Winterizing Tender Perennials and Tropicals
You've invested a lot of time and money into your garden. Get the most out of your investment and ensure your garden returns year after year by following these few simple steps.
Tender plants are some of the most unique and colorful plants in existence. They can be grown anywhere in the country during the summer. However, since these plants are native to southern regions of the continent and even South America, they very rarely experience cool weather, much less snow. Many people treat tender plants as annuals, leaving them to the frost and snow for the winter and replacing them each season.
But why replant each season and throw away all of this season's work and hard earned money? Most tender plants do well as houseplants during the cooler months--they stay nice and warm in your house and you get a decorative piece to accentuate your interior decor. Or, if you do not have room in your home for additional plants, you may also store them in a cool basement or garage (between 40 and 50 degrees) and allow them to go dormant for the winter. No matter where your store them, wait until after your last spring frost to return them outdoors.
Hardier potted plants need some winter protection, especially in colder climates. It is a good idea to place them in a protected area like a garage and bring them out into shaded areas on warm days. Another alternative is to place the plants on the south side of your home against a wall. The sunlight will last longer on this side of your home heating the wall so that it will radiate heat out through the night. It will also give the plants protection from northerly winds. To get the best results, you should mulch heavily around the containers.
A few tips on overwintering:
  • Check your plants for bugs before bringing them in. If you find an infestation, treat it immediately.
  • When kept indoors, keep the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees.
  • Since your plants are not out in the heat, reduce your watering so the plant does not stay too wet.
  • Make sure to place them in a sunny area where it's warm, but do not place them under air vents.
  • Some plants may prefer the bathroom or a tray filled with rocks and water to replicate outdoor humidity.
  • Some plant varieties may bloom indoors, but most will not due to lack of plant energy or light levels.
  • If you store your plants in a garage or basement, make sure the temperature is not below 40 degrees. If it is going to be, take extra caution to insulate their containers.
  • Check your plants for bugs before bringing them in. If you find an infestation, treat it immediately.
  • You may lightly fertilize your indoor plant about every month. Do not fertilize dormant plants. This can burn their roots!
  • It is recommended that bulbs and tuberous plants be kept dormant during winter for maximum spring performance the following year.
Winterizing Perennials
  • Before your temperature reaches 32 degrees, move any other containerized perennials into an unheated garage or basement and allow them to go dormant. If you do not have a basement or garage, pull containers up to the south side of the house and mulch heavily over the entire container.
  • Let bulbs die back to the ground, and then prune off the dead foliage. For hard winter areas, dig up your tender bulbs and store them in a cool, dark place. Hardy bulbs will be strong enough to stay in the ground.
  • After your first "killing frost", prune back any unwanted, unsightly, or damaged branches. Also, remove any decaying matter that could lead to reoccurring pest and disease problems.
  • For windy or heavy-snow areas, stake trees for added support.
  • Depending on your location, mulch accordingly over in-ground plants and wrap all grafted plants in a breathable material for insulation. Northern locations require increasingly more mulch as you enter colder regions. Southern areas need only light mulching.
Give one last good, deep watering before the freeze sets in. Reduce watering and discontinue fertilizing until after your plants show new growth in the spring.
After the first frost - when your perennials are starting to turn brown and die back - is the best time for mulching. You will want to cover the perennials with a 2-4 inch layer of mulch, straw (do not use hay) or evergreen boughs. This will help protect the plant through their winter dormancy. In very cold climates you can add mulch up to 6" deep for a heavy layer of protection. When spring arrives be sure to remove mulch and clip off the dead foliage. New growth should start appearing shortly as the ground continues to warm.
Some plants, like roses, need to be protected in the colder climates. A heavy mulching is called for, and if in doubt, mulch!
If you live in area that receives less than 1-inch of rain per week, your trees and shrubs will need to be watered throughout the winter. For individuals who live in areas where the ground actually freezes you will want to do one good deep watering before the ground freezes. This should provide enough moisture for the deep roots below the frozen soil. Apply a good 2-4 inch layer of mulch on top of your landscape fabric around your trees and shrubs. This will help hold in the soil's warmth and moisture throughout the winter. In very cold climates you can mulch up to 6 inch layer of protection and even higher around the trunks of trees and shrubs.
By following these few simple guidelines, you can help your plants, trees, and shrubs survive the harsh winter conditions.
Winter Mulching
  • Cold weather mulching protects perennials just like a heavy blanket of snow insulates the ground.
  • Add a few inches to the fall mulch for an extra layer of winter protection.
  • In hardy zones 3-6, winter mulching needs to be done after the ground has frozen.
  • In hardy zones 7-10 add winter mulch just prior to the first hard freeze.
  • In very cold climates you can safely mulch up to 6" deep.

Winterize - A Few Tips for the Upcoming Winter