How to Avoid Killing Outdoor Plants in the Winter

by Brittanie in General / 12.05.08

Here’s my problem. I have several potted plants that did amazing in the summertime, possibly attributed to the illicit use of miracle grow every other month (I also reason that it was the change in how much I was watering them, over-watering in fact, when the heat of summer struck and sucked all the moisture out of the soil), but nonetheless, they grew to be beautiful leafy green patches of life.

Now it’s winter and I’m confused. My plants are doing terrible. Leaves are turning yellow. I’m watering them the same and still entire plants are wilting sideways into the wind, blossoms are ceasing to bloom, and the soil is strewn with dead leaves. I have no idea what I am doing, and so I thought I would track my progress with the MindBites community, in hopes that I will find the answer to maintaining a healthy outdoor potted green garden by reading comments left by our users at the end of this post. I am also scouring every gardening forum known to man on the inter nets and tubes. As of today, here is my “to-do” list to prevent further winter injury to my little green babies, Mr. and Mrs. Basseel, Mousier Ivy, Kid Purple Tips, and Weedhead:

Survive Winter To-Do List

1. Hope

Given the proper protection, potted plants can live successfully outdoors during the winter. Don’t give up hope. If your plants start to wilt, yellow, or rot there is still hope. Research that specific plant and see what its likes and dislikes are for each season.

2. Prepare

Preparing plants for winter is important. Stop fertilizing after mid-summer to allow plants enough time to shut down and prepare for winter. In the winter plants do not grow as much and therefore should be fed less. After the first hard frost the plant will lose most of its leaves and then you can start the process of protecting them for winter. Learn which plants need to be moved indoors and which plants are winter hardy enough to stay outdoors. Basil is a plant that likes to go indoors in the winter while rosemary should stay outside.

3. Build a shelter

Place all of your outdoor potted plants in a sheltered location near each other. This will create their own insulation. Secure tall branches that are susceptible to wind damage by wrapping them with string or nylon stockings. Keep an eye on the weather channel and know when to throw a sheet over them if the temperature is going to drop below freezing at night.

4. Relocate

Some plants winter better indoors and others fair well outdoors. Herbs, especially basil, do better when relocated indoors for the winter, as long as they get more than 5 hours of sun a day or 14 hours of indirect light (fluorescent light). Other potted plants do not. Some plants do not like the drastic change in weather and therefore it is best practice to understand the likes and dislikes specific to that plant before relocating it.

5. Water

Over-watering is the quickest way to kill your plants after moving them indoors. Without direct sunlight, indoor plants don’t lose as much water and thus retain more than their outdoor neighbors. Avoid over-watering by allowing the top 2-3 inches of soil dry in between waterings. Yellow leaves are the first sign that a plant is getting too much water. Mist leaves in between weekly waterings to ensure that the plant is getting enough moisture without over saturating the roots. This will cause root rot and the plant will have to be resuscitated through other means, such as re-potting it and pouring hydrogen peroxide into the soil.

6. Temperature and Time

Water plants mid-day, when temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the water has time to soak into the roots of the plant before nightfall. Any temperature below 40 or later time of day, increases the chances of freezing at night.

**Please drop me a line or two if you have any tips or secrets to keeping your garden alive through out the winter, especially if you know how to water specific plants and which ones should be moved inside to avoid frost injuries.

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  1. Teresa, June 16, 2009:

    I live in Tucson Az. and my question is what can I plant in my shaddy area that the rabbits wont eat???

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