. That cheese residue will be much easier to get off before it fully hardens. Clean the residue while it’s still fresh, if you can.
But no worries if you decide to wait until spring!
3) Store your flowerpots for the winter.
To help keep your pots clean and protect them from cracking or breaking:
Store your flowerpots out of the elements, if possible. Ideally, you’d store them someplace that stays above freezing temps, like an attached garage. That way, pots that are vulnerable to freeze damage and breaking (like terracotta pots and ceramic pots) are less likely to crack and break. But if that isn’t an option, store your pots in a shed or on a covered porch.
If you leave your pots outside, you may want to turn your pots upside down or cover them to keep them clean and keep moisture out.
You may be wondering: “Do I have to protect my flowerpots?”
Nope, you don’t have to, and your flowerpots may be fine!
But just understand, freeze damage can happen, depending on your winter.
See the photo below of one of my neighbor’s flowerpots for an example. I have a bunch of cracked terracotta pots from one of my first winters in Colorado. Oops.
Most years, I stop here and call it good.
And if you’ve made it this far, awesome!
You’re well on your way to getting next season’s flowers off to a great start.
But it’s worth noting…
The steps above haven’t sterilized our flowerpots.
You may be thinking: “Ummmm, there’s more??? Why do I need to sterilize my flowerpots?”
Plant diseases can carry over from year to year — and not just in the soil, but also on the pot itself. This means a disease you had this last season could ruin next season’s flowers.
So, it’s a good idea to sterilize your flowerpots if:
You had (or suspected you had) diseased plants last year.
You’ve gotten used pots from anyone. It’s best to clean them before you use them.
You want to grow flowers from seeds in your flowerpots. Seedlings need an environment that’s as clean as what you’d create for a newborn baby.
In February 2021, an arctic blast covered the western United States like a frosty ice pack from the kitchen freezer. Where I live in Colorado, the high temperature for several days was a not-so-balmy zero degrees. The nightly lows danced between -15 and -20 degrees below zero.
(It may have gotten even colder where you live!)
In the spring, most of my marginally hardy perennials did not come back.
Marginally hardy perennials are your “iffy” plants.
They could come back after winter. They should come back if your winter is mild. But if you get extreme colds or tough winter conditions, they’ll die.
So, if you want to know, “How can you tell if a perennial is marginally hardy?”, read on.
You’ll find a helpful way to tell if a perennial is marginally hardy.
Use this tip to choose plants that are more likely to handle our tough western winters and return to your garden!
First, a disclaimer…
(Don’t you love when people lead with disclaimers?)
There are MANY things that can affect whether perennials will survive winter and return to your western garden in the spring — things like moisture, drought, wind, root health, micro-climates in your landscape, etc.
But to keep this simple…
We’re going to focus on winter temperatures.
Every plant has a threshold for how cold it can get over the winter and still survive.
If it gets too cold, it will die.
Your marginally hardy perennials won’t come back if it gets too cold for them over the winter.
And this is where plant hardiness zones come into play!
Black-Eyed Susan (officially, Rudbeckia — Rude-bek-ee-uh) is an easy-to-grow flower that can add big color to your western garden, particularly in the late summer.
But often, rookie gardeners plant Black-Eyed Susan…
and it doesn’t come back
If this happens to you, you may find yourself thinking:
“Well, that article was a load of crap.” 🙂
Or worse, you may think:
“I guess I just don’t have a green thumb.”
I’m here to tell you this isn’t the case!
But there are helpful things to know about Black-Eyed Susan that don’t always get mentioned when you see this plant on the “Best Flowers for Colorado, Utah & the West” lists.
So, in this article, you’re going to learn…
How to tell the difference between the short-lived vs long-lived Black-Eyed Susan
(the biennials vs perennials)
I’m going to use a little garden lingo later in the article (bring on the Latin!), but I promise I’ll explain what it means.
Some types of Black-Eyed Susan are much shorter-lived than others.
So, what are some ways to know what you’re buying?
