Winter in Powell River is practically balmy compared to the rest of Canada, but it still kills off some of our favourite annual plants every year. It’s always sad to see our gorgeous annuals all brown and droopy. Have you ever considered overwintering some of your favourites?
Some annuals are only suited for a single season. However, some of the plants we consider annuals are perennials in warmer climates. There are a few of these warm-weather beauties that we can bring inside for the winter, and grow even bigger and stronger outside next year.
When you bring plants indoors, it’s essential to try and replicate their preferred environment as much as possible. Moving indoors is a stressful change and a bit of a shock, so expect some leaf drop and apparent dormancy for a few weeks. Some plants prefer to go entirely dormant for the winter. Plants like this do best in a cool dark location, like a basement storage space.
The most important thing to look for when you’re bringing plants in from outside is pests. If possible, quarantine your outdoor plants in a room by themselves for a few weeks to make sure they’re pest-free before you let them anywhere near other houseplants. Plants in shock from an environment change are more susceptible to pests and disease, so inspect them carefully for signs of damage. If you do see signs of pests, we can help you find the right solution to tackle the infestation.
Which Plants Can I Overwinter Indoors?
Overwintering Tomatoes: You can bring tomatoes in at the end of summer before they freeze. They’ll produce less and less fruit over time and eventually will stop producing altogether. Alternatively, you can grow tomatoes indoors in successive batches so you can have fresh tomatoes all winter. Tomatoes need 8 hours of full sun a day, so you may need to invest in fluorescent grow lights to get them through the shortest days of the year. If you seed a new batch of tomatoes every two weeks, starting 6-8 weeks before freezing weather hits, you may succeed in harvesting tomatoes all winter long.
Overwintering Begonias: Begonias can easily be overwintered indoors. They like bright light, but not direct sun, so don’t put them in a south-facing window. Make sure to keep them lightly moist throughout the winter and fertilize them occasionally. Moving inside from the outdoors is a stressful transition, so expect some leaf drop initially, but they should recover after a little while. Keep in mind that Begonias like humidity. A pebble tray underneath your pot is the best way to keep the humidity at a high enough level around the plant. Misting helps, but it needs to be done a couple of times a day if you don’t have a pebble tray as well.
Overwintering Mums: You can also overwinter chrysanthemums indoors. Unlike begonias and tomatoes, they go dormant, so their care is a little bit different. Keep mums outdoors until after the first frost, when the foliage has turned brown. Once they’ve been through a frost, bring them inside and keep them somewhere cool and dark. A basement, unheated closet, or even a garage will work. If you think it will get colder than freezing in the space, wrap the pot in several layers of newspaper or burlap to insulate it better.
Your mum will still need occasional watering in the winter. Check the soil every few weeks, and when it’s dry about 2 inches down, give it a light watering. A couple of weeks ahead of the last expected frost in spring, you can start acclimating your mum to the outdoors again, but returning it to its dark indoor space every night until we’re safely past the last frost.
Overwintering Plants Outdoors
Delicate outdoor plants need two key things: protection and water.
First things first, delicate perennials should be planted in sheltered locations, like near the house on the south-facing side. Even in a protected spot, they still may need extra insulation through the winter. You can wrap them in burlap or botanical insulating fleece.
If they’re not in a sheltered spot, they may need extra measures to protect from drying winds. You can pound 4-5 stakes around the plant, 8-10 inches away from the leaves, and wrap burlap around the outside of that as well to give it an extra layer of protection and insulation from the wind. Once the snow flies, you can pile snow up around covered tender plants to help insulate them even more.
Watering is essential to the survival of delicate plants. If they dry out, they’re done for. No matter how well you wrapped them up. Keep watering regularly until just before the ground freezes. If plants go into winter with a good store of water in their roots, stems, and leaves, they should happily survive the winter.
Are you going to try overwintering some plants this year? If you’ve got any questions about what plants will overwinter well, or how to care for a particular plant over the winter, you can always ask our expert staff at our garden centre in Powell River. We’ve also got all the supplies you need to protect your outdoor plants through the winter.