The winter forecast for much of the United States is looking especially grim this year. Therefore, gardeners everywhere are acting a lot like old Saint Nick. We’re making a list and checking it twice to make sure that our favorite plants are not left out in the cold. Gardeners with limited space indoors and too many finicky plants may even find themselves considering the good and bad elements. We’re quick to reward the nice ones by bringing them in and we punish the naughtier (thornier) specimens who enjoy stabbing random passersby by letting them take their chances outside. However, if you’re trying to save all your plants, fear not! For behold, I bring you tidings of great winter gardening tips!
The Most Basic of Winter Gardening Tips – Bring Them Inside
Tropical and subtropical plants are likely to survive the winter if you bring them indoors. Species that go dormant are especially easy to protect from the cold. Once they die down to their roots, it’s easy to dig them up and store them for the rest of the winter. Just keep them somewhere that’s dry, dark, and cool but above freezing. A closet is a good place to store them. However, they can get lost. So use a container that’s brightly colored or highly visible to store them.
Indoor Plant Care
Species that remain awake in the winter are going to need appropriate amounts of sunlight. This generally means placing them under a squeaky clean window or introducing them to a grow-light. However, there are some species that can get by just fine with less than optimal light levels. It’s always smart to familiarize yourself with the needs of each species when they’re first purchased. This prevents any nasty surprises. It’s also a good rule of (green) thumb to keep all your plants away from any areas that are prone to extremes in temperature. This include places like vents, space heaters, fireplaces, exterior windows, the garage, and inside the fridge.
The livelier species also have to be watered on a regular basis. Some will nonetheless lose their leaves and look like sticks the entire winter. (Lemon verbena and bougainvilleas are particularly bad about this.) Saucers are a great way to keep the water from escaping. Just avoid terracotta ones because moisture seeps through them. That’s not something you want to learn the hard way on your pristine hardwood flooring. Covering the floors/tables with an old plastic table cloth is another good way to prevent damage. And hell hath no fury like an angry spouse or roommate whose floor or furniture you just ruined with your winter plant rescue operation.
Keep Them Covered
Of course, there are always those plants that are either too large, too pointy, or too firmly rooted in their spots to drag inside during the winter months. That brings me to the next in this series of winter gardening tips.
Basic tarps, cloches, heavy mulches, and cold frames are all useful methods for staving off the worst of the cold weather. Heck, you could even build a geodesic dome greenhouse for them. However, blankets or thick sheets are probably your best option for smaller to medium sized plants. Thrift stores like Goodwill are great for finding cheap blankets and sheets if you don’t have any old ones that you’re willing to sacrifice. Just make sure that all the branches are cloaked and that the covering reaches the ground. Twine and/or duct tape will also come in handy when it comes to wrapping up plants that need to stay outdoors.
Create a Temperature Chart
I highly recommend creating a temperature tolerance chart for all the plants in your garden, especially for the portable ones. Mine is in a Word file on my computer but a paper copy works equally well. Having this information on hand helps you remember exactly when to bring in your plants or cover them up. My indoor winter plants are currently divided into groups of those that need to come in at 40ºF (the pineapples) and those that come in when it’s freezing. Of course, you’ll want to organize your own system in a way that works for you. The chart will additionally prevent you from spending months tripping over plants that could have been left outdoors.
Container Winter Gardening Tips – Zone Defense
Container grown plants are less tolerant of winter temperatures than their in-ground counterparts because their roots are more exposed to the air. You should subtract two zones from your regular one when it comes to determining if your container plants can safely remain outdoors. I’ve personally never had problems with this general guideline, but that formula might need adjustment in more or less extreme zones.
An Aesthetic Warming Option for Citrus Trees
If you’re a warm climate dweller with a beloved citrus tree and there’s a nasty cold snap on the way, why not try stringing the plant up with fully operational Christmas lights? Even if the holidays are over, there’s no reason your tree can’t remain merry and bright! Don’t forget to turn the lights on though. And beware, blankets or tarps in conjunction with lights can create a fire hazard, so we recommend picking one technique or the other.
If all else fails, why not invest in perennials or cold weather veggies that will withstand the worst possible conditions in your area? Your garden will then keep on growing no matter how long winter lasts. But, in any case, stay warm and happy gardening! If we missed any of your favorite winter gardening tips, please share them in the comments below.