Learn how to properly overwinter your garden plants to keep them protected from cold weather, wind, and snow. From herbs to geraniums to roses to tropical plants, we’ll help your plants survive the winter. They’ll thank you in the spring!
How to Overwinter Geraniums
Before the first frost (find frost dates for your region here), cut plants back to about 6 to 8 inches. Then lift the plants and cut back the roots. Put the trimmed plants in the smallest pots possible—containers just large enough to fit the roots. Fill the remaining space in the pot with regular potting soil. Keep the plants in the shade for a week and then place them in a sunny spot indoors. When new growth starts, cut off all the old leaves.
How to Overwinter Rosemary
This culinary herb prefers life in a pot and can successfully survive as a houseplant from year to year.
Before a frost in the fall, dig it up, plant it in a pot, and bring it indoors. Place it in a sunny window and keep it evenly watered. Mist the leaves frequently or place the entire plant in the shower and give it a good rinse once a month. The plant may start to look a little tired by March, but it will perk up once you return it to the garden. Dig a hole in the late spring, after all danger of frost has passed, and set the plant back into the soil.
Learn more about overwintering rosemary.
How to Overwinter Roses
Roses need thick insulation to help them stay dormant. For those that are grafted, such as hybrid teas, make sure that their graft unions are covered with soil to insulate them from low temperatures. After a freeze or two, mound 12 inches of soil around the base of the rosebush.
Nongrafted roses, such as rugosas and antiques, don’t need much protection. Just mulch the ground around them with a couple of inches of straw or shredded leaves.
All climbing roses need to be protected. Pull down the canes, lay them on the ground, and cover them with at least 6 inches of soil. Mound soil around the plant base, too. If your winter temperatures go below –10°F, leave canes in place and insulate them with a thick covering of straw wrapped with burlap or old sheets.
How to Overwinter Perennials
To encourage your perennials, especially new plants, to go dormant and stay that way through the inevitable freezing and thawing cycles of winter, you may apply mulch of straw, leaves, or other organic matter after the first several hard frosts. If you mulch the ground too early in the fall, rodents may find the cozy layer impossible to resist and the mulch may also delay the ground from freezing solid. See our article on getting your perennial garden ready for winter.
How to Overwinter Tropical Plants
Many tropical plants grow from underground bulbs, corms, or tubers, including caladium, calla lily, canna, dahlia, ginger, and tuberous begonia. These plants are easy to overwinter. When nights drop into the low 40s or high 30s F, the leaves of plants will brown and begin to die. This is your cue to dig, or lift, them up. (You can wait until after a killing frost to dig dahlias and cannas.)
Remove the dirt from the swollen portions of the roots and set them on newspapers in a shaded area or the garage to cure for a couple of days. Cut off the top growth and pack the bulbs, corms, and tubers in a box filled with dry peat moss or vermiculite. Store in a dark area where the temperature is between 35° and 50°F.
When spring arrives, plant again for another year of enjoyment. Bulbous tropicals will increase their numbers and produce bigger bulbs, corms, and tubers when they are saved from year to year in this manner.
Read more about overwintering tropical plants.
Extra-Hardy Tropical Options
These plants can take colder temperatures than others in their class. The temperature given is what the plant can survive without protection. You can gain another 5 to 10 degrees of cold tolerance if you mulch heavily, plant in a sheltered area, and wrap plants.
- Bananas: Musa basjoo (–5ºF)
- Citrus: ‘Satsuma’ tangerine, ‘Meyer’ lemon, ‘Trifoliate’ orange (20ºF)
- Figs: ‘Celeste,’ ‘Italian Honey,’ ‘Hardy Chicago,’ ‘Brown Turkey,’ ‘Petite Negra’ (10ºF)
- Passionflowers: Incense passionflower, Passiflora incarnata (–10ºF)
How to Overwinter Trees
Protect a small tree or shrub from extreme cold and the uneven temperatures of freezing and thawing by surrounding it with a cylinder of snow fencing or chicken wire. Fill the space between the tree and the fencing with straw or leaves for insulation.
To shield a dwarf or young evergreen from winter damage, drive stakes into the ground at four corners around the plant. Wrap burlap or heavy black plastic around the stakes and secure it at the top, bottom, and center with stout twine.