If the thought of leaving your colorful containers bare during cool weather gives you the chills, take heart.
In Texas, many plants fare well when overwintered in pots, provided they are given a bit of protection in frigid temperatures.
The trick to container gardening in cold weather is selecting plants with attractive foliage in addition to cool season flowers. For example, dwarf forms of yaupon, nandina, juniper, holly, rosemary, germander, red yucca and boxwood make fantastic container plants. Use these evergreen shrubs alone, or surround them with durable annuals.
You may also use cool season herbs and vegetables, such as salad greens, that produce attractive foliage. Planted in window boxes or patio pots, useful “kitchen” plants provide texture, color and/or scent.
Cool season vegetables that grow well in pots include radishes, turnips, spinach, lettuce, celery, Asian vegetables, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard, chard, radicchio and broccoli. Many of these plants tolerate temperatures into the upper 20s if their pots are covered with frost cloth layers or a heavy blanket.
Many herbs also fare well in cool weather including oregano, thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, tarragon and parsley.
Give herbs full sun and protection from harsh wind, hail and freezing weather.
Pansies and violas thrive and flower in cold weather. Simply pinch off spent flowers for repeat bloom after a freeze.
Other annuals that tolerate cold, but not freezing weather, include snapdragons, pinks (dianthus), nasturtiums and cyclamen. Geraniums enjoy cool weather, but need protection from heavy frost. Unprotected chrysanthemums generally bloom until the first hard freeze. Bulbs such as amaryllis and hyacinth may be forced to bloom in containers.
Large containers function best for cool season use. The extra soil insulates roots. Soil should be light and mixed with a slow release fertilizer. For additional nourishment, apply a liquid fertilizer every few weeks. Water thoroughly 1-2 times a week, but do not allow water to accumulate at the bottom of pots or in saucers.
Always pay careful attention to the weather. Protect sensitive potted specimens in advance of frost or freezes. Commercial frost cloth works best, but blankets will suffice. Do not use plastic sheeting as it lacks insulation. When moved indoors, give containerized plants plenty of light and keep them away from drafts.
For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.