It’s been a plentiful growing season in the Panhandle, but the end is near. As cold weather threatens, it’s time to move many of your patio plants indoors for the winter. Tropical plants, often used outdoors, will only survive the winter inside, protected from freezing temperatures. Here are my tips on which plants to bring inside this fall and how to winterize them.
Which plants do I bring in? You may need to make some choices of which plants to bring in and which to abandon. Ask yourself which are keepsakes—like grandmother’s Christmas cactus or an Amaryllis brought home from a trip—or which are either expensive or difficult to replace. For instance, geraniums bloom great indoors, but they are messy and simple to replace next spring. You’ll have to sweep up under that Boston fern daily, but it also can be replaced. Succulents are easily brought in and require much less attention and fuss.
As for annuals (marigolds, petunias, or celosia), don’t bother trying to overwinter them. These plants complete their life cycle in a growing season and will not make viable house plants. Regardless, keep only healthy plants with no insects or disease problems.
Plants that experience winter dormancy (canna, dahlia, Calla lilies and elephant ears) may be sheltered in a heated garage or shed. Some tropical plants (ferns, hibiscus, palms and ficus) continue to grow through the winter. Bring those inside the house.
When do I bring my plants inside? Keep an eye on the projected nighttime temperatures. When temps approach 45 degrees, it’s time to bring them in. Most tropicals will suffer damage at temps below 40 degrees. It’s much easier to over-winter healthy plants than plants that have been damaged from the cold.
Where do I put these plants? Ideally a greenhouse, though most of us don’t have one available. Instead, bring them into your house and find a place with as much natural sunlight as possible. Don’t be afraid to group them together. This helps by creating a makeshift “humid zone.” It’s also a good idea to place plants on a water-saturated pebble tray to increase humidity. Our homes get very dry in the winter, and indoor plants can suffer from the low humidity. A small humidifier or mister will definitely help.
Do they need time for transition? Yes! Before moving your plants indoors, first try to acclimate them to a lower light level for a few days. You can do this by moving them into shadier outdoor spaces for several days prior to the indoor move—this will help minimize leaf drop when they come inside.
Don’t be afraid to prune them either. This may be necessary to reduce their overall size, as with plants like hibiscus, ficus and bougainvillea. First use a sharp, clean pair of pruners to remove
unruly growth, then prune to the desired size.
What should I do once they’re inside? First, and most importantly, don’t overwater! Indoor plants don’t need much water in the wintertime. In fact, overwatering is the most common cause of death for indoor plants. Let your plants dry out slightly before watering. Definitely don’t allow them to sit in water for any length
Fertilize little, if any, during the winter months. When spring arrives, slightly increase fertilizer to get them growing again for their time back on the patio.
Can I over-winter in-ground plants? Yes—and you don’t have to dig them up! In late summer, take cuttings from in-ground summer plants like coleus, geraniums or ivy. This will help reduce the size of the plant and will be easier to overwinter.
Winter is coming. But with some advance planning and an eye on the weather—and by following these simple suggestions—you and your plants can survive it.
Greg moved to Amarillo 37 years ago, and graduated from West Texas State University with a degree in horticulture. Since then, he has worked as a horticulturist for a multitude of private clients, joining the Amarillo Botanical Gardens 12 years ago and taking over as the Executive Director 2 years ago. You can see Greg’s expert touch at the Gardens throughout the year. Learn more at amarillobotanicalgardens.org.