Take a good look at the plant
Look at the botanical name on your plant tag (the Latin jibber-jobber I’ll explain in a sec)
The plants below are Black Eyed Susan.
What do you notice?
In the Plant A photos, do you notice the hairy leaves and stems?
When you touch them, they feel fuzzy.
If your Black-Eyed Susan is fuzzy, you likely have a shorter-lived plant
Fuzzy Black-Eyed Susan plants are known as Rubeckia hirta, and they tend to be shorter-lived.
If you’re new to plant names: Rudbeckia describes a group of plants with similar traits. Hirta is like a descriptive adjective. It loosely translates to “hairy” or “rough” in Latin.
To keep things basic, plants with the botanical name, Rudbeckia hirta, include different types of hairy Black-Eyed Susan.
We’ll chat about WHY plants are hairy at another time.
(Does this make your list of topics you NEVER thought you’d talk about today? “Hey, why are plants hairy?”)
But for this post, don’t let the hair distract you. The hair itself is not why the plant is shorter-lived.
It just happens to be a clue you can use to assume you have a shorter-lived plant.
It also helps to look for the botanical name, Rudbeckia hirta, on the plant tag.
But growers use ALL kinds of names on plant tags, so this isn’t always a sure thing.
The next question you may be wondering is,
“Okay, so how long do hairy Black-Eyed Susan plants live?”
Generally, Rudbeckia hirta are “biennials” or “short-lived perennials.”
They go through a 2- and sometimes 3-year life cycle, and then they’re done.
Depending on your garden center, you’ll likely find young, leafy Rudbeckia hirta in the “perennial” section of the store — the section with plants that come back.
But, Rudbeckia hirta can be sold as “annuals” too.
(Because it’s never simple, oye!)
Annuals give you colorful flowers for one season, but typically don’t return next year.
So, you also may find types of Rudbeckia hirta in the “annual” section of the store, along with other plants that only bloom for one season.
You can just enjoy varieties like these for the summer and fall, and pull them out at the end of the growing season.
But if you have them in your flowerpots and you WANT to see if they’ll come back, you also can move them to the ground in the early fall to see if they’ll return next year.
Depending on where you live, these plants may survive a winter or spread through their seeds.
Even though Rudbeckia hirta plants tend to be short lived, they CAN make new plants from their seeds, so Black Eyed Susan may keep reappearing in your garden year after year.
(But reseeding is a topic for another day.)
Okay, back to our comparison photos.
What do you notice about Plant B?
Plant B has smooth stems and leaves.
It’s a different species of Black-Eyed Susan.
Specifically, it’s the longer-livedRudbeckia fulgida.
Fulgida loosely translates to “shiny” or “glimmering.”
Think of it as a shiny-leafed Black-Eyed Susan.
I’ve included some varieties above you may find in your local garden center.
‘Goldsturm’ is VERY popular.
It was the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year — an award given to plants that are standouts from other varieties.
This plant should return for many years.
Let’s chat for a second about mountain gardens at high altitude.
Typically, the types of Black-Eyed Susan we’ve chatted about will successfully grow up to about 9,000 feet.
If you live above 9000 feet, you can still try them, but you may want to put them in a more sheltered spot in your garden.
Also, the hairy version of Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) tends to have a slightly higher tolerance for cold winter temperatures.
Are you familiar with plant hardiness zones? A zone indicates whether a plant is likely to survive the coldest winter temperatures that are expected where you live. Many Rudbeckia hirta grow well up to chilly Zone 3. But Rudbeckia fulgida normally grow better in Zone 4 (or warmer). Find your zone here.
Last but not least, which Black-Eyed Susan is “native?”
A native plant is one that has existed for a VERY long time in a specific region and has thrived without human intervention.
In this case, Rudbeckia hirta (hairy Black-Eyed Susan) is native to the central United States.
If you are interested in native plants for your garden, you may prefer growing Rudbeckia hirta.
Bring on the Black-Eyed Susan!
