Backyard Habitats, Flowers, Gardening, Plants, Seasons, The Art of Ecology

Keep your garden happy all year long by overwintering!

I have recently grown to LOVE dahlias! There are so many varieties out there in so many different colors! They do require some extra love, but are so worth it.
I have recently grown to LOVE dahlias! There are so many varieties out there in so many different colors! They do require some extra love, but are so worth it.

If you’re a gardener, you understand how much time and effort you put into your plants and hate seeing it go to waste come winter! Fortunately, there are ways to keep your beauties alive, even if they’re not winter hardy!

The best way to keep your tender garden plants alive is to bring them inside. There are a couple of different ways of doing that, but hopefully, with some patience and minor care, you will be able to plant them again and enjoy them in the spring!

The first way of bringing plants inside is do simply do just that – bring them inside in a pot and sit them in a sunny spot! Some plants that like this are coleus, geraniums, herbs, and succulents. If you are bringing the plants inside in pots, be sure that when you dig up your plants that you let them sit in their pots outside! This will acclimate the plants to their new, smaller environment before shocking them with indoor climates of central heating and low winter humidity. Place the pots in a sunny area (typically South facing windows) and reduce the amount that you water them. These plants are, for the most part, going dormant and stopping growth. Too much water will cause root and foliage rot which kills the plant. When warmer temperatures come again, simply take the pot back outside (remember to let the pot sit for a few days to re-acclimate them to the outdoors before planting)! Don’t be surprised if your plant seems sleepy upon moving it outside. You can jump start it by adding some natural fertilizer (I love my compost tea – find out how to make it here!) to your water in the spring, and again in the fall.

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Tradescantia, the purple and green stripey vine is a beautiful plant that will flower if left outside, but is very tender and needs to be brought back in! I love taking cuttings of them and watching the roots grow in water.

Another method of overwintering is to take cuttings. This method is perfect for saving space! For this all you need is either one pot, or many small bud vases. Some plants that like this method of overwintering are coleus, Tradescantia, Geraniums, and some herbs like mint! To take cuttings, use sharp scissors or shears to cut of a section of plant that has at least 4 leaves on it. You can either dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone or leave it bare. For geraniums, leave the cutting out overnight so that the tip calluses over to prevent it from rotting. Geraniums like to be planted in soil after they callous, but you can put many cuttings in one pot! Other plants can be rooted in water. Once you have the cutting, you can simply place it in a bud vase or small glass container (I have put larger cuttings in mason jars!) and let it stay there for the winter! I love this method because it allows me to watch the roots grow. Make sure that the plant base and eventually roots are covered in water. You may need to add fresh water regularly.

My String of Pearls is definitely not cold hardy and needs to be brought inside. Next to it, you can see my Coleus cutting has thrived beautifully! That root system is ready to take on the soil when I decide to plant it in the spring. I can even take cuttings from that cutting now!
My String of Pearls is definitely not cold hardy and needs to be brought inside. Next to it, you can see my Coleus cutting has thrived beautifully! That root system is ready to take on the soil when I decide to plant it in the spring. I can even take cuttings from that cutting now!

The last, and easiest method of overwintering a plant inside is to simply let them go dormant! You can store the plant in a garage or basement where it is cool and dry. For geraniums, simply bring the plant inside (remember to get it acclimated first!) and then place a paper bag over the plant and pot. Set it in the cool, dry room and don’t touch it until spring! For other plants that have bulbs or tubers, like Dahlias, you may need to take some extra care. When the first cold temperatures have damaged the foliage of your dahlias, cut the stems back to 4 inches and gently dig up the tubers. Once the tubers are dug up, gently remove any excess soil. Allow the tubers to dry in a warm location out of direct sunlight. Once they are dried, cut back the remaining stems to 1-2 inches and store in a ventilated box with slightly moist sand or peat moss in a cool, but not freezing location (garages or basements are great for this!). Make sure that the tubers don’t dry out over the winter by occasionally misting them. If they start to rot, cut out rotted portions to prevent it from spreading. The tuber will survive. When spring comes again, plant the tubers!

Not all plants need to come in! Native plants are accustomed to the climate they live in and will seed themselves for the next spring and be good sources of fall food for birds and other animals!
Not all plants need to come in! Native plants are accustomed to the climate they live in and will seed themselves for the next spring and be good sources of fall food for birds and other animals!

Of course, some plants are called “Cold-Hardy” and don’t need to be brought inside. Roses and sedums are some of these plants. For cold hardy plants, you may want to cover them with natural mulch or straw to protect them from the freeze-thaw cycle that can heave the roots out of the ground. In fact, where I live (zone 6b, very close to zone 7) herbs like lavender, thyme, oregano, and chives are also cold-hardy! To find out what zone you live in so that you know what plants will be hardy or not, click here!

Want a way to keep the beautiful colors of spring, summer and fall around you, but really don’t have the space or sunlight to overwinter? Visit my Etsy shop to find your very own photography print, jewelry, or accessories! A portion of the proceeds goes back towards habitat preservation and environmental education efforts.

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