Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:15 pm

As the gardening year draws to a close and cold gusts replace the warm sun, a few safety precautions need to be taken on the balcony and terrace and preparations made for the winter. Tidying up, cleaning, taking exotics to their winter quarters – let’s take a look together at what needs to be done now!

To-Do List for Balcony in Autumn

Before we jump into the fray full of motivation, we have put together a rough overview of all the necessary work for you, which we want to work through one after the other:

  • Install cold protection on containers for hardy plants.
  • Take annual plants out of the tubs
  • Bring exotics into the warm
  • Store/reuse old soil
  • Clean and maintain empty planters and equipment
  • Stow accessories weatherproof
Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly
Some preparations on the balcony and terrace especially please our feathered visitors

Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly

Preparing hardy plants properly

The easiest way is to start taking care of your potted plants. For (conditionally) hardy plants such as figs, olives or berry bushes, which are allowed to spend the cold season outside on the balcony, it is now time to think about protection against the cold. It can happen that the frost comes as a surprise guest even before the onset of winter. To do this, wrap the pots well with the appropriate material and mulch the soil (brushwood or fir branches are great). Different varieties of frost protection are available in stores, such as fleece made of sheep’s wool or other natural materials; but the bottom line is that you can also use discarded bubble wrap and give it a new purpose. The only important thing is that the material has insulating properties. The bare trunks of your trees should also be wrapped (fix the material – not too tightly – with a string). In addition, you can put a wooden or polystyrene plate under the buckets, so your plants have a good all-round protection.

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Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly
Here the entire bucket was packed again in a bag filled with leaves.

Perennials & herbs: less is more

With perennial herbs and perennials you have little work otherwise; apart from the measures already mentioned, you don’t actually need to do much more, on the contrary. Old leaves and plant parts should not be cut off cleanly, but left as they are and only removed in spring. This has several advantages: on the one hand, the withered leaves offer extra protection for the plant, and on the other hand, many small, useful creepy crawlies and insects can find shelter here. Especially in the big city, you thus create valuable winter hiding places quite incidentally.
Annual plants: Time to say goodbye

Most annual plants will now slowly say goodbye to nirvana and can be composted, among other things. For diseased and pest-ridden remains, however, it’s time to throw them in the garbage can.

Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly
Annual plants can also be disposed of in the spring and serve as insect hiding places in the winter

Exotics: Off to the warm

Our frost-sensitive specimens, which originate from southern regions and have to spend the winter in a frost-free place, can now be prepared and moved. Once the new arrivals are settled in, you should carefully check for pests and diseases on the plants – they have an easy time of it during the cold season and can develop into a full-blown problem (which we certainly don’t want!). Check out Lemon “Zeus” and Olive “Olivia” for two great tutorials on how to properly overwinter heat-loving plants and what to look out for.
Before it gets windy…

Once frost protection is in place for perennials, you need to pay attention to placing the containers as protected as possible. Autumn is often a turbulent time, and we don’t want everything to blow up in our faces. Often it is enough to move the plants to a less draughty house wall, preferably in small groups. That way they can stabilize each other a bit. In addition, it is always a little bit warmer there – an advantage when the dreaded frost announces itself.

You can also secure small trees and delicate shrubs by tying them to a really stable place, for example to the railing or a sturdy stick that you stick into the ground. You should also tie the flower boxes on the railing with a thick cord so that they cannot become independent in a storm. Alternatively, or in addition, you can ensure safety by weighting down the pots and tubs. This is easily done by placing a few large stones on the ground. Make sure that there are enough free gaps so that the water can seep away and the soil remains aerated. If a full-blown hurricane is approaching, you have to consider what to do: properly secured and heavy buckets can remain outside if the wind is reasonably well intercepted by the surrounding house walls or trees. Sensitive plants and objects you should rather bring temporarily in safety, until the air is clear again.

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Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly
Basement entrances or the downwind side of the house provide shelter in stormy weather.

What happens to old soil?

The soil from the tubs in which annual plants previously stood is a little all-rounder and by no means belongs in the trash. If you want to reuse it next spring, it makes sense to collect and store it in a large, sealable and ideally insulated container. Afterwards you can store them in the shed or garage, in an emergency a rain-protected corner on the balcony will do.

Here you can also find various ideas for reusing or upgrading old soil.

Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly
Here we took old soil to fill the bucket of the fig before mulching

Wellness for empty tubs

Next to those in which hardy fellows grow, empty containers are now left behind. As long as it is not yet freezing cold outside, you should take the opportunity to give them a thorough cleaning, if only for the sake of appearance and hygiene. Lime-containing water, traces of roots that have crept through the drainage holes of the saucers and soil can simply be brushed off with a brush and some dishwashing liquid dissolved in water. If lime has attached itself to clay pots and does not want to be removed, the not-so-secret secret tip is vinegar: A shot of vinegar essence dissolved in a bucket of water successfully declares war on the white streaks. Then rinse with clear water, turn upside down and let it air dry – done!

Once all the buckets are dry, all that’s left to do is stow them away. You can sort them by size, stacking one inside the other to save space. With ceramic or clay pots you have to be a little more careful, otherwise they will scratch each other. It is important that you store them in a place that is as protected as possible; on the one hand, UV light leaves its mark on the planters after several years, which is why a little time out over the winter is good for them. On the other hand, the stormy, wet and cold weather gets to them in the long run. If you have a large enough garden box or chest that can be locked, you can store them here as well. Otherwise, pretty much any protected space is suitable, whether it’s a shed, garage or storage room.

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Fit for the winter: Prepare balcony & terrace properly
Lime should be removed not only for the sake of appearance, because in the long run it also clogs the permeable material of the pots

For the finishing touch: garden tools & Co.

Now is also the best time to give your tools a general overhaul and replace defective parts if necessary. Once you’ve taken care of all the plants and tubs, you can clean scissors, spades, gloves and the like with clear water or a weak dishwashing solution if necessary and put them away afterwards. Since especially in autumn and winter all kinds of dirt and dust is blown, it makes little sense to properly clean the floor and all corners. You can safely postpone this until next spring, because now many insects and other small inhabitants retreat into protected niches, where we would like to disturb them only reluctantly. So sweeping up the rough dirt once is quite enough!


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.