These aren’t the only species of Black-Eyed Susan, but they’re popular ones. And they’re a great place to start for your western garden.
The next time you’re at the garden center, look for Black-Eyed Susan plants.
Touch the leaves and stems to see if they feel fuzzy.
If you feel hair, you’ll know what that clue is telling you:
You likely have a shorter-lived plant.
Parting thoughts: This article is intended as an overview. It’s good to check the plant tag, or even better, read an online plant description from a grower for the specifics on the plant you’re buying, such as its resistance to animals, how long it should live, its plant hardiness zones, etc. There can be many nuances among individual plant varieties.
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What the heck is turning your plants into lace-y skeletons?
If it’s late June, July or August in the Front Range of Colorado, Japanese beetles may be to blame.
“What do Japanese beetles look like?” you may be wondering.
Japanese beetles are metallic green insects with dark orange wings, making their backs look metallic orange. They have white spots along their sides.
And they will eat their way through your yard with reckless abandon.
Japanese beetles are spreading along the Front Range of Colorado, including the metro Denver area, parts of Pueblo, Boulder and Ft. Collins.
So, what can you do about Japanese beetles?
It’s 100% normal to go out and buy the first products you see to get rid of Japanese beetles.
But, while these products may be well intentioned, many have not proven to be effective in reducing damage on your plants. You may be throwing away good money.
And some products are very toxic to the good insects in your garden, like bees. You may be unintentionally nuking your own garden.
In this video about Japanese beetles, you’ll get:
A basic introduction to Japanese beetles, so you know what to expect
2 primary ways to think about Japanese beetle control, so you use your time well
A look at some of the plants they REALLY like
Myths about ways to get rid of Japanese beetles, so you don’t waste your money on products that don’t work
A more detailed resource, if you want it, that includes Japanese beetle control products on the market
Prefer to read?
Scroll down for the transcript.
I’ve also included helpful resources at the end of this article, including different products you can use to control the beetles.
Transcript of Japanese beetle video:
Japanese beetles in Colorado.
They’re working their way up and down the Front Range.
These beetles can be a royal pain in the bootie for your flowerpots, your garden, your trees and even your lawn.
So, in this video, you’re going to find out what you should know about Japanese beetles in Colorado and how to control them.
Hi, I’m Ann with Go West Gardener.
Inspiring new western gardeners to find their green thumbs with flowers.
Real quick, in addition to my 15 years of hands-on experience with gardening in Colorado, I’ve completed more than 120 hours of formal training in western gardening, and I continue to take courses and workshops, so I can help you with topics like the one today: Japanese beetles in Colorado.
Unfortunately, Japanese beetles are here to stay along the Front Range. So, it’s helpful to plan ahead and know what your options are.
In this video, I want to give you:
A basic introduction to Japanese beetles because there’s A LOT of misinformation out there.
I’m going to share 2 primary ways to think about Japanese beetle control.
I’m going to debunk some myths about ways to get rid of Japanese beetles. (And yes, you will see your neighbors doing these things.)
And I’m going to point you to a more detailed resource, if you want it.
Let’s jump in.
Japanese beetles go through a one-year life cycle, but if you have a yard you care about, the real “joy” with beetles comes in the second half of the summer in Colorado.
Around the very end of June or early in July, the adult beetles will emerge from your lawn and start showing up on your plants.
And now they’re ready to eat their way through your garden in July, August and sometimes early September.
Japanese beetles have two priorities:
To eat and
If you had them last year, you know they will chew their way through your plants, creating holes in your plants and turning them into lacey skeletons.
Depending on the plant, they may eat the flower petals, they may eat the leaves, or they may eat both.
And between their dinner parties on your plants, the females will fly down to your lawn, dig a few inches down to lay eggs, and then come back up and start the process all over again.
So now, you don’t just have the adult beetles to think about, you have their babies too.
As the eggs hatch, the larvae — which are these little white grubs — will feed on the roots of the grass in your lawn.
And they’re especially fond of lawns that we have along the Front Range of Colorado, like Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass lawns.
