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Can I Keep It?

This article goes over techniques for overwintering plants that must remain green and growing through the winter.

Contributors: Kerry Meyer

This article goes over techniques for overwintering plants that must remain green and growing through the winter.


As summer fades into fall, a gardener's thoughts turn to saving favorite plants for next year. With hardy perennials and shrubs the plants can be left to fend for themselves with little more than fall clean up and in some cases a nice mulching. Annuals are going to have their last hurrah and will eventually succumb to the freezing temperatures of fall nights. This leaves us with tropicals, tender perennials and a few assorted plants that can be overwintered in the house.

Many of us have favorite plants that we would like to overwinter and keep for next spring. Which plants are good candidates to bring inside for the winter? Many tropicals and plants sold as houseplants will do fine through the winter indoors. Foliage plants tend to be better suited to overwintering idoors than full sun, flowering plants because they adapt more quickly to indoor conditions.

Tropical – very tolerant of indoor conditions

Tender Perennials – usually need a sunny window

Full Sun Annuals and Perennials






VERY Difficult

banana, philodendron, dieffenbachia etc…


flowering maple, impatiens, begonias, Streptocarpella, sweet potato vine, coleus, geranium etc..

petunias, zinnia, phlox, calibrachoa etc…

There is nothing wrong with trying to bring any plant through the winter indoors. Your likelihood of success is higher with the plants I've listed but the worst that will happen is the plant won't make it. You can chalk those attempts up as learning experiences. Gardening is all about trying new plants or old plants in new places. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Half the fun is in trying!

What is it about the inside of a house that makes it difficult for many plants? You probably would guess that low light levels are one potential problem. Your home has lower light levels to begin with and the short days of fall and winter also contribute to the problem. The second reason many plants don't adapt to indoor conditions is low humidity. The air inside your home, especially in winter, tends to be very dry. Many plants do not deal well with low levels of humidity. These two factors combined mean that many plants are not cut out to live indoors. Let's say that despite the many challenges you would like to try and overwinter a plant in your home.

The first thing to do is choose the plant or plants you want to bring inside. Be sure to bring your plants inside before frost has damaged the foliage. Choose only healthy plants to bring inside as the stress of the move will likely be the final blow to struggling plants. Of the plant is already in a pot you can skip to the next paragraph. If the plant is in the ground, use a sharp spade or shovel to dig up the plant. You will want to try and get a good chunk of the root system. Remove part of the garden soil and place the plant in a pot. Fill in with a good potting mix. Garden soil tends not to have enough air space for container plants. Keep the soil level even or very slightly above the level of the garden soil. If you bury a plant too deep it will not be happy.

If the plant has been in a rather sunny area you can help decrease the shock it will experience coming indoors by placing it in a shady spot for a week or so. This will get it used to lower light levels and make the transition easier.

Next decide if the plant needs to be pruned before you bring it inside. Plants can generally be pruned back by as much as 1/2 without damaging the health of the plant. When pruning use a sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors, you can also use a sharp knife. Clean your utensils between each plant. Use soapy water, rub them with alcohol, or dip them in milk (odd as it may seem milk will help prevent many viruses from spreading.) Be sure to remove any damaged or diseased portions of the plant.

Once you have your plants potted and pruned it is time to inspect them for debris, disease, and insects. Remove any dead foliage or other debris from the top of the pot. Dead and decaying foliage is a hiding place for insects and an incubator for diseases. Clean plants tend to be healthier.

Check for any insects and treat as necessary. It is important to remove insects before plants come inside. Insect populations tend to increase and spread quickly indoors. In the case of larger insects, like beetles, you can remove them by hand. If you see aphids or spider mites you will want to use a spray to kill them. If the infestation isn't large you can probably remove them by spraying the plant with a mixture of soap and water. A few drops of dish soap in lukewarm water can be very effective means of controlling insects. Spray the plant until it is dripping with the soapy mixture, be sure to get the underside of the leaves and the stems. If you can visibly see insects (like aphids and spider mites), you may want to take a damp cloth and gently wipe off the infested leaves and stems. For obvious reasons it will be easiest to use this method outside. There are also products that you can buy to treat for insects. Safer's soap is a common one. If the plant is badly infected with aphids, mites or scale you should consider discarding the plant rather than trying to bring it indoors.

While checking for insects also look for disease. Common diseases include mildews and viruses. Mildew will generally be a white or grey powdery substance. Viruses will often cause the plant to have foliage that is yellowing, mottled, or stippled, the foliage just doesn't look right. Mildew can be treated with the same soap and water mixture used against insects. If you think your plant has a virus discard it and start new next spring.

