University of Illinois Extension

 


Sharon Yiesla
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Lake County Unit

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Can I Keep It Through the Winter?

We all have some plant in the garden that we would like to save through the winter. Certain plants are easily maintained, others are more difficult. Let’s look at a few ways to keep those favorite plants alive.

Plants growing in containers: These plants are relatively easy to keep. If you are growing perennial flowers or small woody plants in containers, bring the entire container indoors. Place them in a basement or garage for the winter. The overwintering site should have some light and should stay above freezing all winter. Perennials and woody plants will be dormant during this time, so they won’t need large quantities of light and will need very little water (just enough to keep the root ball slightly moist).

Annual plants: There are some annual plants (grandma’s geranium, purple fountain grass, that herb you just can’t be without) that just seem worth keeping. This can be done couple of different ways.

The entire plant can be dug prior to frost and placed in a container. Once in a container, the plant can be treated like a houseplant, given good light and regular waterings. Annuals react to this treatment in various ways. Some plants may continue to grow and look good, others may maintain a living root system while the top of the plant looks less than desirable. Once spring arrives and the last frost has passed, these plants can be put back into the garden for a quick start.

Many annuals can be kept over winter as stem cuttings. This works well for plants with thicker stems, like geraniums. Take several stem cuttings about 3-4 inches long and stick them in a pot of soil. Keep the soil moist and place the cuttings in bright, but indirect light until they have a chance to form roots. Once they form roots, they can be placed in direct sunlight for good growth. Always take more cuttings than you think you will need, since some of the cuttings may not survive.

Plants that aren’t always fully hardy in our area: There are a few plants in our garden that are not fully hardy in our area. They may survive a milder winter and then die out in a harsher winter. Despite this, we still try to grow them. These plants include butterfly bush (Buddleia species), some species of hydrangea, many roses and some of the mums. After we have had a frost or two, consider a heavy mulching of these plants. The mulch should be several inches thick (up to 10 inches) and should drain well so that the plants do not drown. Surround the base of the plant with a small fence to hold the mulch in place and apply several inches of a light mulch like straw, oak leaves or evergreen boughs. There is no guarantee that this will work every year, but it may extend the life of some of these borderline plants.

 

Past Issues

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