So, picture this…
You’ve got the adult beetles chewing on your plants above ground, and you’ve got their babies — these little white grubs — chewing on the roots of your lawn.
Not a good time!
As temperatures drop, the grubs will dig deeper into your soil for the winter and then come up closer to the surface again in the spring before they emerge as adult beetles in late June and early July.
So, if we’re going to talk about how to control Japanese beetles in Colorado, it helps to think of them as affecting your yard in two ways:
You’ve got the adults eating your plants, and
You’ve got the grubs chewing on the roots of your lawn
From a control and treatment perspective, you can deal with the adults, and you can deal with the grubs.
Let’s talk about how to control the adults that are eating your plants.
One of the biggest things you can do to PREVENT damage is avoid planting flowers and trees that Japanese beetles love in Colorado.
These are plants like roses, Virginia creeper (it’s a vine you’ll see growing along fences), linden trees and some types of fruit trees.
I had a plum tree that the beetles would just fall out of and land in your hair, like the tree was dripping with insects.
It was so gross.
And that’s just the start of what they like to eat.
Every year I feel like I find them on something new.
But let’s say you absolutely love a plant, like roses, and you want to plant them.
Then just know that your roses will look great early in the summer, the beetles will try to chew them up in the middle of the summer, and then, it’s possible your roses may give you flowers again in the early fall after the adult beetles have died.
Now, you may be thinking, so prevention is great, Ann, but I have beetles NOW.
“What can I do about them?”
“How do I get rid of them?”
“Can’t I just spray them?”
Yes, there are insecticides and some bio-controls you can use to kill Japanese beetles.
But do your research because many of these also have a negative effect on bees and other pollinators — the really good insects in your garden that we need.
Later in this video, I’m going to share a resource where you can find a list of product options for you on what you can apply to your plants, including how toxic they are.
If you DO have beetles and you DON’T want to use poisons, one of the most effective things you can do is to put on a pair of garden gloves, put together a container of soapy water, and then knock or pick and drop the beetles into the soapy water to drown them.
(This works with small amounts of beetles.)
Dig through your recycling bin to find a container you can use.
I will often save an empty, plastic butter container that I fill up with soapy water.
I plop the beetles in and then put the top on until I know they’re dead.
Once the beetles are dead, you can throw them out in your trash, you can compost them, you can even bury them — they won’t cause any harm at that point.
When the beetles are chewing on your plants, your plants are releasing a compound that’s like a magnet to more beetles.
For me, this always makes me think of the local ice cream truck.
On summer nights, it comes cruising through our neighborhood, playing that distinctive musical jingle, and the kids come running to it.
So, your plants are basically doing the same thing as that ice cream truck playing that song, and the beetles don’t want to miss it.
Here’s what this means.
It’s better to get the beetles early before you have a feeding frenzy on your hands.
If your plants haven’t been damaged too much yet, it’s like the ice cream song is really quiet. But if you wait until your plants have a lot of damage — the music will be blaring and more beetles will come.
Beetles are groggiest at cooler times of the day and when it’s darker, like in the evening or early in the morning, so those are the best times to try to pick them off your plants.
If you try catching them during the day when it’s warm, they’ll quickly fly away. I have to say, this doesn’t stop me from trying to catch them, but I often miss many of them.
Okay, so that’s one option.
You can pick off the beetles by hand.
But let’s say you have A LOT of beetles, like on your roses or on your vines.
I recently took a Colorado gardening course where the speaker was talking about using a shop vac to vacuum up the beetles from the vine that the beetles were eating.
I have not tried this, but it sounds interesting if you have too many beetles to pick off.
And you know what I’m talking about when you have 5 beetles the first day, and then 20 the next day, and then 172 the next day.
The beetle party can get out of control quickly!
You’ll still need to kill the beetles when they end up in your shop vac, and you’ll need to find a way to keep them from clogging up your filter.
But I’m passing this idea long in case it inspires you.
If you see beetles on the ground, you can squish them.
