Terra cotta pots absorb water that can freeze

  • If kept outside over the winter, keep your terra cotta pots stored upside down and elevated off the ground.

    If kept outside over the winter, keep your terra cotta pots stored upside down and elevated off the ground. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted11/7/2021 8:00 AM

Terra cotta containers are best stored out of the elements for winter. When plants in these containers are finished for the year, dump out the growing medium and store the pots in a garage or shed so they are out of the rain.

These containers absorb water, and the freeze-and-thaw cycles of winter can crack them if they are left outside. If you need to leave them outside over winter, it is a good idea to elevate them above the ground, store them upside down and cover with a tarp to keep the pots as dry as possible.


• This is a good time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Avoid planting bulbs in any wet areas of your garden.

Any soilless mix from window boxes or containers can be discarded, mixed in a compost pile, blended into a garden bed or kept aside for one more year. If the growing medium is used for a second year, mix equal parts of the old mix with fresh soilless mix next year. Avoid reusing medium in containers that had any problems with disease.

• Certain bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and crocuses are excellent for forcing in pots in the greenhouse or home. They need to be chilled for six to ten weeks at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to fulfill the requirements of a dormant period. Plant them in pots in the fall and leave in a cold place before bringing inside for forcing. Place the pots in a cold frame outside, plunge the pots into the ground and mulch. Do not allow the pots to dry out. When they are brought inside, gradually acclimate them to inside conditions, keeping them at 50 to 60 degrees for a few days.

• Make your last application of fertilizer with a slow-release form of nitrogen for your lawn in late October or early November. Use one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass.

You should not apply more than three pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass over the course of the year though, so adjust your application rate this fall as needed.

To calculate the amount of fertilizer to apply, divide the rate of nitrogen desired by the percent of nitrogen in the bag (first number of three listed on the bag, use decimal form). Multiply this answer by the square footage of lawn and divide by 1,000. For example, if you have purchased a 24-5-10 bag of fertilizer and have 5,000 square feet of lawn, use the following calculations: one pound (nitrogen per 1,000 square feet) divided by .24 = 4.17; 4.17 x 5,000 square feet of lawn = 20,850; 20,850 divided by 1,000 = 20.85 -- or about 21 pounds of 24-5-10 fertilizer required to cover the entire lawn.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.

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