Easy Overwintering

I love growing tender plants as annuals over the summer. But I don’t like buying them again every year, so I try to overwinter as many as I can indoors once frost threatens. However, I have pretty limited windowsill space, so I can’t keep many plants in active growth all winter. Luckily, I’ve found a simple hack that works for a surprising number of plants.begoniaoverwintering

The above begonia is on a high dark shelf. It will sit there all winter, getting essentially no light, and I won’t water it. All those leaves will drop off, leaving nothing but dead looking stems. But come spring, when I put it back outside and water it again, new leaves will start growing and it will come right back.

Quite a lot of tender plants can do this. Just keep them dry, preferably on the cool side (unheated basements are perfect), and they’ll go dormant, usually dropping their leaves, and wait patiently for spring. I personally have done this with both cane begonias (as pictured) and the rhizomatous rex begonias, pelargoniums (the annual “geraniums”), and lots of succulent plants like agaves and cacti. I’ve seen first-hand other people using the same method with great success with brugmansia, bananas, and tender shrubby hibiscus. It seems like it is works most often with plants with thick, woody or succulent stems, but I keep trying it with new things and being surprised when they come through just fine. So if you’ve got some cool tender plant you’d love to over winter, but no window space left, shove it in the basement and see what happens. If it comes back fine in the spring, please comment on this post so the rest of us can learn from your experience!

— Joseph Tychonievich

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

7 thoughts on “Easy Overwintering”

  1. You can add to the list Euphorbia cotinifolia (Tropical smoke bush, Carribean copper plant). I have overwintered this for several years using the ‘cool, dark, no watering system.

  2. Here in the Rocky Mountains it is too dry in winter, so if plants are left in basement I generally have to give them some water to keep roots alive, generally once a month, otherwise they don’t make it. I overwinter Pelargonium, alstroemerias, Mandevilla, calla lilies, pomegranates and passion fruits this way.

  3. This is very exciting. I have some of the Vancouver Centennial Geranium Id like to try this on. Do you cut them back, either when putting them away or taking them out in spring? And when do you bring them out?

  4. I did have luck last year with tropical hibiscus in a cool basement in the Northeast. . All the leaves fell off, and I did water every once in a while, but in spring it started growing again. It didn’t flower until maybe mid summer, but grew leaves rapidly once it was outdoors and very well for the rest of the season. Now it’s inside and is keeping its leaves since it has been so mild plus it is near a window. I will try to resist watering it to force it to go dormant. It’s very hard not to water a plant, don’t you think?

  5. I store pots of Tropicana Canna with Japanese Painted Fern and a burgundy Oxalis in the garage every year. A lovely combination, and effortless. I just cut off the foliage then stack them up in my mid-Michigan garage in the fall and put them out in the spring.

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