You don’t have to say goodbye to your favorite Impatiens, Geranium (Pelargonium), or Coleus just yet! Many of the plants we grow as “annuals” are really tropicals or tender perennials, happy to continue growing and blooming for many seasons to come if protected from low temperatures.
The first step is figuring out which plants can be saved. Here’s a quick list of reliable “annuals” that make terrific winter houseplants:
If you have any of these already growing in containers, your work is almost through! Bring them in a few weeks before the first frost (the earlier the better). Before you take the pot indoors, prune some of the growth from the plant. Never take more than half of the top growth, but if you can cut it back some, the plant will have an easier time adjusting to its new conditions. Then check for insects and other freeloaders, and find a sunny window for your new houseplant!
If your plant is growing in the ground and can be easily dug up, that’s the next easiest option for transplant. Dig generously around the plant so that you capture as much of the root system as possible. Then place it in the pot so that you don’t have to add soil to the top of the plant (you might have to add some to the bottom of the pot to bring it up to the level you want). If adding soil, make sure that it’s high-quality potting soil. Fill the pot, water it in, and then fill again after the mixture settles.
Now, if you have plants growing in the ground that you cannot or do not want to dig up, OR if you have potted plants that are either look past their prime or are simply so beautiful you must have many more of them, you should probably take stem cuttings and begin new plants from the old. This is very easy, especially with Geranium, Coleus, Begonia, Impatiens, and Nasturtium. Here’s what you do:
1. A few hours before you want to take the cuttings, water the plant thoroughly.
2. Prepare a pot or tray of perlite or vermiculite (available at local garden centers). Water it lightly so that it is moist but not soggy.
3. Choosing the healthiest-looking stems, cut them about 2 inches from the last leaves, handling them very gently throughout the process.
4. Set the cut end of the stem into the container of perlite or vermiculite. You can put many cuttings in a single container, but space them far enough apart so that as they grow, their roots won’t become entangled.
5. Keep the container moist but not wet. Feed it at half-strength.
6. After a few weeks, tug gently on the stems. If you feel any resistance, that stem has rooted! You can now transplant it into its own pot and put it in a sunny window or beneath grow lights. Continue to keep it moist and well-fed.
All you really need for winter houseplants are sunny windows (or grow lights) and the same attention to watering and feeding that you give your indoor garden year-round. A few plants, such as Impatiens, really appreciate warm rooms, so you may want to think about reserving them for the kitchen or bathroom, or even offering them some gentle heat. But generally you will find that your winter houseplants are content to thrive and even bloom even during the shortest days! Enjoy a “second season” of beauty with these unique survivors!