A few years ago, there was some question about whether this would attract more beetles to your home, but that’s no longer considered to be an issue.
What the beetles are attracted to is your plants because they’re playing that ice cream truck song.
If you happen to have chickens, you can let your feathered friends help you with pest control.
And the last thing I’m going to mention is that one of our state universities and one of our state agencies are running tests on ways to control the beetles, including releasing other insects that will attack the beetles.
So, fingers crossed we’ll have more options in the future.
Okay, so let’s pause for a moment and talk about one thing that has NOT proven to be as effective for protecting your plants.
You may see your neighbors hanging up bags to catch the beetles — Japanese beetle traps.
And I get it, it’s an appealing solution.
Here’s the thing.
These bags will definitely catch beetles, and they’re great if you’re part of research project on how many beetles are present in your area.
However, they have not shown to lower damage to the plants in your yard.
In fact, you could actually end up increasing the damage.
The reason is these bags are a magnet for beetles to your yard, and the bags don’t catch every beetle.
So you’re basically ringing a dinner bell for the beetles to come home.
Save your money and skip the bag.
Also, you may go on the Internet and read about remedies with different types of oils, including neem oil and garlic.
My understanding is, in the trials that have been done with Japanese beetles in Colorado, these remedies have not shown to be effective.
Okay, so we’ve talked about the big controls you can use for the beetles eating your plants.
But remember, you’ve got the adult beetles on your plants, and their babies are eating your lawn.
Let’s change gears and talk about how you can protect your lawn.
But first, I want to make sure I’m clear.
When you are protecting your lawn, you are NOT going to prevent Japanese beetles from showing up on your plants.
The beetles can fly, and you will still end up with beetles from all your neighbors’ lawns.
The point of treating your lawn is to keep your grass alive.
What happens is the grubs eat the roots of your grass, particularly in August and September, so your grass has trouble absorbing the water it needs to stay alive.
And here in Colorado, this is the time of the year when our grass is already kind of stressed out from the heat, right?
You also may end up with critters, like raccoons, digging holes in your grass trying to get the grubs.
So, here are some options for protecting your lawn.
If you are moving into a new home and you have a choice of grass, the beetles are less crazy about some “warm season” grasses, like Bermuda, Blue Grama and Dog Tuff grass.
So, you may want to do some research on what it’s like to have a warm season grass lawn.
Or, you may want to skip a grass lawn all together.
If you have a traditional lawn, like Kentucky bluegrass, you can keep your grass healthier starting in the spring.
This makes it more resistant to beetle damage.
This means mowing your grass at a longer length (not short like a putting green).
Longer grass means you have longer roots. Shorter grass means shorter roots, and shorter roots are vulnerable.
It helps to fertilize your lawn, so it gets the nutrients it needs.
It helps to “aerate” your lawn — that’s when the dirt plugs are taken out of your grass — so air and water can get down to the roots.
And it helps to give your lawn a deep, soaking water and then no water for the next few days, rather than watering for a short amount of time every day.
All of these steps will keep your roots happier.
And the healthier your grass is going into July, August and September when those grubs are chomping away, the more your lawn will be able to handle the damage from grubs.
Here’s another thing.
Female beetles like damp yards to lay their eggs, so if your lawn is healthy and you can minimize your watering in July and August, you will deter the beetles from laying their eggs in your yard.
This also helps because the beetle eggs and those baby grubs will often die if they dry out.
In case you’re wondering, there ARE some insecticides and bio-controls you can put down.
I will share a resource with you shortly, so you can see your options.
But again, do your research because some have minimal effects on bees, pets and humans, and others are more toxic.
Oh, and there is one treatment worth mentioning that was popular for a few years, but it hasn’t proven to be all that successful in killing the grubs.
It’s called milky spore — it’s a biological control you apply to your lawn.
It’s shown to have a really LOW effective rate for controlling Japanese beetles, so again, you may want to save your money and skip that one.
And if you want to learn more about this, you can read about it in the helpful resource I’ve promised you.