Water the plant thoroughly before bringing it inside. Be sure to allow a good amount of water to run out of the drainage hole. This will help flush out any excess buildup of salt or fertilizer in the soil. You may want to follow this flush with a light fertilizer application.

Move your plants indoors and place them in areas with bright light. If you have a sun porch you are lucky and should be able to overwinter many plants fairly easily. You can use grow lights for supplemental light if you feel the interior of your house is too dim.

To help combat low humidity place a shallow pan filled with gravel (it is best to buy gravel from the store where it will be clean, if you get gravel from your driveway be sure to wash it well) underneath your plants. Add water to the gravel. This water will evaporate keeping the area right around your plants more humid. You can also spray the area with a spray bottle a couple of times a week to help increase humidity.

While the plants are inside do not fertilize (unless the plant is growing vigorously then fertilize lightly once a month or so). You will also need to be careful not to over water. Plants inside will not use as much water as they did outside. Water only when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. When you do water try and dampen the whole root zone (a bit of water should drain out of the bottom of the pot.) It is very easy to accidentally kill your plant with kindness.

Plants in lower light situations will have a tendency to stretch and become lighter green in appearance. Don't worry too much about this problem. If you can keep your plant alive till spring you can deal with the stretched plant later.

In spring when the days start to get longer you should see your plant begin to grow more vigorously (or again, some plants may not grow through the winter). When this new growth starts fertilize lightly with a water soluble fertilizer. Prune your plant back if it is looking stretched and unhappy. Your plant is likely to begin using more water at this time so be sure to keep an eye on how quickly it is drying out. Lightly pinching new growth will encourage your plant to branch.

Once you start getting warm days, you may want to start introducing your plant to outdoor conditions. Moving plants outside during the day and inside at night will help harden it off. Plants are like people that first 40 degree day seems awfully cold. However, after a week of 20 degrees, 40 feels downright nice. Gradually introducing a plant to cooler temperatures (hardening off) will help it acclimate to outdoor conditions. Once the threat of frost has passed, place the plant outside permanently.

This article should help you successfully overwinter your favorite plants.

Rules of Thumb for Overwintering Plants Indoors:

1. Choose only healthy plants

2. Bring Plants indoors before frost damages foliage

3. Treat for disease and insects before bringing plants indoors

4. Place in bright areas and add humidity using pebble trays or spray bottles

5. Be careful not to over water

6 When active growth starts in spring fertilize and prune as needed

7. Introduce your plants slowly to outdoor conditions in spring

401 Readers Rated This: 12345 (3.2)
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 10/26/2016 - 2:22pm

This site is just what I was looking for! Traditionally I have brought poinsettias, geraniums and several other plants into the house for winter. This year I have only one poinsettia that is probably three or four years old . . . I can never throw them out after Christmas . . . and is one of three that survived after bringing them in last fall. It actually bloomed for most of the winter!

Now I'm ready to bring it in and couldn't remember whether I need to bring it in gradually - in part of the day for several days, the reverse of hardening in the fall. (I've only been doing this for 30 or 40 years, must be losing my memory!) That was my reason for coming here and I think I've found my answer . . . just inspect it, wash it and bring it in.


Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Thu, 10/27/2016 - 8:14am

Wow! That is amazing...good luck on another year!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 10/25/2016 - 9:25pm

Our Canadian winter does not look kindly on the beautiful Diamond Frost plants which are blooming beautifully right now in my front garden. I feel guilty pulling up my annuals so thought I'd try to bring them in the house for the winter. I'm a newbie gardener but determined to try to save these beauties.

I appreciate your very helpful information. Thank you from a Canuck:)

Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Wed, 10/26/2016 - 8:44am

We have had good luck overwintering Diamond Frost here in our Chicago area office. These plants tolerate indoor conditions, but usually need to be in a sunny window!

Click on the link to the following articles that I think you will find helpful as you try your hand at overwintering Diamond Frost.

Good luck!
Proven Winners

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 07/09/2016 - 9:04pm

I work seasonally at a hardware store in the greenhouse that sells many plants Zone 5. I've had success with purple queen (Setcreasea); it can turn green and will turn purple in the summer. They have to be near sunlight. I have one that is trailing about 5' from a hanging basket and have to keep clipping them all for they hit the floor and grow up again. I've had an asparagus fern for about 4 years and I put it outside in the summer, then bring it in. I've also have 2 accent ferns (plumosa) very light and airy, and they have grown very well indoors.

My most interesting challenge has been Swedish Ivy. I have 2 and potted a 3rd cutting rooted and growing. They do struggle a bit indoors during the winter and lose leaves, (I'm going to try and spray them as recommended in another post) but are hardy and the nice thing about them is their scent; they are a natural air freshener. They also need an area lots of sun.

