Offering your Plants Winter ProtectionAug 21, 2023 04:04PM ● By Lizzy Diamond
With chilly fall temperatures approaching, Omaha gardeners are getting ready to say goodbye to their outdoor flora. Most plants will not survive outside after the first freeze. But there is a way to save them for another year of growth and enjoyment.
Overwintering—bringing plants indoors to spend the coldest months—is a great way to extend the life of potted perennial blooms and outdoor plants for more than one growing season, while saving yourself a bit of work potting and planting again next spring. It’s also a great way to save money. Garden centers have not been spared by inflation, and plant prices have risen up to 30% in the last few years.
Joan Persigehl maintains a rather impressive yard of blooms at her Elkhorn home, including a variety of potted plants and flowers sprinkling her deck, patio, and entryway. And her plant maintenance doesn’t stop when the weather gets cold. For the past decade, the veteran gardener has been overwintering potted plants in her home’s unfinished basement.
Persigehl first got the idea to overwinter plants 10 years ago after realizing that she could potentially save a few dollars by preserving them for another year. “I thought, I’ll try, and if it doesn’t work, I haven’t lost anything.”
According to the Iowa State Extension Office, the best plants for overwintering are tropical and semitropical perennials. Gerber daisies, geraniums, petunias, and a large Boston fern are among the varieties that Persigehl has successfully overwintered. Other semitropical perennials that are popular in Omaha gardens include hibiscus, hydrangeas, dahlias, and begonias. “It’s kind of fun to see which ones work,” Persigehl said.
When bringing in plants for overwintering, it’s important to do so before the first hard freeze. Some homeowners may want to start moving plants inside after the first frost. The National Weather Service notes October 6 as the average first frost date for Omaha. Signs of an incoming frost are clear skies, cool temperature, and calm to light winds. The average first hard freeze is October 26. Plants can safely be returned outdoors after the last hard freeze in the spring, which is approximately April 21.
Before bringing plants indoors, they should be properly cleaned to remove any unwanted pests. Homeowners should start by removing the top inch of soil, which may have become unhealthy, and any dead foliage. To further prevent pests from hitchhiking inside, pots should be wiped down thoroughly, and leaves sprayed with a hose or wiped individually with a damp cloth.
While overwintering, its best to keep plants in a cool, dry place. Garages and basements are ideal spots for safe housing, as long as they will remain above 45 degrees. Some plant varieties will continue normal growth indoors and will thrive with minimal sunlight from any windows in the space. Other varieties may go into a dormancy period. These plants can be covered with a flannel sheet or blanket to protect against excess sunlight and temperature fluctuations. It’s best to keep all plants away from cold drafts or heat flow from vents. All overwintering plants should be watered sparingly to prevent rotting.
Aside from the obvious perk of saving money, overwintering plants has another bright side, Persigehl said. “It’s kind of fun to go down to the basement in the dead of winter and see live plants. Sometimes I’ll even have a few flowers blooming,” she said. She shared that she’s even had friends visit in the winter just to be surrounded by green plants.
Persigehl would encourage other plant lovers to try their hand (or green thumb) at overwintering. “Why not try it?” she implored. “It makes you feel good.”
For more information about overwintering, visit growveg.com/guides/8-rules-for-overwintering-plants-in-a-garage-or-basement/