GardenLady.com | Over-Wintering Plants In The Garage
It's possible to keep many plants semi-dormant in an unheated garage all winter...some tips for success.
keeping marginally hardy plants alive through winter, keeping potted plants through winter, overwintering fig trees, keeping figs through winter, keeping agapanthus through winter, potted hydrangeas, winter storage of plants, do plants need light in the winter
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Over-Wintering Plants In The Garage

Over-Wintering Plants In The Garage

At this time of year my garage is packed to the rafters. Sure, I have the usual assortment of snow shovels, ladders, fertilizers and other garden products. There is a rack of boots, some brooms and the garbage cans…normal garage stuff. But from December through April, my garage is also packed with plants.

There are some plants that may not survive in containers outdoors, yet they don’t need to be in the house either. Some, like the fig trees (somehow we ended up with three large pots of Brown Turkey figs), lose their leaves and are dormant. Others, like the huge bay, are semi-dormant and do well enough by a small, eastern-facing window. Then there are the potted Hydrangea and Agapanthus: these are placed wherever there is a space, allowing that the cars do need to be able to pull in before a snowstorm.

In short, the plants are more stored in the garage than they are grown here.

Some plants are grouped near one of the eastern-facing windows. I guess “grouped” is a nicer term than “piled,” but the stacking doesn’t seem to bother the ones that are dormant and the top pot drains into the bottom one, making watering a bit more efficient. Or so I tell myself.

And they do just fine. The key to success with garage storage is that this area is attached to the house but not heated. The garage never goes below 32 degrees but tends to hover in the 40’s and low 50’s all winter. This keeps the plant dormant but the plants never freeze.

Watering is needed, but not too much or too often. I’ve found that if these plants are watered every three to four weeks, depending on the temperatures and the size of the container, that this is perfect for keeping the roots from drying up. Too much water is likely to rot the roots, however. When plants are dormant they are not absorbing much water, so if the pots sit in saucers that are filled with the overflow this can lead to root rot. Yesterday I had to use a broom to sweep excess water onto the garage floor and then out the door, since these pots are too large to easily move them out of the saucers so that they could be emptied.

The saucers under the figs ended up being flooded after watering. If I left this much water the figs’ roots would suffer. A broom quickly pushed the excess out and as a bonus, the surrounding garage floor got cleaned as I used a push-broom to move the water outside. Two-for-one!

Other than watering, the only tricky part of garage plant storage is what happens in February and March. As the days lengthen the plants start to break dormancy, even though there really isn’t enough light to sustain this growth. If the weather is fairy mild I can pull varieties such as roses and hydrangea outside to slow them down. But if it’s too cold they must remain in semi-darkness until the weather improves. At that point I need to gradually reintroduce them to the real world so that the leaves don’t get sunburned. I do this by grouping them near the garage door and opening it for short periods so that the sun can come in. I might do this for only fifteen minutes in late-March and moving to longer periods in April. Finally, once the weather is mild enough, but hopefully on a cloudy day, I move the plants outside for the season.

The Agapanthus stay green all winter. On an especially mild, sunny day we open one of the garage doors so they get some light. But keeping this plant in the cool temperatures of the garage is what helps them to flower well in the summer. People who live where it’s too cold to grow blue hydrangeas outside can use this method of over-wintering them in containers. The BloomStruck hydrangea in the foreground is spending the winter snuggled up to one of the fig trees. It would be bud hardy in most winters on Cape Cod but I’m growing it, and a few other hydrangeas,  in containers to show what those in colder regions can do. 

3 Comments
  • Sue Clark
    Posted at 12:26h, 24 January Reply

    I use an inheated room off my garage. Put begonias, geraniums and a pot of marigolds with seeds sprinkled on dirt. No watering till April when they get to go outside as long as not too cold.

  • Stephanie Simpson
    Posted at 19:30h, 31 January Reply

    Perhaps a cool basement with several windows would do as well?..Im going to try it..Good ideas here…

    • CL Fornari
      Posted at 19:39h, 31 January Reply

      Absolutely, Stephanie – a cool basement with even a little light can be a good place for dormant plants. One key is to not put them down there too early however – let them cool off outside as long as possible without freezing.

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