Storing Potted Perennials for winter

rj1_ny_maDecember 3, 2009

How can I store potted Perennials for the winter in Lower New York. I am moving in January, so I dug up many of my favorites and potted them to take to the new house. But I do not know what to do with them once the cold weather comes. (I cannot believe it is still warm and its December). Should I store them in a shed or garage, or do they need sunlight when they are dormant. I'm afraid to leave them outside in the dead of winter thinking they will freeze solid.

Also, my hosta are very large and wont fit into pots even after division. Can I divide them and store them without re-potting them, or should I wrap them in burlap with topsoil?

I hope someone out there has a suggestion. Thanks

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

how far are you moving..

is the deal done???

can you move them to the new place .. in advance????

after closing [in dec.] but before moving [in jan], the prior owner allowed me to move 1500 potted plants ... half went in a pole barn.. half stacked on their frozen sides against the barn ... either way works... but the one in the barn came out of dormancy two months early ... [i am sure they questioned my sanity .. but did so in private ... lol .. and now.. looking back.. i question my sanity at the time]

what zone are you in ???

zone appropriate stock should not care if they freeze solid.. the issue is the frozen soil turning into an ice cube ... hence tip them after frozen... so melt water can not accumulate ... roots need air.. as much as water ... they cant hold their breath all winter waiting for thaw ...

no dividing now ... hosta should be near bullet proof .. as long as they stay fully dormant all winter ... and late into spring ...

the key is... GET THEM DORMANT.. AND INSURE THEY STAY DORMANT ... black pots can get hot in winter sun ... and thaw the soil.. and that is where problems will start ...

give us some more info .... and while you are at it.. figure out how to insure they dont freeze to the ground.. and you not be able to move them when necessary ...


    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 12:48PM
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They don't need light at this time of year so storing them in a garage or shed should work fine as long as the temperature remains right around freezing -- not too much warmer and not significantly colder. You want to maintain full dormancy but still provide cold protection. In my climate, I wouldn't hesitate to divide hostas now -- they are incredibly tough plants and can take that kind of treatment with ease. Given your choices, I'd prefer to divide them now and repot rather than just wrap in burlap but either way, I doubt you have any concerns.

The most important consideration is to protect the root systems of the potted plants through the cold weather. As long as your storage facilities can offer the conditions listed above regarding temperatures, you should be good to go. Make sure the soil remains just barely moist during this period....don't let the pots dry out completely.

Have you figured out what's happening when you move? January is too early for planting perennials in your area, so you will need similar storage arrangements at the new place until it is an appropriate time to plant.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 1:11PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Exactly where all this is happening is a very important piece of information. We can be discussing anything between a functional zone 8 (urban NYC) to a functional zone 4 (Catskill Mtns). Left to my own devices, I'd assume lower Westchester, which is usually a fairly warm zone 6. That's warm enough that I'd shove them in pots, throw the pots outside somewhere, and leave them. The biggest problem would be if an ice storm hits, and the pots are frozen to the ground when they have to be moved.

However, whatever is going on, I strongly suspect that my version of 'cold' and the OP's version of 'cold' have fairly little in common.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 1:23PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i grow about 2000 different hosta in my z5 ... and it is about 30 days to normal ground freeze


i am not surprised gal can do otherwise in her zone ...

hosta have been winding down and hardening off since early october... cutting into soft tissue and freezing them within 30 days is not recommend ... but i have to admit i have never tried ...


    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 1:39PM
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Thank you for the good advice. My zone is 5. I am moving about 10 miles away, the same zone. Our contracts are hung up on a well test, so I cannot move them yet, but maybe after the contracts get signed. I think I will go with shed storage so they don't freeze to the ground, but I am concerned about coming out of dormancy early. I won't close until Feb, and the new house also has a garden shed that I can move them too.

My hosta are at least two feet in diameter, some larger, so i thought about moving them in white plastic bags left over from pellet fuel with a base of compost. Any better suggestions? I have to leave some in the garden to get my house sold, so I thought about slicing each in half.

My neighbors have been looking at me like I'm crazy since I'm in the garden in Dec, but I guess they will understand when the for sale sign goes up.

