Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I have used the word "overwintering" a few times in this blog- then a friend asked me what I meant by it. Overwintering is taking a plant that is usually potted, into the indoors or into a sheltered location for the duration of the winter. Overwintering can allow a plant that is not normally hardy to your region to survive until the next growing season. Sometime it is as simple as bringing a plant indoors and putting it next to a sunny window. I do this for hibiscus and a curry leaf tree. Both suffer some leaf loss from the lower light and drier conditions, but later rebound- and the hibiscus sometimes rewards me with an indoor bloom or two! Some plants simply need some minimal shelter, like an unheated garage, and this is where I put my potted exotic bulbs, passionflowers and bonsai plants. I water them sparingly, as they are dormant during this time.

Some plants need a bit more care. Last year I overwintered a Meyer lemon in a sunny window. Though it survived, it looked pretty ratty by about this time. This year, I put my Meyer lemon, Kaffir lime (top photo), lemongrass and a few other outdoor plants in my heated (but cooler than the rest of the house) attic under florescent lights. The plants look great, and the Meyer lemon is rewarding me with fragrant blossoms! (see photo below).

I am also overwintering some large ornamental bananas (photo below), though I am not completely certain they need this level of care. I have read about people in this region storing them in an unheated garage, waiting for them to send out a daughter plant in the spring.

You need to watch for light levels, but also for over-or under-watering and pests. Plants do not put out as much growth in the winter, so could easily get root rot from too much water. When you first bring the plants indoors, you might also bring in some hitch hiking aphids, white flies or scale bugs (among others), so some sources recommend dousing the plant and the soil in insecticidal soap (no chemical fertilizers, you do not what them in your home, as they are not meant for indoor use) and isolating the plants from other houseplants for a few weeks.

After the last frost, my plants will go back outside. I might try to acclimate them to outdoor conditions for a week before the last frost, and will first put them out on a shaded and protected porch for a few hours, increasing the length each day. This is not possible with my HUGE and HEAVY banana plants...I can only ask my son and husband to drag them out of the attic to their final destination in one go! (DO NOT heavily water a large potted plant just prior to moving it- let it dry out a bit, or it will be a messy job to move!)
[Later note: my husband, upon viewing these plants in our attic asked if I had posted photos of them on this blog, so that I could get the "proper insane, obsessed gardener street cred." ! ]

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