Overwintering plants is a great way to enjoy your favorites year after year, without having to spend a dime. In this post, I’ll show you all you need to know about how to keep plants over winter, using a variety of different methods and techniques.
Overwintering plants indoors is easier than you think. And you don’t need tons of space or a big heated greenhouse to protect them from the cold.
I don’t know about you, but I used to spend tons of money at the garden center every spring to fill my summer planters and garden beds.
When fall would roll around, I was always so sad to watch them all die. Only to have to pony up the cash to buy them again the following spring. It seemed like such a waste!
If you’re in the same boat, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that many of your favorites will grow again year after year, without having to spend all of that money.
Here’s what you’ll find in this detailed guide for wintering plants indoors…
What Is Overwintering Plants?
The term “overwintering plants” means exactly what it sounds like. Basically, it means that you somehow protect non-hardy varieties from dying when the weather turns cold in the fall.
Benefits Of Overwintering Plants
In my opinion, the biggest benefit of overwintering plants is saving money. I used to buy tons of new varieties every spring, only to let them all die in the fall. It always seemed like such a waste.
That’s why I started experimenting with the different ways I could keep them alive for more than one growing season.
For other people, it’s more about saving rare or uncommon specimens. Or, simply enjoying the challenge of pushing the limits of their growing zone, and experimenting to see how far they can take it.
When To Move Plants Indoors For Winter
The timing of when to bring them indoors depends on the method you want to use for overwintering each type of plant.
If you want to keep them growing through the winter, then you should move them indoors in late summer, before the weather starts to cool down.
Otherwise, in general, you can usually leave them outside until they naturally go dormant. I’ll discuss more about the exact timing for each method below.
How To Overwinter Plants Indoors
Overwintering plants is definitely not a one-size-fits-all strategy. There are several different ways you can do it.
You might find that one technique works better for some than it does for others.
The best way to figure it out is to experiment to see what works best for you, and for your plant.
Here’s a list of the most common methods of overwintering. I will discuss each one in detail below.
- Forcing the plant to go dormant
- Digging and storing the bulbs/tubers
- Wintering it inside the house as a live plant
- Overwintering cuttings indoors
- Keeping them in an unheated, cold space
1. Overwintering Dormant Plants
There are several types of plants that you can force to go dormant, and then overwinter them indoors right in their pots. Here are a few that I’ve had the most success with…
To trigger a plant to go dormant, move it to a cool, dark room before frost in the fall, and stop watering it.
Most dormant plants will drop all of their leaves or die back to the soil level, which is totally normal.
Check on it every few weeks, and water it sparingly through the winter. Keep it on the dry side, but never let the soil become bone dry.
Then in late winter, slowly wake it up by moving it into a sunny room, and start watering again.
Once you see new growth, move it to a sunny window until it’s warm enough to put back outside.
Learn exactly how to bring a plant out of dormancy in the spring (without killing it).
2. Storing Bulbs & Tubers
Some of your favorite summer annuals have bulbs (also called corms or tubers) which you can dig up and bring inside. I have several in my collection, including…
This is one of the easiest and most common methods for overwintering plants. After frost kills the foliage, dig the bulbs out of the dirt, and cut off all the leaves.
Allow them to cure (dry out) for several days in a dry location. Then wrap them loosely in newspaper, and put them into cardboard boxes.
Read all about how to store bulbs for the winter here.
3. Wintering Live Plants Indoors
Another common method is to winter live plants inside of your house. This is easier for some varieties than it is for others.
The main concerns with overwintering live plants are space, light, and bugs.
But, if you have a green thumb, and plenty of room, it’s really nice to fill your home with life to help get you through the long, cold months!
If you want to give this a try, then plan to move them inside before the temps drop below 50F outside.
Otherwise, if it gets too cool, it could trigger dormancy, or cause too much shock for the plant to survive.
To mitigate the risk of bug infestations, make sure to debug your plants before bringing them inside.
If your house doesn’t have a lot of natural sun, get a few grow lights to supplement.
You can find out everything you need to know about how to keep houseplants alive in winter here.
4. Overwintering Plant Cuttings
Some plants get so huge during the summer, that it’s too hard to move them inside for the winter.
But don’t despair, many times you can bring cuttings indoors instead. I do this every year with a few of my favorites…
If you want to try this method of overwintering plants, than you must take the cuttings before cold weather hits your area in the fall.
Otherwise, they might not survive the shock of being moved indoors. Also, if they have already been damaged by frost, they may not take root.
Find out more about rooting cuttings in my complete guide for how to propagate plants.
5. Overwintering Perennials In Containers
If you want to try overwintering perennials in pots, then it’s best to follow their normal life cycle.
Allowing them to go dormant, rather than trying to keep them alive, will give you the best success.
You can simply bring them into an unheated garage or shed after they have naturally gone dormant.
The added protection of the structure will keep them warm enough to survive until spring.
Check on them a few times throughout the winter to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely. It’s best to keep it slightly damp, but never wet or bone dry.
Hardy perennials don’t need to stay inside for very long. Just during the most extreme cold weather months.
Once the bitter cold is over (in late winter, or very early spring), you can move them back outside.
In this section, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions I get about wintering plants. If you can’t find an answer here, ask your question in the comments below.
Can you bring annual plants inside for the winter?
That depends. Many “annual” plants sold by nurseries are actually tender perennials.
Which means they live outdoors year round in warmer climates – and therefore could be wintered indoors in colder areas.
However, a true annual plant only lives for one year. You could bring it indoors in the fall to see if you can extend its life, rather than let it be killed off by frost. But, it will still die once it reaches the end of its natural lifespan.
How do you overwinter potted perennials?
You can overwinter potted perennials in an unheated shed or garage. Allow them to naturally go dormant in the fall before moving them inside.
Then put them back outside once the weather starts warming back up in late winter or very early spring.
Where should I store my plants in the winter?
Generally speaking, dormant plants and bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark location that stays above 40F degrees. An unfinished basement, root cellar, heated garage, or storage area are all great choices.
Overwintering plants saves you money on your garden each year. It’s so rewarding to bring those wintered plants back outside in the spring and see the new growth. Now you no longer need to be frustrated by losing your favorite varieties to cold temperatures.
If you want to learn even more about caring for plants during the winter, then you need a copy of my Winter Houseplant Care eBook. It covers everything you need to know about wintering plants. Download your copy today!
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- Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics
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- Techniques for Keeping Tender Plants Alive Year after Year
More Seasonal Gardening Posts
- Tropical Houseplant Care Guide
- How To Protect Plants From Frost Damage
- Beginner’s Guide To Cold Frame Gardening
- How To Build A DIY Greenhouse
Share your tips, or favorite methods for overwintering plants in the comments below.