Winter Protection For Containers

 There’s nothing sadder then to venture into the garden in spring and discover a favorite container left standing out in the winter is shattered and damaged beyond repair.

Porous materials absorb water that expands when it freezes breaking up the walls of the container. Pottery, terra cotta, cement and cast stone are vulnerable and should be given protection in winter.

Cast stone pieces made by Campania International ( are manufactured of a high density cast stone mix with a PSI strength of approximately 7500 – Portland cement comes in around 5000. Yet this manufacturer of high quality pots, fountains and sculptures does not recommend leaving them out unprotected in winter.

Particularly vulnerable to frost damage are planters, birdbaths, fountains and sculptures that may hold water.

Pieces placed directly on the ground are also vulnerable to freeze damage because moisture in the material absorbed from the soil expands when it freezes.

The best way to protect your pots is to empty out the soil and store them upside down in a protected area.  If you have to leave them outdoors cover the empty pots with a waterproof tarp.

If you have a pot, statue or fountain too heavy to move, take your cues from public gardens and rig some sort of protective covering. The folks at Campania International recommend you begin by elevating the piece off the ground to prevent the material from absorbing moisture. Campania makes decorative feet designed to do just that. However, a couple of pressure treated wooden slats will also work.  Be sure not block the drain holes when positioning the wood under the containers.

Fountains and vessels that hold water should be emptied and dried. Fill the cavity with burlap bags or old blankets to absorb any moisture left in the bowl or that may accumulate over winter.

After removing and cleaning a fountain pump, according to manufacturers directions, store it in a warm frost free area. Submersible pumps should be stored in covered plastic bucket filled with water so the gaskets and seals don’t dry out.

Anything that may collect water should be fitted with some sort of waterproof cover. Heavy duty plastic sheeting, bubble wrap and waterproof canvas tarps are all possibilities.  Garden centers such as English Gardens, that specialize in fountains and statuary, carry special covers specifically designed for this purpose.

If the object is visible in the winter garden consider decorating the covering. Evergreen wreaths and roping make nice decorative coverings and skirting. A wire topiary frame standing in the middle of wreath is a perfect topper for your winter display. Grape vine wound around a conical shape will turn it into a tree-like sculpture.

If you’re handy consider building a decorative housing to (drop)over the top of the item you wish to protect. Lattice backed with green burlap can be fashioned into an attractive and lightweight screen that will hide a statue swathed in a blue tarp.

Square shaped box frames with lattice sides and finials attached to the corner pieces are easy to construct and can be made in almost any size.

Recycled Christmas trees strategically placed in the garden provide a winter haven for the birds and hide bundled fountains and statues.


bird bath heater


If you decide to keep your birdbath filled with in winter invest in a set of heating cables.  Keeping the water from freezing will ensure the birds have something to drink and you’re your birdbath won’t be damaged when ice forms and expands. Like pottery, cement and ceramic birdbaths are not suitable for use in winter and should be stored away in a protected area. Birdbaths made to withstand the rigors of winter are available at nature stores such as Wild Birds Unlimited.

Many folks think plastic is indestructible but they forget that UV rays of the sun can be as damaging as ice, especially to plastic. So covering plastic pots left outdoors in winter will also help extend the lives of these containers.

So what if your cement or cast stone yard art becomes damaged? All may not be lost. Liquid nails, available at most hardware stores, is great for repairing damaged cement and cast stone pieces. Bondo, used as filler in car repair, is good for filling cracks. Large pieces can be reattached with Liquid Nails. To give further support to cracked pots, after gluing encircle the container with heavy gauge wire just under the rim and tighten it to a snug fit.

As cement ages it develops small opening and cracks in the surface allowing water to penetrate. A clear concrete sealer applied every couple of years will renew the surface.  Worn or damaged areas should be touched up ASAP.  Use an oil base paint to touch up a fountain in need of repair.

Henri, manufactures of fountains (  has a fountain care kit that helps restore and maintain the appearance of cast stone fountains, statues and birdbaths. Priced in the $25 range, it includes a cleaner and lime scale remover along with a sealer spray to restore dull or faded finishes. A water clarifier helps keep recirculation fountain water clean. The Fountain Care Kit will be available at English Gardens and Sears this spring.

Bronze sculptures sport a special patina that is usually protected with a layer of clear solvent free wax such as butcher’s wax. To preserve this patina apply a thin coat of wax annually. Statues that become discolored need have their patinas redone. Contact a local art gallery to find a professional to restore such a piece.

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