Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Heeling in Pots for a Cold Winter!

So, did you buy those extra bargains at the end-of-year plant sales only to get home and not know where to put them?

Do you have more plants potted up than you have space for in your garden beds?

A potted perennial in the open winter air will get much colder than your other plants in the ground.  So, if you are not sure where to plant it this moment, then an alternate plan is in order. (A side note: A good rule of thumb when buying plants for pots meant to stay outside all winter is to buy plants/shrubs that can handle one or even two hardiness zones colder than where you live.)

One option for your homeless perennials is to "heel in" your plants for the winter months. I believe it is called this because you are burying the pots up to their "heels".

  • First, I like to chose a location with a little bit of shelter (ie. a nearby bush, a fence or wall) but it needs not to be covered completely because you want your plant to be watered by the rain and snow.
My chosen spot: near the fence and lilac bush where they can cozy in for the winter.

  • Next, dig a pot-sized hole to 4-6 inches deep. Deeper will give them more warmth, so if they are your prized baby from your grandmother's rose bush, dig a little more. 
  • "Plant" your pots, filling soil back around their edges. If I have more than one pot, I plant them snug next to one another. Some gardeners dig a trench, which would be much quicker for a large number of pots. 
Geranium 'Rozanne' and a heuchra planted three inches deep in their pots.

  • Then, tuck some leaves or other mulching material around your pots to give some more insulation. It is a good idea to do this for all young perennials for their first winter, even those planted in the garden borders.

Night, night pretty plants. Cozy wishes for the winter!

  • In our cold climate, even some of my larger pots with hardy trees and bushes will be safer with a bit of cover. I just potted up a small Japanese maple tree this summer that I would like to ensure makes it thorough the winter. So I buried it a bit and tucked it on the other side of the lilac... just be sure it has enough drainage holes through the bottom of the pot to let moisture escape.

Potted baby tree heeled in for the winter
The Fall Gardening Tasks Series:
#1 Planting Lavender in wet climates
#2 New perennials for fall planting
#3 Thin Perennial Seedlings
#4 Bring in the tender plants
#5 Mowing leaves into Turf 
# 6 Planting Spring Bulbs
# 7 Edging and Removing Turf


  1. I seriously need to do this for some last-minute clearance-price purchases...thanks for the reminder!

    1. Me too, Scott, me too..... that is why I thought about it! Snow is pouring down here today so some of my plants are waiting for their "heeling in" in the garage.

  2. This is a really good idea - I always have last minute purchases hanging around in pots when the weather turns bad. Here in the UK much will survive, but the last couple of winters have been quite hard & I have stored a lot of pots in cold frames just to be on the safe side. That takes up valuable growing space, so I am going to try this idea - thank you.

  3. Great reminder Julie; BTW I think the expression 'heel in' comes from a time when gardeners bought almost everything bare-rooted in winter so you might need to just get them into the ground very quickly but not in their final positions so you'd just dig a hole or trench and push the earth back with the heel of your boot.

    1. ahh... Thanks Christina! That makes so more sense when thinking of bareroot plants (like roses).... which are seldom sold in my region at this time of year. But I love knowing the origin of phrases! Thank you!

  4. I agree with Christina, its pushing the earth down with your heel that gave us the expression. If you have very cold winters wouldn't the pots be warmer if they were plunged up to their necks where the frost can't get at them, that's what I do with mine. Or maybe yours get covered with a lovely duvet of snow to keep them warm!

  5. What a brilliant idea! I will definitely have to do this!

    1. Thanks Karin! I guess there is still time to do it in your area for another month or so :)

  6. I almost had to do this but found spots for all my potted trees, shrubs and perennials that were to go in the ground...but I have used this method and it works great...hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful Julie!

  7. I thought about doing this for a couple of plants, but put them on my screen porch out of the wind instead. I'm still thinking maybe I should cover them with plastic, though. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!


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