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Preview: Bring It In!

Overwintering tender plants doesn’t need to be difficult

Fine Gardening - Issue 184

Tropical plants are a major part of my home garden. It requires effort to lift them every fall and replant them in spring, but it’s worth it to have a taste of the tropics here in the land of cornfields. Since I do not have a greenhouse, all of my tropicals must either tolerate life as houseplants or go dormant to make it through the winter.

Some questions need to be asked as the frosts of fall approach: What gets dug up? Do I save all the cannas, or just the ones that are hard to find? What can handle a frost? The more frost tolerant a plant is, the later it gets dug up.

To help you decide which plants to save, consider rarity, sentimental attachment, and, of course, beauty. If you question whether you can find it again, or it is pricey, try to save it. You’ll also want to save the dahlia Aunt Clarice gave you right before she had to give up gardening. She can’t give you ­another, and it’s not the same to buy a new one online. And if you really love a plant, try to keep it. With a bit of luck it will grow larger next year; as a bonus, you may be able to divide it.

Once you decide to save a plant, you then have to decide how to overwinter it. Does it need to be kept growing, or can it be allowed to go dormant? I’ll provide some ideas of how to do both.

None of the overwintering methods covered here come with a guarantee that every plant will survive every winter. Think of this as an experiment, and try to be OK with the idea that some plants will die. I tell plants two things when they come in for the winter: “Live or die, it’s your choice,” and “If you die, I can replace you with something newer and prettier.” In reality I may not be so carefree, but the plants don’t need to know that. Here are my tips for giving your plants the best chance at survival.


To read the full article and learn more about overwintering plants, subscribe to receive your digital copy of the newest issue of Fine Gardening magazine. 

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