My next choice to winter an annual choice is pot some wire vine combined with a variation of stonecrop part sun; possibly a coleus, again, near sunlight. We'll see how it goes!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 10/26/2017 - 3:48pm

In Massachusetts, Swedish Ivy is a favorite indoor plant. It does very well in a sunny window and likes being misted. It does not like getting dry.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 08/14/2016 - 7:18am

Coleus is an easy plant to bring indoors. Either root a cutting in water or bring the whole plant indoors. They like a bright sunny window but can take a north window too since they are a part shade plant. I like training them into miniature trees much like bonsai. I grow a cutting until it reaches desired height and keep the "trunk" clear of leaves while keeping the top bushy by pinching back new growth. I try to find smaller leaf varieties for my mini topiary project. They are great for indoor fairy gardens.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 09/04/2014 - 5:53am

I dig up my Geraniums shake off the soil put them upside down in a box. In the spring I plant them early and set in a window. I usually only do this once then get new plants.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/30/2014 - 6:35pm

I successfully overwintered a Pretty Much Picasso petunia this winter. It started from a cutting I took with the intention to plant outside last summer. I didn't. It survived, though looking scruffy, I managed to take cuttings and plant them in our garden. I'm keeping the one indoors to see how long it will last. I grow it under flurescent lights and have to prune it ever so often, sometimes restart it from cutting.

I discovered petunias do root by cutting if you plant the cutting in moist soil and bag it for a while. I've overwintered begonias to some degree and impatiens. Coleus root quite readily by cuttings.
Just wondering PW, will you be selling Rex Begonia Capricorn anytime soon? That was my saddest casualty this wintersrping we had. It just couldn't make that extra couple months indoors. I want it back. It was one of the prettiest, even if it demanded to be bagged most of the time indoors.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:28am

I really don't know if we will have Capricorn available for sale anytime soon.  However, I can give you my go-to method to try and find mail-order sources for hard-to-find plants. 

I google the word buy along with the name of the plant I am trying to find.  So in this case I would enter this into the google search box:

Buy Capricorn begonia

I almost always get some leads for find the plant.  You might see if that works for you as well.

Kathie Norris's picture
Kathie Norris Wed, 10/17/2012 - 12:52pm

Thanks everyone! Very good articles and tips! Also did not know about mulching outside before soil heat is gone.
Probably why some of my perennials looked poor this year. Good luck to all of you!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 08/25/2012 - 11:44am

I live in Zone 5A and would like to try to overwinter my lantanas this year. They are in pots and are not very big as we have had a severe drought this summer with temps well over 100 for days in a row; so they have not grown as vigorously as usual, requiring a lot of protection (yes, even drought-tolerant) lantanas this summer.
I have quite a bit of indoor light in a family room and space to put them there. Another alternative is to overwinter them in our unfinished (old farmhouse) basement where I would be able to set up a grow-light environment.
Any tips?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 09/21/2014 - 4:27pm

I've over wintered lantana for four years, the same plants, not in a very sunny spot either, soupdogg29

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 08/25/2012 - 10:47am

I have successfully kept poinsettias plants alive for several years by cutting them back to 4",fertilizing regularly and placing in a window that received sun for minimum of 6 hrs. It would grow by stretching. I would trim back & the poinsettia would bloom again. Only never at Christmas.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 10/14/2011 - 5:48pm

This is absolutely the best over-wintering article I've come upon. I've got a full-glass sunroom and am on my fourth winter of trying to overwinter various annuals. This year, I've pretreated with a systemic insecticide -- the past years, by December I've been overrun with whiteflies, aphids and spider mites. I like the list provided as to easy and very difficult.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 10/14/2011 - 1:45pm

I've overwintered a coleus that never sees the light of day on my kitchen counter. It's under my work light and its red leaves revert to predominantly green, but I've kept it this way for three years. New cuttings and the original plant take on their deep wine hue again when they go outdoors in spring.

Geraniums flower in a sunny window and a variety of begonias (eyelash, angel wing) flower in morning or weak light. The Rex begonias mark time until spring.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 10/08/2014 - 11:53am

We have a sun porch but it is not within the centrally heated areas of the house. do you think it will be too cold for them?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 10/08/2011 - 1:36am

Thank you, Thank You. For this awesome site. It answered all the quesions I could possibly have.
Wish me luck!!
I am going to attempt to winter an Impatient plant, a Geranium as well as a Begonia.
I need to do as much as we can, because our seasons here are so short.
Bye Bye

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 08/17/2011 - 9:07am

Appreciate you sharing this information. I love Callies!!!

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