Saving Your Plants from the Big Chill
If you’re like us, every fall you want to erect a giant greenhouse around your yard to keep all the summer plants you love growing throughout winter. But, sadly, the green home builders at Tommy Williams Homes know that’s impossible. We can, however, protect plants from winter weather.
To everything there is a season, as the saying goes, and winter will have her way, even here in northern Florida. Although it doesn’t happen often, winter temperatures can and do fall below freezing several times each winter, threatening tender vegetation.
Still, there are ways to prolong the life of your plants, and even save some of your favorites by moving them indoors.
And the time to start is now. The average first frost date for Gainesville is November 25. But it’s better for the plants if you don’t rush out the night before a frost and hustle them indoors. Whether you’re taking cuttings or overwintering the entire plant, the ideal time to begin acclimating them to the move is when the outdoor temperatures are near where they’ll spend the winter, i.e., in your house.
What can you keep?
The good news is there’s almost no outdoor plant you can’t save from a wintry death, even many annuals.
Here are just a few of the many plants you can overwinter indoors:
- New Guinea impatiens
- all types of herbs
The problem is, unless you have a lot of unused space in your home, you can’t bring in everything. Which means you’ll have to make some hard choices about what to save and what to surrender to winter.
Where can you keep them?
Start by surveying your home. Even though you can maintain outdoor plants indoors, you can’t give them everything they’d get by being outside: fresh, humid air, sufficient sunlight, natural pest fighters like ladybugs, etc. But you can give them enough of their requirements to get them through our relatively short winters.
You’ll need a lot of light to sustain growth. Do you have a patio door that faces south, east, or west? If so, can you devote that area to setting up plants there, or will they be in the way as your family comes and goes? How about bay windows? Kitchen windows? Bedroom windows? Can you hang some plants in front of the windows so they receive the light they need but are out of the way?
If you don’t have enough room in you home, how about the garage or storage shed? There, you can let plants go dormant, providing just enough water—once every couple weeks or so—to keep the root ball from drying out completely. Come spring, gradually begin exposing them to light and watering more often before moving them back outside.
If you’re really tight on space, think about taking cuttings of a few favorites. Soft-stemmed plants such as impatiens or coleus can be rooted in water, then potted up. For woody-stemmed plants like hibiscus, dip cut ends into rooting hormone then plant in pots.
Bringing them indoors
Space considerations will necessarily limit you to a few of your favorites. Select healthy plants, and inspect them thoroughly for signs of pests. If the plants are root bound, trim the roots and repot them before bringing them inside.
Give the foliage a good spray with a hose, including the undersides of leaves, to remove any hidden pests. And for good measure, you might want to spritz them with an organic, broad-spectrum pesticide to ensure they’re entirely pest-free.
Water once a week or so, or when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Also mist at least every other day to discourage pests. Don’t feed plants during the winter; wait until spring to begin fertilizing.
A note of consolation
Even if you follow all the rules, and devote your best to your indoor winter garden, you will inevitably lose some—maybe even many—of the plants you tried to overwinter. This is especially true if this is the first time you’ve tried to protect your plants from winter weather.
Some won’t thrive in the available light; some will be attacked by pests such as spider mites that seem to materialize from nowhere; some won’t survive the lack of humidity . . . some will just die for no apparent reason.
When this happens, you can take consolation in the fact that you had them longer than you would have if you’d left them outside. You can also learn which plants survived and which didn’t, try to figure out why, and try again next year.
When you’re ready to make your move into a beautifully designed, carefully crafted net-zero home, come to Tommy Williams Homes, Gainesville’s most experienced green-home builder.