Thanks for your suggestions, it is greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 8:04AM
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"As long as the temperature remains right around freezing" as Gardengal suggests, you'll be fine and they won't break dormancy. I would steer away from using compost as a base and would use something neutral such as newspaper, shredded leaves, aged sawdust, etc. These materials would just let them sleep and not give them any reason to perk up. Keep them slightly moist but not wet. A bit of water every three weeks or so will do well.

Not that I would recommend it but a couple of years ago I took a footing of hostas out in mid-November and forgot it. I had 'dumped' it where it was to grow, but it wasn't planted. The next spring it started growing as if nothing had happened. Some of them are really tough cookies!!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2009 at 7:56PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

Not sure what they cost, but maybe a small rental unit at a storage place could hold your flowers till spring, or you have access to the new property sheds.

We have cheap barn-like units with doors, all size interiors from quite small, 5'x7' to large, that folks can rent. Not heated or insulated, so they tend to be the temp it is outside.

This would let you move the pots, bags, bushels, put plant roots under cover, but still cold and dark. You might need the storage for only a couple months, but then you don't have to worry about them either. They won't be stuck to the ground, drowning in rain, still getting nice and cold. Wouldn't matter if the pots froze solid, as Ken said, plants do that in the ground too.

Bales of peat moss might make good packing and insulation to let them STAY cold. Better to be cold all the time than doing freeze/thaw and trying to grow. Sawdust also is good packing to keep things cold. I am filling my rose collars as quick as the temps get up a little, so the roses will stay cold consistantly the rest of the winter here. Was way too warm until last Tuesday to pack them for winter, muddy ground, warm temps. Ground is freezing down now! Pine sawdust type pet bedding would work, readily available at farm store or pet stores. Not the same as shavings which are fluffier and work. Just that shavings don't pack down as well. I would not use cedar bedding, has cedar oil in it.

Good luck with your move, don't get frostbite working outside. Really COLD here in MI the last couple days. And that weather is heading your way now!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 4:19PM
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brit5467(7b/8a Coastal VA)

I ran across this post and boy do I feel like a dumbass. I'm still new at this so thank God for SMART people :o) I've been stressing for two months now about my getting my "potted" perennials back in the ground, having also dug them all up AND even bought more on clearance (I'm an addict :)

Here I was, worried about them freezing if I didn't get them in the ground....duhhh !! Never gave a thought to the fact that the ground freezes TOO. Didn't realize they don't need sun or that they needed to go dormant. I guess I thought if the soil in the pots froze that they'd die. That THAT was different than them freezing in the ground.

We don't have extremely cold weather here. It rarely goes below 30. Lately, it's been switching between mid-50's and low 30's. But still, I needed to know all I learned and now I can stop stressing out.

You wanna laugh? I even ran outside last night, WITH THE FLU, to cover them all up with sheets to protect them from our first frost. What WAS I thinking? Apparently I wasn't. They'd get "frosted" in the ground, wouldn't they...duhhhh. And now I have all those sheets to wash :o(

Now my only concern is the tulips I planted last month are already coming up??? Some are 2" tall. I'm going to post on the bulb site to see if they freeze, will they still bloom in Spring?

Thanks everyone !!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 4:56PM
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I grow bare-root perennials every year in pots on my breezeway during the growing season but come November, I allow them all to go dormant, then move them in their containers inside my unheated, uninsulated garage. Last year I had 4 clematis in pots, numerous astilbe, peony, coreopsis and assorted others stacked inside the garage. Gets down around zero here in northern CT come January/February. So they froze inside the garage, but when they froze they were already dormant just as they would be outside in the ground. When April rolled around I gave each container a small sip of tepid water about once a week. They all gradually broke dormancy, including the clematis, and sent up new growth. Probably would do better in the ground with some mulch but they all survived.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 3:36PM
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I do similar as gardenweed, but I start in March to get them awake. I gradually introduce them to the light by first putting them near the garage door and opening it when I am home. I usually move them outside by April to quickly get in sync with their outdoor siblings.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 8:40PM
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I often end up stashing a pot or two in the unheated, detached garage as well. I don't water them so much as occasionally throw a few mitts of snow onto the pots now and then, figuring they'll melt and water the plants as needed. I too bring them back out in early March or so.

When I moved in midwinter, I eventually ran out of pots and ended up putting some tougher things like hosta in plastic grocery bags, and they were okay. But I did attempt to stash them in such a way that their roots weren't totally exposed.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 11:18PM
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