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Home & Garden: Overwintering plants

Mary Jane Breitling’s saved plants are kept in the basement with fluorescent lights suspended above. Photo by Mary Jane Breitling

Perhaps I am just cheap, but at the end of the growing season I have a difficult time letting go of the plants in my outdoor containers.

It is impossible to save them all, of course. Many plants will not survive indoor conditions. Some have grown too large over summer and would take up too much space, although these are the ones I especially like to keep so that next summer they can make a statement.

I envy gardeners with sunrooms as I only have east-facing patio doors. Here I have clustered as many succulents as I can, such as jades, aeoniums, kalanchoes, aloes and others. They do well, although some tend to stretch out (etiolate) looking for more sun. I water these very little during the winter. I have not been successful in bringing in the common “Hens and Chicks,” but they manage to survive in my garage.

I have an 8-foot table in my basement with fluorescent lights suspended above it. I crowded as many plants as possible on this table, even placing smaller pots on the soil of large pots. The timer turns on the lights at 6 a.m. and off at 8 p.m.

Even though the light in front of windows is stronger, at this time of year daylight is just over eight hours long.

I have kept a foxtail fern for many years under the lights. My poor husband has to lug the heavy 24-inch pot down and up the stairs each year. This year I added a large red spike in a ceramic pot to his toils. It is doing very well, as would green spikes if I had saved any.

I have not had to purchase Cyperus (umbrella plant or “Baby Tut”) for many years. It keeps very well in an old copper washtub as long as I keep water in the bottom of the tub. Each spring, I divide it into as many plants as I need for my pond and other containers. A pot of asparagus fern shares the tub, keeping it above the water level.

A Bougainvillea also takes up a lot of space even though I cut it way back.

There is a Lantana plant in the same pot that is still nice and green. I kept another Bougainvillea for several years. When it finally gave up, I painted the branched trunk white and festooned it with tiny white Christmas lights as a memory of the anniversary gift it once was.

New to me this year is a basket of soft ivy, which is doing quite well against the wall. Each year I attempt to save a rosemary plant, but they are not so easy. It is alive so far and we were able to harvest some for the Christmas roast. During the holiday season they are often sold as miniature Christmas trees.

They are Mediterranean plants that like lots of sun, and not too much water.

Gardeners with plentiful sunlight in their homes may bring in pots of geraniums and they can become huge over the years. If you do not have the room or sunlight, take cuttings in the fall. You may not only save them but multiply your plants. I have some coleus plants that were easily started from cuttings. I also stuck some stems of variegated ice plant, which is a succulent, in dirt and they are thriving.

This time of year I have another temptation. Stores are full of poinsettias and it seems such a shame to let them go to waste. If you can manage to keep them alive, cut them back this spring and they make bushy outdoor plants even if you do not go to the trouble of trying to get them to rebloom. Amaryllis bulbs are still available and they provide welcome color anytime during the winter.

Most of them come with a pot and soil and bloom about eight weeks after potting up.

If any fall bulbs are still available, try forcing some to bloom in early spring.

These are my saved plants, but I am sure readers have many more that I have not tried.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener.