As winter approaches and thoughts turn to sitting in snuggling up in front of a cozy fire indoors, or thoughts of snowfall increase your anxiety, there is one one last outdoor task needs to be considered; that is, overwintering plants by bringing them indoors. This is especially important for tendor plants that won't like the cold and/or won't survive a frost.
In this article we want to give you our tips and advice for how to bring plants indoors for the winter so that you can do it safely and do it so they will survive and even grow throughout the winter until next year.
Why Bring Plants In For The Winter?
Let's start wit this important fact which should be obvious to most people: most outdoor plants like warmer weather and very few will survive a frost. This means if you want to keep them, you must make arrangements to bring them indoors for the winter.
It's quite possible and not all the hard to get them survive until the following year - provided you know some of the simple basics.
Besides knowledge however, you will need two other things - planning and preperation. Yes, we know you're busy. We all are. However, you do not want to wait until the last minute, when you find out on the late news that a frost warning has been issued for your area that evening. It's then you are left scrambling to get them inside.
Overwintering plants also means a little extra work. The question you must answer for yourself is.. "is it worth the effort?"
Perhaps you have some plants that have meaning to you. Maybe they were given to you by an old friend. Maybe you have a favorite that is hard to find. Whatever the reason, you'll have to decide for yourself if bringing them in is worth it. Perhaps it's not. Perhaps you'd prefer to let them go. If so, then there's nothing wrong with that.
I know for us, we bring in plants because we have a lot of tropicals that we use to create a tiki/tropical environment in our backyard during the summer.
If we had to buy new plants each year, not only would it be costly to recreate that environment with new plants, but the new ones would not be as big. Therefore, we decide that it's worth the effort and the sacrifice we make by having our lower level unusable during the winter.
Yes, this is an image of our basement in the winter! It's a jungle, but it's OK for us. The rewards are well worth the sacrifice.
When Exactly Should You Bring Plants Inside?
Not surprisingly, we can't give you specific dates or a time frame that's best for you. The U.S. (and the world for that matter) all have different climates and every region is different. Check out our planting zone chart to find out exactly in which planting zone you live.
As we said above, you'll want to bring your non-cold-hardy plants indoors before the first frost in yor area. However, there are few more details to consider. There are things you should do to prepare so we would definitely not advise you waiting until the last minute.
Generally speaking, it's no secret that most plants like warmer temperatures. Although some can survive as the mercury falls, they certainly don't like it and won't do as well. This, of course, is dependent on the actual plant. For instance, hibiscus are definitely tropical and like it warm, whereas ferns can survive in colder temperatures, provided they don't get hit by frost.
Therefore, you'll want to know the hardiness of each plant in your collection and handle them appropriately.
Another factor to consider is moving plants can be stressful - and we don't mean on you or your family. We're talking about stress on the plants themselves.
When you move plants from one environment to a completely different one, they will most likely go into shock. When this happens some leaves might turn brown and fall off. If this happens, don't panic. Most of the time the plant will still survive to grow another season. On some occassions though the plant just might die, but look at it this way. It would have died for sure if you left it outside, so at least you tried.
Knowing these facts, it's easy to see why your best course of action is to think about bringing them in when you see temperatuures in your forecast head down to arond 50 degrees, no less, whether it's daytime or night temperatures. Doing it then will mean there will be less of a shock to the plants because the indoor environment will be closer to the outdoors.
If you wait until temps fall to the 40's, they will still most likely survive but might suffer more stress (unless of course the temperature in your home is in the 40's LOL).
Factors To Consider When Overwintering Plants
There are 6 factors you should consider when overwintering plants. Each one makes a difference in how the plant will survive until next season.
Factor #1: Which Plants Should You Overwinter?
Most annuals require full sun, which means they need a lot of light - more than an indoor location can give them. In fact, annuals planted in the ground will not overwinter because they won't survive being transplanted into a pot.
However, if you have pots of annuals outdoors, then bringing them inside might work, again, depending on the plant and the amount of light they receive in their indoor location. (see "overwintering potted plants" below)
Potted geraniums have been known to survive indoors, although they usually won't flower until being outdoors again. In addition. xxx
Many perennials, on the other hand, can be overwintered successfully.
Perennails in pots are good candiates to overwinter indoors, as are ones grown from bulbs or tubers in the ground. We've had very good success with elephant ear bulbs as well as and xxxx.
We just dig up the bulbs or tubers and store them in a dark, dry spot so they won't start sprouting while they are inside. Bulbs should remain dormant until planted outside in the spring.
Overwintering Potted Plants:
The best candidates for moving inside are potted plants, mostly because they are very portable so they take very little effort.
Whether you have pots of annuals, perennials, or small shrubs, all should survive indoors. In addition, if you bring pots of houseplants outside during the summer as we do, then of course those must be brought in as well.
Factor #2: Light Requirements
It should be no secret that when you are overwintering plants indoors for the season they will get less light than they did outdoors. The good news is that even with less light, they will usually survive. It depends on the plant though and how much light it needs versus how much it's getting indoors.
As a general rule of thumb, the more light the plants get, the better. There are exceptions though so knowing your plants and their individual needs will go a long way to keeping them alive and healthy.
Finding a room with a lot of light streaming in would be the first choice. Keep in mind though, as the seasons change, so does the light. Deciduous trees that block the light in the summer will let lots of light through in the winter when the leaves have fallen.
Here in the northern hemisphere, the sun is lower in the western sky during the winter so finding a west or southwest facing window would be the best. However, if you don't have any windows that face in that direction and that pass the other tests we describe here, then you'll have to choose the next best location.
This is a houseplant - called a shamrock - located in a south facing window. We got this in March of 2020 and in November it's still doing well. Although you can't see it in the photo, there are 2 plants, each planted in their own pots. The wicker basket would leak water otherwise.
