Overwintering plants: I do, do you?

Like many gardeners, I have a number of plants that thrive outside during warm-weather months but, to survive year-round, must spend cold-weather months inside.  When Connecticut temperatures begin to fall into the low 50’s –high 40’s – usually during September – I scramble to find indoor spaces for pots of tender vegetation.

For some, the move is a breeze. After checking for unwanted pests (caterpillars, white flies, aphids, mealy bugs, etc.) and eradicating these by hand picking or a couple of thorough sprays of insecticidal soap, the trek inside commences.

A peppermint scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) and lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) return to their respective corners of a bright, morning-sun-exposure room. They share these quarters with any potted rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) plants still healthy enough to suggest they will continue to thrive inside.


The windowsills of this room and a nearby kitchen window fill with small pots of coleus grown from cuttings from the larger plants that enlivened outdoor perennial beds with their colorful foliage.


A star jasmine (Jasminum nitidum), resurrected from a fellow gardener no longer enamored with its growth patterns,  shares the gentle scent of its small white flowers for many autumn months. Even when not blooming, the shiny dark green jasmine leaves are a warming sight against the gray backdrop of Connecticut winters.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My two tropical hibiscus (hibiscus rosa-sinensis –  unknown variety) get a serious pruning – as much as a foot off of each branch – before coming inside. This can be more painful for me than the plants since I often end up cutting off multiple flower buds. But I’ve learned that the plants will produce flowers earlier the next season if I stop their blooming pattern before I move them back inside.


Last year marked my first try at overwintering plants near a bright window in an unheated garage. Two gerbera (Festival Dark Eye Neon Rose) plants continued to send up blooms into late autumn. With just bi-weekly watering, both plants remained semi-dormant through the coldest months then sent up bright green new growth in early March. Both plants brightened my covered, south-facing front porch with blooms from late April until I again moved them back to their garage home this autumn.

This year, the gerbera have company. A summer acquisition, a 3 ft. fig tree (Ficus carica ‘Chicago Hardy’), overwinters in the same window.

My husband often comments how autumn’s inside migration of greenery shrinks our living areas, but he humors this routine knowing it’s one of the best ways to keep his gardener happy through long winter months. But overwintering does so much more than keep this gardener happy. With minimal effort, overwintered plants help soothe the plant expenditure budget and provide more bang for the buck when, as more mature plants, they move back outside to enliven warm-weather open-air living spaces.

I’m curious … what, if any, plants do you overwinter?

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3 comments for “Overwintering plants: I do, do you?

  1. November 23, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Joene, I don’t overwinter any of my plants. I’ve never been a big indoor planter lover but that may change this year. My son bought me a mandevilla vine for my birthday and it is still blooming outside. It’s about 4′ tall. It’s gotten nipped by a light frost already but it still has so many buds on it. If I bring it inside, should I do a drastic pruning? If so, how much of the plant so I leave?

  2. joenesgarden
    November 23, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Debbie, I think you should definitely try to overwinter the mandevilla. Use it as your maiden overwintering voyage. Many tropicals will overwinter in Connecticut. I’ve not done so with mandevilla but this is what works for other tropicals. Find a bright indoor spot and bring the plant in after thoroughly checking for unwanted hitch hikers (today would be a good time since it’s due to get really cold Thursday). Go ahead and enjoy the remaining blossoms that don’t drop due to the move. Then prune heavily, way back to the main stems. If you have a bright window in an unheated, attached garage you could try overwintering it there. If not then you’ll have to put up with an unattractive plant inside for a while. Water only when the soil is dry, since you are encouraging the plant to go dormant. If inside, it will resprout leaves in the next couple of weeks. If in a colder, non-freezing location this will happen later. Don’t fertilize until late winter/early spring when temperatures and light levels increase. When outdoor temperatures permit, move the vine back outside give it some fresh new soil and watch it grow.

    I’ve used this technique with tropical hibiscus plants for more than 20 years. I transplanted an offshoot of the original hibiscus and now have two plants about the same size – now in 24 inch pots. They shine in their outdoor settings all summer and continue to blossom on a covered south-facing porch until cold forces me to heavily prune them and move them back inside. Similar sized plants purchased annually would cost at least $50 each. Overwintering costs nothing but a little bit of time and attention. Good luck.

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