Is It Better to Empty Your Flowerpots in the Spring or Fall?

by | Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Is it better to empty your flowerpots in spring or fall? Here are 5 reasons to do it before winter.

I used to leave everything in my flowerpots until spring. The whole shebang. Dead flowers, old potting soil, all of it. And for a few years, everything was fine.

But then, I lost a few flowerpots to cracking. (Ugh.) I also learned about some pesky insects that like to overwinter in potting soil.

Now I’m on Team Fall.

There is no right or wrong approach here, so if you prefer to wait until spring, it’s okay! But here are 5 reasons to consider emptying your flowerpots in the fall.

#1: Fall is a good time to get rid of your old potting soil (dirt).

In the fall, I’ve found there are more ways to get rid of old potting soil, like local leaf and composting drop-offs. Not every one of them takes old potting soil, but some of them do. It’s one less thing to worry about later.

Flowers that are dead are placed in a brown, paper compost bag

#2: You take insects out of the equation.

There are pesty insects—like leaf miners and budworms—that will overwinter as “pupae” (little cocoons) in soil. And your container of potting soil can be a great place to call home. Emptying your flowerpots in the fall helps take insects out of the equation, so you’re less likely to have issues next year.

#3: You can protect your flowerpots from breaking over the winter.

Some flowerpots are vulnerable to cracking and breaking over the winter—like clay, ceramic and resin pots.

Here are examples of winter freeze damage on several neighbors’ flowerpots. Do you see how parts of the flowerpots have cracked and fallen off?

Example of winter freeze damage on a glazed ceramic outdoor pot

Winter freeze damage on flowerpots--this can happen when you wait until spring to clean out your pots.

Some pots can absorb moisture directly into their surfaces. When that moisture freezes, it can crack or damage your pots. I suspect this is what happened in the photos above.

In other cases, moisture can get into the old potting soil that’s in your pots. When the soil freezes, it can expand and break your pots—including your resin (plastic) pots.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

And we get A LOT of freeze/thaws in the West!

When you empty your flowerpots in the fall, you remove the potential of old potting soil freezing, expanding and breaking your pots. Plus, you can move your flowerpots (that aren’t too heavy) to a garage or a covered porch, so they’re protected from moisture. That way, they last longer.

#4: You can remove the salt build-up on your pots while it’s still relatively fresh.

Cleaning your flowerpots is like cleaning up after a dinner party. Most of us don’t ENJOY scrubbing the lasagna dish or the mashed potato pan, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to get the residue off while it’s still fresh.

The same is true with your flowerpots.

Brush the insides of your flower pots with a soft brush

We have hard water in many parts of the West, including Colorado. It can leave deposits of different types of salts (calcium, magnesium and iron) on the inside of your flowerpots. The build-up looks like a white, crusty material. It’s similar to the crusty material that can appear on kitchen and bathroom faucets.

And some types of popular flower fertilizers are based in salts. These salts can build up inside your pots too.

Do you see the salt build-up in the below? One of my neighbors hadn’t cleaned her flowerpots before. She was struggling to keep her flowers looking good. (Her flowerpots also didn’t have holes.)

This flowerpot had never been cleaned, and it had a lot of white, crusty build-up from salt residue.

At some point, all this salt build-up in your pots and soil can affect your flowers, especially after it builds up over a few years. It can become toxic to your plants.

Not to mention, salt attracts H2O molecules. It can pull water out of your plant’s roots.

I’ve found that this salt residue is easier to remove in the fall when it’s still fresh. It can become more of a chore to remove after time has passed, especially if you don’t do it every year.

#5: You have one less thing to do in the spring!

I know, I know, this means you have one MORE thing to do in the fall. But hey, it can be nice to get it done. That way, you can focus on cleaning up your garden in the spring or doing more of the fun flowerpot stuff, like planting.

Related tips 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 professional garden writer, master gardener, blogger and Colorado girl. I help flower lovers in the intermountain west get more beauty with less effort. More about Ann >>

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