Overwintering

As you know from my posts in previous years, I grow lots of plants that are not cold-hardy and won't survive our typical winters here in St. Louis. I can either treat these plants as annuals, let them die each winter and buy them all again in the spring, or I can work to overwinter as many of them as possible.


I don't really have the budget or desire to buy the same plants every year, plus I hate killing plants. So for me there's really no choice: I overwinter them.


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There are essentially three different overwintering choices:
  1. actively growing under lights in the basement
  2. semi-dormant stored as plants in the garage
  3. stored as roots or tubers in garage
The first option is reserved for special plants that are small, take more than a single season to reach a reasonable size, are plants I want to propagate, or just something that I want to have growing all winter long. There is very limited space on the growing table, so I choose carefully.

The garage though, well, I can jam lots of pots and plants in there as long as I don't mind not being able to use it for vehicles all winter long. So this is my main overwintering strategy: move the pot into the garage! It's surprising how many plants can survive on just a little fluorescent light and a drink of water every month or so.

Most of my late fall gardening involves moving pots and digging up tubers. Elephant ear tubers are the main focus this year, as I had a couple dozen plantings. Most of the varieties get the majority of their stem/leaves removed:



Some get left more intact:


Others will get left in pots because I'm not sure if they'd prefer to be stored as tubers or left intact:


In the cases of special varieties which I may not have too much of, I may grow a small division under the lights all winter. I like having backup plans for the unproven methods.

There are also cannas, which I haven't finished digging yet. They get similar treatment as the elephant ears: some get stored as rhizomes, some stay in pots.


They could all store as rhizomes, but I'd like to have a few with intact root systems to get a jump start next year and produce bigger plants.

Papyrus is another plant I take some effort to overwinter:


I have so many divisions of this wonderful plant -- and it's so simple to overwinter. Just put the divisions into a bucket of water in the garage:


As long as it stays wet it will survive and start growing in the spring. I've tried keeping it growing under the lights and that didn't really work -- this plant is too large and the stems were too floppy. I suppose it would work if I had a room with big, south-facing windows though.

There are also the bananas which I posted about before:


I'll also bring a few of the marginally-hardy potted bamboos into the garage, just in case. Then there are a few cactus, a sago palm, an oleander, my two potted plumerias, eucalyptus, Echium wildpretii, jasmine, mexican petunia...

The garage starts filling up pretty quickly.

But this is what I go through each year to ensure I have plenty of tropical lushness when the growing season starts. It's very much worth the effort in my opinion!

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Lisa  – (November 30, 2012 at 7:57 AM)  

We're expecting another warm weekend in the 50s (our last? Who knows!) so I have to get some of this done myself! I am trying to overwinter a few of my pond plants (hibiscus, taro and dwarf papyrus) in pots in the house in soil. I've been told it will work as long as I keep them nice and moist. And so far they all look great! Something to keep me from getting too lonely for my pond over the winter!

Alan  – (November 30, 2012 at 8:58 AM)  

Lisa: Try dividing that dwarf papyrus, then experiment with different overwintering methods. If you have a place that stays cold but doesn't freeze (like my garage) just keeping it there for the winter should be fine.

Gerhard Bock (Bamboo, Succulents and More)  – (November 30, 2012 at 10:32 AM)  

I know it's a lot of work, but it's so worth it because you'll be starting with mostly adult plants next year.

I can't wait to see a photo of your garage stuffed with plants :-).

danger garden  – (November 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM)  

I was thinking the same thing as Gerhard...photo please! Oh how I wish our garage was more than just a wooden frame. Oh to have a frost free place to store more plants!

Steve Lau  – (November 30, 2012 at 4:10 PM)  

Have you ever tried over-wintering any of these straight in the ground outside?

On the banana forums, I have seen someone claiming success with the over-wintering of an ensete maurelii banana plant in zone 6 which is probably very similar to the species you have in the last picture.

ricki  – (December 1, 2012 at 8:12 PM)  

Are you sure this is not work?

Hoover Boo  – (December 1, 2012 at 11:59 PM)  

Wow you do have a lot of work to get ready for winter. I think you have the same amount of work as us in 52-week gardening climates--only you have a huge amount in early spring and late fall, while ours is more spread out over the whole year. I don't know if I'd have the energy to do all that overwintering. You have my respect!

Christine @ The Gardening Blog  – (December 2, 2012 at 5:07 AM)  

When I see your garden in all its glory in spring and summer then I do agree it is totally worth all this effort!!

Charlotte Foreman  – (November 23, 2015 at 10:51 AM)  

This site is great. I've never worked with succlents, can they be over wintered in an un-heated garage (zone 5, southern Indiana)? They get light, I can lightly mist them, but can I cover them with clear bubble wrap some how. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. There are dozens of plants, all varieties in shallow flats. HELP PLEASE.

Alan  – (November 23, 2015 at 11:26 AM)  

Charlotte: what types of succulents? Many are cold-hardy and can take zone 5 winters if kept on the dry side, but others are tender and must be kept above freezing.

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