Sunday, May 19, 2013

Overwintering annuals - great rewards

This week I will start planting the containers that will go by my front door and on my back porch. I have been known to go a bit crazy with container gardens, but this year I promise restraint :)  The most fun will be the containers with Corn by the front door - lots of drama and I hope people are thinking "is that corn?" 

Luckily for me, a few years ago I started overwintering my containers and so now I have lots of great plants to start with already.  I regularly overwinter the following plants:
- Geraniums
- Tender Grasses (See this blog post on grasses)
- "Spikes"
- Coleus  

It all a started with the Spikes. I'm sure you have seen these available at your garden center - fairly small and not so expensive. They are "pushed" as accent plants for containers. My problem was that everything else in the container would always grow so fast - that in a month or so, the Spike Plant was lost in the growth.  So, one year I decided to put that container into the basement and keep it over the winter. The Spike survived and today I have the very large specimen plant you see in the photo. It's turned into a focal point for my garden (not where it's placed in the photo.) And it still stays in a container.  Take a look below at how brilliant these little spikes can become! It's hard to tell but this is a 14 inch white pot, and the spike is now about 3 1/2 feet tall!  Check the size relative to the garden bench.

Impact of Overwintering Annuals (In containers)
Left side - as purchased, Right Side - after 3 yrs overwintering

Here are a few of my lessons' learned from over wintering annuals in containers. 

  • Insects - check the container carefully for insects and if you need, spray with insecticidal soap (a few times over a week or so ) before bringing inside.
  • Light - If possible place plants near a sunny window or I have a friend who uses grow lights (I'm to frugal to do that!)  
  • Pruning - I cut back the annual (except in the case of a spike type plant) to reduce foliage to perhaps 1/3 or 1/2 the final summer size. This depends on your light. It's got to get cut back so it won't get leggy and stressed.  I cut back a few weeks before I want to put it inside the house.
  • Re-potting before winter - I try to take the plants out of the container, check the soil and perhaps amend, then put them back in the same pot. I'm not 100% of this step, sometimes I just haul it inside as is!
  • Fertilizer/Water - as you would for your house plants. I try to fertilize a bit more aggressively as the spring gets closer. This corresponds to more light and my plants get a boost before I push them back outside. 

By early spring, your Coleus could be over a foot tall.  Impatiens can be overwintered too and they can get very large. Geraniums grow easily indoors in containers; I minimize flowers and really cut these back for winter.  Geraniums and coleus I prune back a few times during the winter to get branching and prevent straggly growth. The coleus I also start from these cuttings.

So just think -it's easy to do, you get to garden all winter, it saves money, and you have awesome plants early in the season.  So as you plan your garden in the spring - think about what you can save over until the fall. Or if you are reading this in fall, think about what you can try to save. 

Don't worry if the first time or the plant you chooses doesn't survive the winter. Trial and error happened with me too. :)

Listening to the birds sing today!

Teresa Marie

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