From the title of this post you might guess it's going to be about some spring flowers emerging, or perennials waking up from their winter dormancy, or dozens of bamboo shoots breaking through the soil. Those are all good guesses, but they're wrong. I'm talking about the emergence of my potted plants from the garage. We had abnormally cold weather very early, which forced me to move many of the still-not-dormant tropicals into the garage to protect them from the hard freeze.

Besides making my garage unusable by vehicles for the winter, it allowed me to experiment with which plants actually go dormant, which can survive in a state of barely alive, and which couldn't handle these growing conditions. As the temps soared into the upper 80's F (30 C) I recently pulled most of them out of the garage.


The Colocasia gigantea above did fine with very minimal light, almost no water, and temperatures that rarely got above 40ºF/4ºC. The garage has only about 2-3 square feet of North-facing windows, so there is very little light. I thought this would be the biggest problem, but apparently most of these plants adjust quite well to that.

You can see the purple fountain grasses that I kept under lights in the basement, but the rest of the plants in that photo were in the garage. The oleander that got two springs ago got too big last year to stay under the lights, so it stayed in the garage. I didn't know what to expect, but this plant looks just as good as it did before I put it in here:

Well, not exactly as good as it did before, because it has an aphid infestation:

My first impulse was to wash these off the plant, but then I thought it might be good to leave them -- the early-emerging predator insects like lady beetles need to have something to eat, right? Since the plant doesn't seem to be suffering, I left them alone.

This banana started waking up while still in the garage, which is how I realized it was time to get these plants outside:

This other banana did not survive for some reason:

My first year growing bananas, and two of three survived the winter. Not bad!

Since I had a lot of different "Elephant Ears" species, I did some experimentation. Most of the Colocasia esculenta I just cut down and left in the pots as I know they'll grow fine that way. A couple I pulled out of the soil and just left out to dry. Those will do fine too. One I left in a pot somewhat near the tiny windows, and it actually stayed alive all winter:

Not really growing, but not going dormant. I expect a new leaf to emerge from this stem very soon, much before any of the other plants wake up.

This Alocasia didn't make it:

I didn't expect it to though, since Alocasias don't typically go dormant and don't form bulbs from what I've read. Although I admit I haven't studied them extensively. In any case, this one died, and I really liked it. I'll have to look for another this year.

The Colocasia 'Black Magic' ended up going dormant and producing a dozen tiny bulblets, which I'll pot up and hope for growth:

I was hoping for a large 'Black Magic' this year, but if I want that I'll have to buy another somewhere.

The "black stem taro" stayed alive with that low light and very little water -- I think I watered it twice:

This is also good to know, as I won't need to keep so many of these plants alive under lights next year. They start off small, but over time put out taller and larger leaves until they start touching the lights. I'll have plenty of these guys next year.

One problem with it though: more aphids:

Who'd have thought that I'd be able to keep two entirely different aphid populations alive and thriving in my dark and cold garage all winter? More food for the early predators! Really though, I'll keep an eye on these plants so the aphids don't spread all over. I will probably reduce the populations somewhat to help keep them in check.

The Mexican petunia that was one of my favorite plants last year survived fine in a dormant state:

It's got several signs of life all over the pot:

So I guess I didn't need to take those cuttings last fall and overwinter them under the lights. Well now I'll have plants to share with others -- I did get this plant free last year, so it seems fitting I should give its offspring away, right?

Last but not least, the 'King Tut' papyrus. I kept one in the garage and one in a bucket of water in the house. The house one stayed alive and growing all winter, but I couldn't give it enough light so the stems got very tall and flimsy. It should be fine though once it gets more light and produces normal stems.

The garage plant which was also in a bucket of water, but was exposed to lower temperatures and even less light, doesn't look as good:

Closer inspection though reveals that this one too survived:

Yahoo! So once they start actively growing, looking strong and vigorous, I'll divide them up into several pots. I'm excited about seeing how large this plant can get in the ground this year, as I've only grown it in containers before.

There are a few more plants in the garage, but this is the bulk of them. I moved the ones with leaves under the deck where they'll get morning sun only right now. I'll move them into more sun in a week or so. The plants that didn't have leaves yet go straight into the sun, where they'll warm up and emerge for the second time.

I'm so close to having a usable garage again, and so excited that most of these survived with very little care!


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (April 11, 2011 at 11:20 AM)  

Giving up your garage for the entire winter, that is DEDICATION. Glad to know that so many survived.

Steve Lau  – (April 11, 2011 at 11:28 AM)  

My garage has gotten into the single digits when it got into the sub-zero so I couldn't keep anything in there. How cold does it usually get in your garage?

I've never been able to successfully over-winter anything in my garage.

Alan  – (April 11, 2011 at 11:29 AM)  

I think it's more laziness and disorganization than dedication. :-)

If my garage cleanup had been done last fall, I would have been able to store most of the plants and still have had room to park.

Alan  – (April 11, 2011 at 1:35 PM)  

Steve: my garage is attached to the house and partially below-ground so although it's unheated it stays relatively warm. It *might* get down to the upper 30'sF, but usually stays around 40F/4C.

Jono / Real Men Sow  – (April 11, 2011 at 4:15 PM)  

Alan - I love your photos. What camera do you use?

LisaJennings  – (April 11, 2011 at 4:17 PM)  

That's a lot of plants to overwinter, and with so little light! If only I had a garage..

A word on aphids: Entomology and Pathology courses have taught me that although on their own they don't cause too much harm, Aphids are the number 1 way plant diseases (mainly bacterial and viral) are transmitted. I'd get rid of them ASAP to be safe.

Alan  – (April 11, 2011 at 4:31 PM)  

Jono: check the about me page, but it's usually not the camera but the lens that makes the difference. For these photos (including the aphid close-ups) I used this lens, which is just about the same age as I am, which is somehow cool.

Lisa: thanks for the reminder of the disease angle!

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens  – (April 12, 2011 at 6:25 AM)  

You are doing such a great job with keeeping track of how to store your potted plants. I wish I was so organized. You are very brave about the aphids and sustainable too. I would be too worried about them spreading into a major infestation.

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