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“When Should I Empty My Flowerpots?”

by | Updated: Jul 28, 2021

When should I empty my flowerpots, like these purple petunias?

In the fall, one of the questions that often comes up is:

“When should I empty my flowerpots?”

There are different schools of thought on when to empty your flowerpots, so I’m going to share several options.

That way, you can decide which makes the most sense for you.

#1) Empty your flowerpots when you’re ready

I have a neighbor who has a gorgeous container garden every summer.

Typically, she reaches a point in the early fall when she decides:

“I’ve had enough.”

She’s over it. Her flowers still look good, but she’s ready to be done with watering and deadheading. She wants to empty her flowerpots while the weather is still nice.

You may feel guilty about pulling your flowers out early.

Heck, you may feel guilty about pulling your flowers out anytime!

But chances are, you’ve planted “annuals” in your flowerpots.

Annuals are designed to go through their full life cycle within 1 year.

So, it’s 100% okay to empty your flowerpots if:

  • You reach a point where you’ve had enough OR
  • You want to do your fall chores before it gets too cold

Your flowers are nearing the end of their life cycle, and the killing freezes ARE coming…

You may just be beating Mother Nature to them.

#2) Empty your pots when your flowers stop looking good due to frosts and freezes

(This is what I do)

The majority of the flowers in your containers can’t survive freezing temperatures.

This means there’s a point when the flowers in your containers will get nipped by cold temperatures and die.

I used to think that 32 degrees was the milestone for everything. In grade school, that’s when we’re taught that water freezes, right?

But it turns out flowers have different levels of resistance to frost and freezes. Some flowers thrive in chilly temps. Others? Not so much.

Pansies and violets are cold-tolerant flowers that are resistant to freezing temperatures

Pansies and violets are “cold-tolerant” flowers that are resistant to freezing temperatures.

So, how will you know if your flowers have frozen and are dying?

If your flowers have been nipped by a frost or a freeze:

  • Your flowers will often change colors. You may see them turn brown, black, gray or a yellowish cream.
  • They may go limp.
  • They may shrivel and dry up.
  • Sometimes, they’ll get mushy.

They’ll no longer look right, and it’s their way of telling you:

“Hey, it’s time to dig me out of your flowerpot!”

Dead flowers in a pot - these flowers froze and have freeze damage

If you have frosts or freezes in your forecast and you don’t want your flowers to get nipped, check out 6 ways to protect your flowers from frost and freezing.

#3) Empty your pots BEFORE you start getting consistent freezes and/or snow

So, let’s say you’re having a busy fall. Your plants have frozen and died, but you haven’t had time to empty your flowerpots yet.

You may want to think about emptying your flowerpots BEFORE you start getting consistent freezes or snow.

Here’s why:

There are some types of flowerpots — like terracotta pots, ceramic pots and even concrete flowerpots — that can chip, crack or crumble over the winter.

Check out the photo below for an example of what flowerpot freeze damage can look like.

This is what freeze damage to flowerpots looks like. The side of this flowerpot fell off.

To protect the container itself, it helps to:

  • Empty out the dirt (or “soil” in gardening lingo) and the dead flowers before you start getting consistent freezes and snows
  • Move your empty pots out of the elements if possible — ideally, you’d store them someplace that stays above freezing (like an attached garage)
  • If that isn’t possible, turn them upside down or cover them to help keep them moisture out

If you leave the soil in your containers and moisture gets in the soil, the soil can freeze and expand, damaging your pots.

Some flowerpot surfaces can hold moisture too, like clay terracotta.

I learned this the hard way with a terracotta pot during one of my first winters in Colorado. The pot was empty, but the terracotta was damp with moisture.

The moisture froze, and one of the pots cracked, crumbled and fell apart.

Whoops.

With all this said, I have friends who leave the soil in their flowerpots over the winter in Colorado.

They’ve NEVER had issues with their pots breaking, and they have glazed ceramic pots that, in theory, should be vulnerable.

This is just a matter of your risk tolerance for your flowerpots.

#4) Dig out your flowers if you want to put something else in your flowerpots

If you don’t mind leaving your flowerpots out, you can turn them into decorative planters during other parts of the year — especially if they’re in a spot that’s protected from the elements.

For example, you could:

  • Replace your summer flowers with fall flowers, like the mums in the photo below
  • Put pumpkins, gourds or decorative branches in your flowerpots in the fall
  • Spruce up your containers with evergreen bows or other festive adornments in December
  • Fill them with flowers in the spring that like chillier weather (like the pansies pictured earlier on this page)

Before you empty your flowerpot, consider adding colorful fall mums, like in this blue flowerpot

There’s no rule that says you can only use your flowerpots during the summer!

If this sounds like too much work, then of course, you don’t have to do it.

Just know you have options!

Related topics that may interest you:

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Ann from Go West Gardener with her flowerpots and garden

Hey there, I'm Ann

I’m a Certified Colorado Gardener, dog mama and Midwesterner-turned-Colorado girl. I help budding gardeners in the intermountain west get more confident with flower gardening, so you can create an outdoor space you love. More about Ann >>

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