Yard Smarts

How to overwinter plants

Birds & Blooms - - Contents -

The grow­ing sea­son is just about over for many, and it’s hard to say good­bye to the gar­den plants you’ve nur­tured all sum­mer long. In­stead of toss­ing healthy plants into the com­post pile, use these tips to overwinter your fa­vorites in­doors. 1. TAKE STOCK. First, re­mem­ber that not ev­ery plant needs to be over­win­tered in­doors. Plants hardy in your zone are fully equipped to sur­vive win­ter, and some bor­der­line plants ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit from a hefty win­ter mulching. 2. START SE­LECT­ING. Take a care­ful look at each can­di­date. Those with high sen­ti­men­tal or mone­tary value take pri­or­ity. As for the rest, some can help for­tify the com­post pile, and you can take cut­tings from oth­ers (see No. 8).


DISEASE. Be­fore you bring plants in­doors, thor­oughly check and treat for bugs, or else you might in­tro­duce these un­wanted crit­ters to your house­plants. Should you dis­cover an in­fes­ta­tion or disease, quar­an­tine and treat the af­fected plant with a prod­uct la­beled for in­door use. If the treat­ment doesn’t take, prob­lems may mul­ti­ply, and the fight might not be worth the ef­fort.

4. DIG IN. When dig­ging up plants to store in pots,

get plenty of the root sys­tem. Brush off roots, rinse with wa­ter and plant them in con­tain­ers of fresh en­riched pot­ting soil, wa­ter­ing thor­oughly af­ter­ward.


BOX. Once you’ve dug up tu­bers and ten­der bulbs, gen­tly re­move the dirt and let them dry. Nes­tle them in an open box of peat moss, ver­mi­culite or sand, and store in a cool dark place.


HOUSEPLANT. Start the process early, while the grow­ing sea­son is still in full swing, or the plant could be weak­ened by the colder air or re­duced sun­light. Move the plant in stages, start­ing in early au­tumn. Put the pot in a shaded, shel­tered area for a week or two, then bring it in­doors and place it near a win­dow. Be aware that growth slows as your plant re­sponds to less light, hu­mid­ity and fresh air. Of­ten, leaves turn yel­low and drop off. This doesn’t mean the plant is dy­ing, just that those leaves didn’t ad­just to the re­duced light in­doors.


PLANTS. Be­fore you bring con­tain­ers in­side, re­move spent or dam­aged flow­ers, stems and leaves. If you dis­cover that the plant is pot-bound—or has grown too large for its con­tainer, re­sult­ing in tan­gled and mat­ted roots—go ahead and re­pot in a larger ves­sel. Oth­er­wise, wash pot ex­te­ri­ors and saucers, with soap and wa­ter. 8. TAKE CUT­TINGS. Soft-stemmed plants are good can­di­dates for cut­tings. Snip off a few stems, about 6 inches long; re­move the low­est leaves, dip in root­ing hor­mone and place in moist ver­mi­culite or well-drain­ing pot­ting mix. Set in a bright lo­ca­tion out of di­rect light, and let the plants take root. Once roots de­velop, plant the stems in pots and treat them as house­plants un­til spring.


STOR­AGE SPOT. For plants that need to go dor­mant, find a cool space—50 to 60 de­grees is ideal—that’s dim and mod­er­ately hu­mid. This keeps the plants from strug­gling to grow and be­com­ing leggy and pale. Prune them back and wa­ter just of­ten enough to keep roots moist.

Dig up glad­i­o­lus bulbs after a light frost for over­win­ter­ing.

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