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overwinterize plants

Overwintering Plants

By Jodi Torpey

At the end of every gardening season, there’s a rush to save the seeds from favorite garden plants such as heirloom vegetables, herbs, and flowers. But have you considered trying to save the plants, too?

Gardeners in areas with freezing winter temperatures can keep some of their annuals and tender perennials by overwintering them indoors until spring. One benefitis saving money on next season’s plants, but it’s also away to keep a pet plant alive from year to year. 

Not every beautiful summer plant can be saved, but many can. Good candidates for overwintering include begonia, bougainvillea (and other tropical plants), coleus, fern, fuchsia, geranium, ivy, lantana, purple fountain grass, sweet potato vine, and even ornamental peppers. 

Gardeners have three approaches from which to choose: 

Bring Containers Indoors

Containers of summer plants are easy to bring inside to overwinter. Wash leaves, including the undersides, to get rid of any insect hitchhikers and place pots on a sunny windowsill. 

If garden plants haven’t been harmed by frost, they can be dug up, repotted, and brought inside to grow like temporary houseplants, too. Select only healthy plants that show no signs of disease. 

Dig up plants with plenty of roots and brush away most of the garden soil. Replant in a container filled with potting soil and water it. 

Clip off any dead leaves and prune plants to fit the container, but remove no more than half their size. Disinfect shears with soapy water or rubbing alcohol between plants. Check for insects and treat plants before bringing them indoors. 


water plants

Take a Cutting

It’s best to take cuttings in late summer or early fall so plants have time to root in their containers before bringing them indoors. However it’s possible to pot up cuttings if plant leaves are und amaged from frost. Cut off afew inches of stem with several leaf nodes and replant in a container of moist potting soil; keep watered until plants take root.  

Another method is to place healthy cuttings in a vase or jar of water to root. Plants can live hydroponically for months, if the water is refreshed every few weeks. Repot in spring and slowly transition to the outdoors for transplanting. 

Dig and Store

Summer-blooming plants, such as dahlia, canna, and gladiolus, can also be overwintered. Dig up the tuberous roots or corms about two weeks following the first frost. Wash, let dry, and nestle in vermiculite, kitty litter, sawdust, or newspaper. Store indoors in a cool, well-ventilated area until it’s time for spring planting.

The transition from outside to indoors is an adjustment for plants and the people who care for them. Low-light conditions, lack of humidity, and overwatering are the top overwintering challenges. 

Place plants in the window with the brightest light, typically facing south or east. A sunroom is ideal or use indoor grow lights. Overcome low humidity by regularly misting plants with water or placing containers on trays filled with clean gravel and water. 

Take care of plants like other houseplants and water only when the top inch of soil is dry. Plants need less water than gardeners think they do. 

There are no guarantees every summer plant will overwinter successfully, but none will if you don’t give it a try.