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Winter protection for perennial
container gardens    
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[OCT. 5, 2004]  URBANA -- Perennials grown as a part of a container garden need to be protected from the cold of winter, said Sharon Yiesla, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Lake County.

"Perennials grown in the ground are winter hardy and will grow again next spring with no protection provided," she said. "However, perennials grown in containers must be treated differently. For plants growing in containers, the volume of soil surrounding their roots is much less than the volume of the soil around the roots of a plant grown in the ground. That means there is far less insulation, and the roots may freeze in winter, leading to death of the plant."

There are three main ways to provide winter protection, she noted.

"The simplest way is to move the containers into a garage or basement that does not freeze," she said. "This keeps the root system of the plant warm enough to survive the winter. Plants can be brought inside as the top of the plant dies down but before hard freezes occur. Plants brought inside will need very little watering. Check soil occasionally and keep it only lightly moistened."

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Containers can also be sunk into holes in the ground, leaving the top part of the plant exposed. This provides the insulation needed to keep the roots alive through the winter season.

"Container gardeners who live in apartments may not be able to use either of these methods," Yiesla said. "However, there is another option to try. Group plants together on a patio or balcony and place materials such as straw, compost or mulch around the containers to provide insulation."

[University of Illinois news release]

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