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Store And Save: Overwintering Plants Is The Caring Thing To Do

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

What a week to be in the Rural Intelligence region. The colors, the weather, the sunsets —  it’s just too much to put into words, so I’m not going to try. If you’re here, you know. 

But don’t be fooled — those cold temperatures are going to be here before you know it and you don’t want to be caught off guard. For the past couple of weeks here at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, we’ve been bringing in all of the non-hardy and tropical plants that we overwinter in the greenhouses. I realize that most of us aren’t lucky enough to have a greenhouse, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t overwinter some of your non-hardy plants in your home with success and ease. 

Dahlias [in before-and-after photos above] are a perfect example. Long loved for their large, colorful blooms, dahlias are available in an abundance of varieties and colors. Unfortunately, dahlias can’t survive through our rough New England winters. However, they’re so easy to store that they’re worth the effort. Here’s what you do:

After the first frost or when the plant starts to blacken, cut it back to about four inches above the soil line. Then, with a fork or spade, gently lift the roots out of the ground. These are tuberous plants and you will most likely see the eyes of new growth on the roots. Carefully remove the soil from around the roots and then, if you want to divide them, do so now, making sure that each root has at least one eye on it. Leave the dahlia root out in a cool, dry place to dry (up to two weeks). Put the dry roots in a bucket or box and cover them with sawdust, peat moss or sand, keeping them dry until you’re ready to plant in the spring after the ground has thawed and the threat of frost has passed.

Canna lilies have a similar storage method, with one exception: after they’ve dried they should be hung in mesh bags or placed on racks so that the air moves freely around them. Keep them in a place where the temperature will not rise above 50 degrees, but won’t dip below freezing. 

Other plants, like geraniums, can be dug up and brought in whole, but they can get messy and take up a lot of room. By the end of the summer, you’re usually dealing with a larger plant that will eventually lose some of its flowers and leaves after you bring it inside. Instead of trying to overwinter the entire plant, try taking a clipping before the first frost and rooting it inside. Find a good, healthy slip of the plant (about 4 to 5 inches in length) and remove the lower leaves above the cut. Dip the cutting in a rooting agent and place it in a pot filled with good, fertile soil. To help it along, you can cover it with a plastic bag until the roots have formed, usually in about four weeks. Place your rooted plant in a south-facing window and continue to water it throughout the winter. Once the weather warms and the frosts have passed, you should have a healthy plant that’s ready to be planted outside.

There are lots of annuals in the summer garden that can make it through the winter indoors. These are just a few of the easier ones (because I really like easy). If you have other varieties that you would like to overwinter, do a little research and see what’s recommended; different plants have very different needs. The worst that could happen is that it will die and, well, that would’ve happened anyway.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/01/14 at 09:35 AM • Permalink