Over-wintering Tender Plants

 Cool evenings, crisp mornings and pumpkin spice lattes at the coffee shop – fall is in the air! Perhaps you have a particularly beautiful hanging basket or container and you’re feeling sad that it will die when the cold weather comes. For special plants, you may want to try to over winter them. Over wintering means that you will bring the plant inside – either to the garage, basement or living area. Perennials and shrubs that are hardy in this area and which stay outdoors generally do not need extra protection, although a reasonable layer of mulch is always a good idea.

Not all plants are good candidates for over wintering. Generally, plants that do well are tender perennials (which are often grown as annuals) and tropical plants. See the list below for specific examples.

If you do want to over winter a few of your container plants, here are some guidelines. First, check the plant thoroughly for bugs and disease. You do not want these in your house! If bugs are present, use the appropriate spray to clear them off. If any leaves or stems look diseased, cut them out. If the plant isn’t healthy and happy now, you may not want to go to the work of keeping it. Be sure to bring it inside before the frost. If the leaves get even a little bit nipped by frost, recovery can be difficult.

Try to place plants you bring inside so they’ll get the most available sunshine. A south facing window, of course, would be best but those aren’t always available. Even in a southern exposure location, the plant may stretch toward the light simply because of the lower angle of the sun during winter. Continue to water the plant, but allow the soil to be on the dry side. You should not need to fertilize unless the plant is actively growing.

The hope is that the plant will go into a semi-dormant holding pattern for the winter – not really growing, but not dead. This is much easier said than done – humidity is very low here in the winter, the house is a little too warm for dormancy, and the sunlight is weak. Many plants will drop their leaves and make a mess. Others will make it through the winter but they won’t be nearly as pretty next spring as they were when you brought them inside. In this case, next spring you can cut the plant back liberally and again watch it grow and (hopefully) flourish.

Over wintering tender plants is difficult. Some will die despite your hard work. Don’t feel bad about it, instead keep trying – gardening is a constant learning experience!

Over winter well and look decent as houseplants:
Cordyline and Spikes
Phormium (Elephant Ears)
Tuberous Begonia
Keep as dormant bulbs/corms/tubers:
Tuberous Begonia
Sweet Potato Vine
Canna Lily
Calla Lily
Over winter fairly well, but expect a mess from the leaves:
Zonal Geraniums
Asparagus Fern
Don’t bother; they’re too messy and they’re cheap to replace:
Vinca Vine