overwintering figs

Overwintering plants that go dormant

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In the fall, sometimes it’s nice to bring some annuals indoors to keep as houseplants. However, my space for new indoor plants is limited and I have to say my indoor green thumb isn’t quite as, um, proficient as my outdoor one. That’s why I like plants like figs and brugmansias. Overwintering plants that go dormant over the winter months, is a cinch. These no-fuss tropical plants won’t survive our harsh, Canadian winters, so they like to hunker down and hibernate, just like the bears do.

This is called plant dormancy in the gardening world. To make plants go dormant, you need a cold, dark room where the plants will not freeze. I happen to have a weird little cold cellar room in my basement that is the perfect size for my fig tree (it’s a Verte that I got from fig expert Steven Biggs as a wee little twig) and a few other plants. This means there is room for brugmansias (a.k.a. angel trumpets) to join my fig, as well. A dark garage or shed, or uninsulated basement will also do the trick. I’d like to start growing jasmine, too—apparently it will also overwinter in the dark.

Overwintering brugmansias

Brugmansias go into a dormant phase over the winter, just like fig trees do.

Overwintering plants that go dormant

In the fall, after I’ve harvested my figs, what I usually do  is wait until the leaves of my fig tree start turning yellow and dropping. I also keep an eye on the weather forecast. If temperatures are really going to start to dip, I’ll bring the pot into the garage where the rest of the leaves will drop. I’ll also give the plant one last light watering. Then Wilbur, has he’s been named, goes into the cold cellar for the winter. I’ll check on the soil occasionally to make sure it’s not too dry, but generally I’ll maybe give him a spritz once and that’s it until spring.

Bringing dormant plants out of hibernation

In the spring, I’ll make sure all danger of frost has passed before bringing my fig tree back outside. Sometimes I’ll put it in the garage for a few days so it can readjust to the light gradually, rather than being placed in the full-on sunlight. Wilbur always comes out of the basement looking like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Most years I don’t think he’s made it. But with a little patience, eventually I start to see the promise of new leaf buds, and later on, wee little figs.

Do you bring any plants indoors for the winter?

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Overwintering plants that go dormant, like figs and brugmansia

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5 Responses to Overwintering plants that go dormant

  1. Dave Chapman says:

    I keep several house plants on my deck in summer, and bring them inside for the winter. I clean them up, remove debris, and give them a good dose of insecticidal soap first. One of the pkantscis my weeping fig bonsai that loves being outside. Also a Xmas cactus, and other plants whose name I do not know.

    Tender perennial herbs such as rosemary and thyme spend the winter in my cold frame.

  2. Adelia Hitt says:

    I have several plants that are tropical and they go out in my balcony for the summer. I live in Kansas city and the winters here can get to 4 below. This year I have several container plants outside on my balcony that I want to overwinter. I have a horseradish and two licorice roots and two echinacea.. What I want to know is Do I mulch and should I completely cover plants with mulch. I have heard yes and also no… We are expecting first real hard freeze in the next couple days.

    • I would suggest insulating the outside of the pot if you have to keep them out for the winter. Wrap the exterior of the pot in several layers of bubblewrap or surround the pot with a cylinder of chickenwire filled with leaves or straw. The most important thing is to insulate the roots and protect them from freeze-thaw cycles. You should not cover over the crown of the plant or it could lead to rot.

  3. Losa says:

    I received a dormant honeysuckle to give as a gift for Christmas . Will it come out of hibernation if I keep it inside, or do I need to keep it outside to keep it dormant?

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