Sunday, January 12, 2014

What You Can't Do

I have to buy pots with the
combinations already planted up
I've learned what works for me in the garden over several years now, but one thing I have yet to learn is how to manage containers.
I've never grasped designed containers with spillers, thrillers and fillers --- all my pots have one and only one plant in them. That's enough of a challenge to keep watered and trimmed and in bloom. 
I've never figured out how to do large shrubs or small trees in containers, despite the nice magazine photos I see. A shrub or tree gets too big. Too heavy to move, too big to tip over and root prune, too much to deal with. 
I can't make myself spend money on colorful glazed ceramic containers. 
All mine are neutral terra cotta or tan or wicker, Hypertufa or gray composite. 
Most are fiberglass or plastic to survive staying outdoors in winter. Blah.
One effect I kind of liked last summer was the row of tiny plastic terra cotta colored pots with yellow marigolds in them.  Early in the season they were orderly and cute, but later on the marigolds outgrew the little pots.
in May they were cute, lined up at the edge of the gravel
by August they were a yellow mini-hedge, but by September they toppled over

But one thing I have learned that you cannot do is keep potted plants out in the garden over winter.

Theoretically you can, if they are hardy to a zone below your own (because the container gets colder than plants in the soil do.)

But what happens here is that they freeze, and then rain comes in mid winter and you have standing water on top of a frozen root ball and it is all stuck to the ground.

Looks pretty in light snow, but the reality is that the
whole thing will freeze and then act as a watertight
cistern to hold freezing water all winter.
That's what happened yesterday in the Thunderfog.

Warm rain poured down on frozen containers and I looked outside to see my dwarf blueberries and the red honeysuckle drowning in pools of water.

I went out to tip them over to drain, but they were frozen fast to the ground.

Poor things, the stems encircled in two inch thick ice collars, the roots so waterlogged that pools of water were cascading over the rims like Niagara Falls.

When I tried to tip over one of the blueberries to drain it, the solid ring of ice around the stem shifted and severed the woody shrub from its roots.  Now there is nothing left of the 'Jelly Bean' blueberry above the soil line.  sigh.

What you can't do is leave containers outside in winter, even frost hardy plastic ones that won't crack.

I need to remember that and bring ALL pots inside the garage to winter over, even if they would theoretically be hardy enough outside in a pot.

They might survive the temperatures but they can't survive the freeze and then the rain and the drowning in place.