There are times when a bright sunny window may NOT be the ideal location. For instance, if your plant is a shade plant and is in a shady area outdoors, say a covered porch, then placing it directly in a south facing, sunny window may actually be TOO MUCH sun. As we already mentioned, you should know your plant's light requirements and act accordingly.
We bring our plants into a basement with one wall being full windows, but facing north. In addition, being a basement, it's usually cool. It's not the most ideal location, yet all our tropicals survive - even though they loose leaves and go downhill, they always come back strong in the summer - although sometimes they take several weeks to start looking good again.
We also know family and friends that overwinter their plants in a variety of settings because they have no choice and the ideal location doesn't exist for them either.
Just because a situation is not ideal, doesn't mean the plant is doomed to die. You'll never know until you try.
One thing to consider is purchasing a grow light or two. We've never owned one because we've never felt the need. However, we will be trying one soon to see if it makes a difference and helps the plants continue to grow.
Factor #3: Water Requirements
Because the plants are not out in the hot sun drying out, and also because their growth will be slowed, they will not need as much water as they did outdoors.
On average we water our tropicals once per week and we don't give them a lot. It does depend on the plant though.
To decide which plants need watering when, stick your finger in the soil and if it feels dry like sand then water the plants. Only water enough to wet the soil somewhat. You will not be watering enough for water to drain into the saucers. If that happens you might be watering too much since it will take the soil longer to dry out indoors.
Factor #4: On What Surface Will They Be Sitting?
Another important factor for overwintering plants in your home is the surface where they will be sitting.
Is it the floor? Is the floor tiled? Carpet? Will there be plant stands? Is there electric handy for plugging in grow lights? If you're sitting the plants on furniture, how will you protect the furniture from water. All important considerations. You wouldn't want to ruin that valuable anquie furniture with water stains.
This is a dracaena plant that is overwintering in a bedroom. You can see we have sitting on a garbage back because we don't want the carpet to get wet. It doesn't have a saucer though but it's OK because it never gets too much water where it drains out the bottom.
Factor #5: Spraying For Bugs:
Another consideration when bringing in plants for the winter is bugs. Do any of the plants have bugs? Interestingly, you might not be able to answer that question because you've never seen any and you really don't know what to look for.
We feel for you.
Buggy plants are a real pain. If you bring the plants in you'll be bringing in the bugs too so you'll want to spray them for bugs before the day you bring them in. This means preparing in advance. Several days or a week or two before you bring them in, spray them.
What product should you use to spray plants?
We use safer soap but you can also use neem oil or even water from your hose nozzle set on shower.
Factor #6: The Air They Breathe:
The final factor is to notice if the location you've chosen is near a drafty window or door, or next to a heat vent. All of these locations are bad for the plant so try to choose a location not subject to air blowing on the plant.
Solving these issues is not hard, but it will take some foresight. Some solutions to these challenges are simple to implement.
- Always use saucers to catch water that might drain out of the pot. You wouldn't water to drain out over the floor.
- Use protective material to protect surfaces. For us, if plants are being placed on a tile floor, it's not necessary. However, if pots will be placed on carpet, we always place the saucer and pot on a plastic kitchen garbage bag. The same holds true for placing plants on furniture. Always use some kind of material to protect surfaces tat can be damaged by water. After all, you wouldn't want that precious antique heirloom ruined by water stains now, would you?
6-Step Action Plan For Overwintering Plants
1. Plan Your Locations
Use the advice mentioned above to take note or make a list of all the plants you want to overwinter indoors. Then plan out in which locations in your home you might want to put them. Doing this way in advance of the actual move will keep stress down and make for a much easier process.
I know for us, because we bring in quite a few plants, we have some in many rooms of the house and those locations are planned out.
2. Getting Your Plants Acclimated To The Indoors
Ideally, it helps to get your plants used to the indoor environment. Instead of the shock they will go through by bringing them into a cooler/less light environment all at once, do it gradually.
When days are still warm but nightime temperatures start to drop, bring them in for the nights and take them back out during the days. This will help them get acclimated to their new environment over time.
3. Spraying For Bugs
As we mentioned previously, be prepared by purchasing your spray ahead of time. Don't do what we've done in the past - where we've found out there will be a frost that night, then gone out to purchase spray, only to find it out of stock, then having to run to several stores looking for it.
Spray the plants thoroughly and let them dry out, then spray them a second time and let them dry out again. Now you're ready to bring them in.
4. Avoid Watering
Depending on the size of your pots, you may want to avoid watering for a few days before bringing them in. Watering will make the pots much heavier to carry, which means lighter pots and an easier job.
5. Moving Day
Get your saucers and surface coverings in place, then simply bring them in and water if you've skipped that task and they need it.
6. Set Up Grow Lights (Optional)
Plug in your grow lights and position them where they are needed.
7. Check Plants At Least Once Per Week
You'll want to be checking for dryness and any yellowing and falling leaves. You can cut the dead foliage off of most plants while indoors and, if they are still living in the spring, you can bring them back outdoors and they will come back.
Conclusions For Overwintering Plants
Bringing in outdoor plants for the winter may sound daunting. However, in our experience, it's really not.
Each step takes very little time on it's own and can be spaced out over several days or even a few weeks.
For us, it's well worth the time and effort. Overwintering plants will help fuel your passion during the off season and will give you a jump start on the new season - when you can bring out full sized plants and get an instant impact in your outdoor spaces.
For more information on flowering plants for outdoor winter environments, check out this article.
For other ideas to satisfy your gardening passion during the off season, we have some good ideas here.
GardenMasterz - Always making gardening fun!