Fall Gardening Tips: Step-by-Step Guide Pot and Store Plants For Next Year

Fall gardening tasks include emptying your clay flower pots and other garden planters, but do you have to throw everything out and start completely over next year?

No–frugal living advocates will be happy to hear there are climbing vines (such as this mandevilla), perennials, bulbs, corms, and tubers that can be successfully winterized and will perform wonderfully for you next spring.

We’ll take one container planting step-by-step through emptying, storing, and potting up its contents. Follow along with the description and the pictures and you’ll see how easy it is to save your plants, and money, too!

Then we’ll take up winterizing tubers, corms, and bulbs.

Fall Gardening Task: Pot Up for Winter

This mandevilla (the climbing vine pictured in flower at the top of this page) was still going strong in my fall garden when I decided to repot it for winter.

I don’t want to wait until after a hard frost because I want the plant to continue living (though not actively growing) through fall and winter.

You’ll notice how shallow the root system is, and that this climbing vine is still twined around it’s trellis.

Mandevilla is one plant that will perform best if you cut it back hard to overwinter it. This means taking it back so there are few excess vines. You do want to keep an array of leaves.

It looks like this when I’m finished pruning and potting it up. I’ve taken out the thick, multiple vines, leaving only a skeleton of leaves and vines for winter.

I won’t take this plant immediately to the basement and the grow lights. It needs to be watered and remain outside to settle into its new home before I give it another shock by moving it indoors.

Fall Gardening Pruning Tip: When you cut any plant back, be sure you’re pruning it to just below a leaf nodule. If you leave a length of stem, it will merely shrivel and harden.

Notice where my pruners are poised here? See the leaf just below the curved blade? This is where you want to cut any plant you prune.

Fall Gardening Task: Preparing Bulbs, Tubers, or Corms
Here’s a fall garden pot filled with coleus and elephant ear.

Next we’ll talk about how to take the plants out of the garden planter, and then what to do with them.

Here I’ve started with the coleus–they’re shallow-rooted and easy to remove.

You can apply this strategy to many of your own pots. If you want to save some plants in your fall gardening container, remove the shallowest-rooted ones first.

And–if you can–remove the ones on the edges, then work your way to the middle.

Here, that’s simple because the elephant ear is planted in the center, and it’s the deepest-rooted plant in this pot.

What to do with the coleus? Make compost!

There’s no need to waste any plant material unless it’s diseased.

Chop up the plants you want to use in your compost pile (this is so they break down faster and don’t simply rot).

Fall Gardening Tip: If you’re concerned about seeds that may sprout in your compost pile, don’t put seed heads in the mix, as I’ve done here.

I don’t mind if I get surprises, just as long as they’re plants I want.

Since I’ve grown everything I put in my compost pile, seed heads aren’t a big problem for me.

But it may be problematic to you.

If unwanted plants in your compost pile would not be welcome, chop up the leaves and stems and discard flowers and seeds.

I use a small shovel to lift out larger bulbs, tubers, corms, and so on because they are much more deeply rooted.

You need to be mindful of not slicing through the larger tubers

or corms, which as you can see, have lots of roots.

Put your shovel in near the edge of the pot and push it deep.

Work it under the elephant ear and move it back and forth gently to loosen the root ball.

Fall Gardening Tip: Be gentle. Once you feel the root ball is free (and this may take several probes with your shovel), gently lift it up with the shovel.

Pull up, again gently, on the large stems as you work the shovel under the root ball.

This is the easiest way not to break or damage the roots.

Notice how extensive the root system is? Just clean off the dirt and set outside for a week or so (but not in a hard frost) to dry out the root system.

This protects against the root system rotting over the winter.

Then store all your well-dried bulbs, corms, and tubers in cardboard boxes or something similar (breathes, protects, and isn’t sealed shut, which invites rot).

Make sure the storage location remains around 50 degrees all winter. It can get cooler, but not below 40 is best.

Fall Gardening Tip: Here you see the elephant ears in the yard. It’s a good idea to keep the leaves on until you store or label the plants. This protects you from forgetting what they are!

Just be sure that before you store them, you cut back the stem until a short flag remains.

Fall Gardening Tip: A final important thing to remember is to let the root systems dry out before storing, and continue watering the plants you pot up to overwinter.

One type needs to dry out and one type needs watering.

There’s lots more about fall and winter gardening on this website. To learn how to amend your garden bed soils, and address pet stains in your lawn, click here. To find out how to get your garden ready for winter, go from these fall gardening tips to learning about wintering over your container garden. You can also read horticulturalist Ellen Barredo’s advice about winter gardening

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