When cold weather is on the way! Better get ready!

Whether you set your house plants out last spring, for a summer vacation, or you got carried away with container gardening until pots competed with the cat for every sunny nook of patio space, the cool night temperatures mean it’s time to think about bringing tender plants back indoors. Chances are you have even less sunny nooks inside, so you will have to decide what’s worth keeping and how to care for them.

How Do You Decide Which Tender Plants To Keep?

Annuals and Perennials

  • Keep only healthy plants. If something has been struggling all summer under the best of conditions, it is not going to improve indoors.
  • Never bring in a plant with pests or disease. Don’t convince yourself that you’ll quarantine the plant until it’s been treated. Problems spread more quickly among indoor plants than in the garden. As an extra precaution I recommend spraying all of your plants you decide to bring in with an organic pesticide such as NEEM oil or Captain Jack’s Deadbug spray.
  • Give dibs to your favorite plants, the ones you’ve been coddling for years, like a bay tree, things you’ve trained into a standard, or your sentimental favorites.
  • If the plant would look good as a house plant, bring it in and use it as one. Many people have the light to successfully winter geraniums and begonias in full bloom.
  • Some tender perennials like a period of dormancy in winter. You can winter over potted perennials in your garage. If the temperature doesn’t go below 20 degrees F. or above 40 degrees F. they won’t freeze, but will stay dormant. Just don’t let the pots dry out.
  • Potted perennials can also be placed or “Planted”, pot and all, into your garden until next spring. This method “fools” the plant into its normal winter dormancy. In severe weather you can place mulch like straw or hay over the plant. However, it might be easier to just remove the perennial from its pot and plant directly into the ground. Then re-pot in the spring.
  • Be realistic about space and available light. You can always start cuttings. Cuttings take up much less space.
  • Give your outdoor plants time to acclimate to being house plants. Bring them indoors while the windows are still open. They’ll adjust to the change in temperature and humidity more easily if the change is gradual, rather than waiting until a frost is expected and then bringing the plants into a dry, heated home.

Tropicals and House Plants

  • Lack of space? A garage may be another place to over-winter many of your potted tropical plants especially if the temperature of the garage rarely drops below freezing. If your garage gets much colder than that, take additional measures by wrapping the root ball or pot in plastic bubble wrap, or provide a source of heat.
  • You will need to provide artificial lighting for these types of plants. You can purchase special grow lights that fit into your existing fluorescent fixtures. I have heard that there are the screw-in bulbs available as well.
  • I would recommend at this time to “cleanup” overgrown specimens. Cut off scraggly growth to even up the shape. It is safe to re-pot if necessary. (Use fresh potting soil and earthworm castings. Add a handful of dried molasses if you had an ant problem.) Then fertilize. Always follow the instructions for your fertilizer’s recommended rate of application. Over-fertilizing can cause more harm than good.
  • Use an organic pesticide such as NEEM oil or Captain Jack’s Deadbug spray to help control pests and disease.

I once listened to a portion of a radio show discussion about over-wintering patio plants. He said “It’s just not worth it! Get new plants in the spring.” I say “Getting your container plants to survive the winter is gratifying, and it saves you from having to purchase new plants for the patio every year. Ultimately, getting your plants to survive the winter indoors is all about experimentation, and believe me folks, not all my experiments have ended happily. But even if only half of my plants survive indoors, that’s better than none at all, right?”

Now these are the just the basics, for plant zones 7-8. You may want to research further on specific plants if you are unsure. Shelley and I could possibly assist with any questions you may have.

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