While the Rogue Valley boasts an enviable climate, Zone 8 is still too harsh for plenty of plants out there. But that doesn't mean you need to miss out on the summer color of a hot pink bougainvillea or the tropically gorgeous blooms of a hibiscus, it just means you have to move them inside when the temperatures start to dip. Other plants that are typically treated as annuals, like geraniums or fuschia, for example, are nice to overwinter for the color they'll add to your windowsills or the money you'll save each spring by not having to buy a new yardful. Plus, you know, they grow, so the longer you keep them, the bigger they get: eventually your little budget-buy four-inch pots will be the size of plants that go for big bucks in the stores.
Read This First!
Before you go running out the door to cart in everything you've bought this season, there are a few things to consider first.
1. Space. Probably, you'll need to prioritize which plants spend the winter inside. Unless you have tons of sunny, south-facing windowsills, everything might not fit. If everything won't fit, let the easily replaceable plants go, and give your potted ornamentals the choice spots.
2. Protecting your stuff. Plants need to go in saucers, which will catch any extra water that runs off and protect your floors/tables/plant stands from getting scratched by the bottom of the pot. Cork pads can shield furniture from pots that have saucers attached already.
3. Pests. More on this later, but only bring healthy plants inside. If a plant has been struggling with disease or bug issues, it's not worth risking infecting your other plants while inside. Plus, the transition stresses plants, which makes them less able to fight off problems. Let nature run its course.
Now that you've considered which plants to bring inside and you've got their winter homes set up, it's time to "winterize" your plants.
1. Inspect each plant very carefully for bugs. Remove anything you find.
2. Do a general clean-up. Remove dead or unhealthy-looking leaves, deadhead spent blooms, that kind of thing.
3. Prune. This depends on the plant type, so you should research what your plant requires, but you can prune back some growth just to help it fit nicely into the space it will be wintering.
4. Give the plant a shower. You can do this outside with the spray of the hose, or inside in your shower. The idea here is to clean the foliage of dust, dirt and any crud that's accumulated on the leaves. This is a good thing to do once a month or once every two months while the plant is inside, to perk it up a bit (especially for tropicals, like a hibiscus, that like humidity). Cover the top of the pot with a plastic bag so just the leaves get wet. Also, protect the bottom of your shower or tub to keep it from getting scratched.
5. Repot. Gently remove the plant from the pot, spray off the roots to get rid of clinging dirt, and scrub the pot. If you're going to take more than a few minutes doing this, put the plant in a bucket of water so the roots don't dry out. Fill the now-clean pot partway with dirt, put the plant back in, arrange the roots, and hold the base of the plant in place as you fill the pot with fresh potting soil. This varies somewhat from plant to plant, so do a little additional research.
Repotting is kind of a pain, but it's pretty important for maintaining the health of your plants year after year. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Soil gets depleted. A pot is a much more controlled environment than your yard, and nutrients have no way of getting replenished unless you do it. If you're adding compost regularly and fertilizing, this isn't as much of an issue. BUT...
2. Diseases. Soil can get sick, in a sense. Using the same soil repeatedly can allow diseases to flourish and ruin plants. Repotting also forces you to get rid of the dead leaves and other junk that can accumulate on the soil surface.
3. Pests. Some pests would like to overwinter in larvae form in your house. Their chances of survival over the winter are much greater inside than out. You'll eliminate them if you clean your pots, clean the roots of your plants, and repot with fresh soil.
Remember, these plants have been used to being inside. Don't shove them out the door at the first sign of springtime. Allow them to acclimate gradually to changes in light and temperature.
Note: Some plants can also be allowed to go dormant, which basically means that you keep them in a cool, dark place, water minimally, and let them hibernate. Obviously, that's not the overwintering method this article addresses.