As the skies get dark and the weather grows cold, gardeners face one of the biggest challenges of the year: how to protect plants in winter. No matter how healthy a plant is in the warm season, a cold snap, frosty winds, or prolonged cold and rain can do lasting damage. How do you protect your precious plant babies from the harsh winter chill?
Naturally, it depends on what zone you’re growing in, what plants you have, and how much you’re willing to do to keep them alive. Whether you’re ready to go all-in with grow lights and repotting or you just want to know whether you should throw the hanging basket out now or after it’s died, we’ve got the tips to help you take care of your plants this winter.
How to Protect Container Plants in Winter
Container plants are great for people with small spaces, without a yard, or just those of us who appreciate a cute pot. But they present some problems for winter gardeners—how do you keep your pots pretty and your plants healthy throughout the cold months?
First of all, if you live in the warmer parts of zone 8 or south, you likely won’t have to do much winterizing at all. Keep your plants moist but not sopping wet, cover them during freezes, and keep an eye out for prolonged snows or other inclement weather that may require you to bring them inside and you’ll likely have most of your favorite blooms in spring.
If you live in zone 4 or colder zones, on the other hand, wintering plants can be quite difficult. These regions will likely need to bring plants inside to keep them from dying in the harsh cold and winds, so plan to make room for them or to let a few of them die off in the chill.
As you’re planning which plants to bring in and which to leave out, begin with anything planted in terra cotta. Terra cotta is porous and may crack in freezing weather. Repot anything in unglazed terra cotta (glazed is a bit hardier, and may be fine depending on temperatures) and move your terra cotta pots indoors for winter to protect them.
For outdoor pots, consider switching to plastic, wood, or fiberglass, all of which can be left outdoors. Plastic may crack if soil expands during a freeze, so opt for fiberglass or wood if your region is prone to quick or long-lasting freezing.
Group any remaining outdoor pots together, and put your most cold-sensitive pot or plant in the center. Wrap your pots with bubble wrap or burlap covered with plastic wrap to provide additional insulation and keep the roots and soil from freezing.
What Plants to Bring Inside During Winter
You’ve gone through your plants and repotted those that need repotting, and now you’re faced with a decision: what plants should you bring inside during winter?
To start sorting, look at each plant’s requirements. Do they need full sun? How tolerant of cold are they? Plants that need lots of sun may be a better fit for staying outside with insulation, while those that need warmer temperatures may be better off indoors.
Also consider plant health. If a plant isn’t thriving outside, it’s not going to get any healthier inside. Leave anything with pests or diseases outdoors.
Priority should go to your favorite plants. Pick the ones that have sentimental value or that you’ve worked hard to cultivate—the ones you’d be heartbroken to lack in the spring. Look at their requirements and prioritize their placement to ensure they get the right amount of sun and care throughout the winter.
If you grow peppers or tomatoes, small plants, particularly patio varieties, may be brought inside and continue to fruit all winter. These will require lots of light, but the trade-off of fresh vegetables may be worth it!
Certain herbs that go dormant in the winter, such as lavender and rosemary, may actually be moved to your basement or garage for the winter months. Keep their soil damp, but don’t worry about light until most of the freezing danger has passed.
If you’re running out of room for your beloved plants, take cuttings and pot them in small containers. Cuttings take up less room than full plants and can be replanted in the warmer months. If the plants you took cuttings from don’t make it through the winter, you have backups—and if they do, you have new ones to plant!
Whatever you bring indoors should be brought in early to allow them an opportunity to adjust to the temperature changes. No matter how moderate you keep your home’s temperature, your plants will want a little time to adjust.
Plants You Can Grow Inside During Winter
If watching your plants go dormant is giving you the winter blues, cheer up; there are things you can grow indoors over winter, too.
Herbs are a great choice. Basil, oregano, sage, lavender, and mint can all thrive indoors. Better still, they make excellent additions to fall and winter cooking! You can dry the excess and have home-grown spices throughout the year.
Greens, such as lettuce, arugula, and spinach, can also be grown indoors. However, due to light needs and other concerns, you’ll likely have an easier time harvesting them as baby or microgreens. Thankfully, baby and microgreens can still make delicious salads or additions to any sandwich!
Citrus fruits may also be brought indoors in the winter, where they benefit from warmer temperatures. However, citrus fruits need lots of sunlight—usually eight to 12 hours—to really thrive. A south-facing window will typically do the trick, but if you need a little boost, consider a grow light to help your citrus plant thrive.
Sprouts are also a great choice for growing indoors during the winter. You can grow them in or out of soil from a variety of seeds, including clover, alfalfa, radish, or sunflower. Always purchase organic or pathogen-free sprouting seeds to avoid contagion from fertilizers or other contaminants, and keep your growing utensils and containers clean.
How to Protect Hanging Baskets in Winter
Hanging baskets can add wonderful color and drama to a garden, but how can you keep them safe throughout winter?
If you want to keep that color going all winter, choose hardier plants, such as pansies, violas, or narcissus. Hardier plants may be able to stand the colder weather without additional care, though do be sure to reference how each plant fares in your zone to be sure.
The weather is often cloudier and the days shorter in the winter, so maximize the time your plants get in the sun by swapping them around once in a while, paying attention to which ones need the most sun and prioritizing their placement.
Since wind can be just as damaging to plants as cold, consider lowering your planters closer to the ground. This helps protect them from the harsh winds, and the air is often warmer closer to the ground, giving them a little extra protection.
When preparing for an overnight freeze, a simple garbage bag over the top of your basket can help prevent your plants from freezing. However, if the freeze will go on longer than overnight, use a breathable fabric, especially a cover meant specifically for protecting from frosts, to keep them safe.
If you have space in your garden, consider planting your hanging baskets—pot and all—in the dirt. Dig a hole big enough for the pot, and bury it with a bit of a hill to help keep it warm and comfortable during the winter.
Quick Tips for Prepping Your Garden for Winter
You’ve sorted your plants, moved what you can inside, and planned what herbs you’ll be growing through the winter. What else can you do to keep your plants healthy throughout the winter?
Mulch in Winter
Mulch is a winter gardener’s best friend. Adding some additional material on top of the soil insulates your plants from the harshest temperatures. Using an organic mulch can add extra nutrients as it decomposes, giving them a boost. Wait until after the first hard frost to mulch to prevent the plant from weakening.
Trees need a little winter love, too. Protect trunks with burlap or similar breathable materials to keep out the frost. Not wrapping sensitive trees can lead to sunscald, caused by bark warming and cooling rapidly, which may result in cracking. Insects and diseases have an easier time infiltrating cracked trees, so protect them ahead of time.
Cover Plants During a Freeze
A sharp drop in temperatures can shock your plants and cause browning or death. Typically, damage occurs after five hours at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Covering your plants when you expected an overnight freeze can help protect them from both cold and wind, two of the biggest threats to winter plants. Opt for breathable fabric over plastic, and cover plants before dark, limiting contact between your fabric and foliage if possible. Remove coverings after sunrise to prevent an unhealthy buildup of heat from sunlight.
A beautiful garden starts with a beautiful design. Contact the Transblue franchise nearest you to learn more about transforming your backyard living space into a luxury oasis!