10 Easiest Plants To Overwinter

Overwintering tender annuals and tropical plants is a great way to keep your favorites from one season to the next.

Close-Up Of Potted Plants On Table Against White Tiled WallNATASHA BREEN/GETTY IMAGES

What Is Overwintering?

It’s the way some plants survive the winter, with our help.

In the vegetable garden, depending on your climate, you can often continue to grow some crops over the winter if you provide them some protection. But for tender annuals and tropical plants, we overwinter to save them from frost. We do this by bringing the plant inside, or letting it go dormant and storing its bulb in a cool, dark place.

No matter how you overwinter your tender plants, do the following before bringing them inside:

  • Decide if the plant is worth overwintering. Was it hard to find or will you easily find new plants in the spring? Does it have the perfect flower color you’ve always been looking for? Was it expensive? It takes some effort to overwinter even the easiest-to-grow plants, so you may have to make some tough choices.
  • Closely inspect plants for signs of insects and wash them off before overwintering. They may be inside the actual container. Often you can flush out these critters by watering the plant until liquid pours out the drain hole at the bottom. You can also gently lift the plant out of the pot to look for insects, then place it back in.
  • Look for signs of disease. If it’s infected, it probably isn’t worth your time to overwinter that plant.
  • Determine if you have a good place to overwinter. Plants have different light and temperature requirements. And some plants may just be too big to bring inside.

Once you decide to overwinter a plant, how you do it depends on the plant and the space you have available:

Keep it growing inside

Take into account its size, light and temperature requirements. If you can keep it growing inside, clean it up, prune it back if needed, and move it indoors well before the first frost.

Take cuttings to start new plants

Some plants are easier to overwinter from rooted cuttings taken from the actively growing plant.

Root cuttings indoors where you can control moisture and temperature, then pot them so they continue to grow through winter. In the spring, gradually acclimate them to the stronger light of outdoors by putting them first in shade and taking them in if frost threatens, just like you do with vegetable seedlings.

Store as a dormant plant

Some plants, like geraniums, can be stored when dormant. Pull the plants from their pots, wash off the roots, then set them aside to thoroughly dry. Then store in a paper bag in a cool, dark spot until spring. Pot them in early spring and they should begin growing again.

Store the bulb or root

Some plants may be overwintered by lifting out the bulbs or roots, cleaning them off, letting them dry and storing them in a cool, dry location. In early spring, pot these bulbs in clean containers. With water and light, they should soon grow new shoots.

Here are 10 plants you can successfully overwinter.

1 / 10

Indoor GardeningAli Majdfar/Getty Images

Geraniums

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, geraniums can be overwintered by taking cuttings, bringing the plant indoors or saving them as bare-root dormant plants. The best method depends on whether you have a suitable sunny spot indoors to put the geraniums.

Geraniums need to be near a sunny window or under grow lights. They also prefer the temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees, cooler than most of our homes. In early spring, prune back the geraniums by about half to encourage new growth before taking them back outside.

2 / 10

Pot of hanging Boston fernJADEZMITH/Getty Images

Boston Ferns

It can be hard to let go of a big, healthy Boston fern.

Before temperatures drop below 60 degrees, prepare it for indoor life by cutting back any dried or straggly fronds, giving it a good shake to get rid of dried leaves, then watering it thoroughly. Inside, it only needs indirect light.

To keep the humidity level up around the fern, place it on a saucer with wet gravel or small rocks. The fern may still drop leaves but should survive until you can take it out again in the spring.

3 / 10

Begonia leaves, rex-cultorumdanielvfung/Getty Images

Rex Begonias

Rex begonias often have the prettiest foliage, so they’re tempting to overwinter or grow as houseplants year-round. To ensure they thrive indoors, they need bright, filtered light, moderate moisture and high humidity. Keep them well-watered.

Unlike other overwintered plants, you should occasionally add a houseplant fertilizer because they’re actively growing. If your Rex begonia drops its leaves, it may be too dry. Put it on a tray of wet gravel to increase the humidity level around it.

4 / 10

Coleus plants or Mayana in a potmarie martin/Getty Images

Coleus

If you’re in love with your coleus and can’t bear the thought of losing it to the frost, overwinter it by taking cuttings, rooting them and potting them up to continue to grow indoors until spring. Coleus roots easily in water or potting soil.

Indoors, place your coleus plants in a sunny location. As they grow, pinch them back to encourage branching. If your coleus plant is spindly by spring, you can again take cuttings, root them and have more new plants to take outside.

5 / 10

fresh basil herb in flowerpot on windowOlgaMiltsova/Getty Images

Basil

If you have a type of basil that’s sometimes hard to find in the spring, like African blue basil, you can overwinter it by taking cuttings to root and grow as new plants or by bringing in the entire plant. Prune to reduce the size if necessary, then put it in a sunny location and keep it well-watered.

For common basil easily grown from seed, instead of overwintering an old plant, start new plants from seed or grow microgreens to use for cooking.

6 / 10

Rosmary plant inside for the wintergreenleaf123/Getty Images

Rosemary

Rosemary isn’t the easiest plant to overwinter. But in cold climates, it won’t survive outside for long. Bring it inside and put it where it gets plenty of sunlight. Water it regularly without waterlogging the soil. You can also take cuttings from rosemary and root them.

You may find it easier to overwinter several smaller rosemary plants instead of one big plant. Keeping more than one rosemary plant increases your chance of having one still growing by spring, when it can be put back outside.

7 / 10

Flowerpot placed in a window frame and snowing outsideC. Romance/Getty Images

Impatiens

It’s easy to find impatiens for sale in the spring. But if you have a special impatiens plant — say, one with double flowers or variegated foliage — you can overwinter it by taking cuttings, rooting them and potting them to grow indoors. Impatiens root easily in potting soil.

Indoors, place impatiens in a sunny location. As they grow, pinch them back to encourage branching. You can also overwinter the original plant. Cut it back to a manageable size and keep it well-watered.

8 / 10

Hibiscus against a wallDarrell Gulin/Getty Images

Tropical Hibiscus

To overwinter tropical hibiscus, bring it indoors well before your first frost and place it where it will get plenty of bright light, away from cold drafts.

Sometimes the shock of moving inside causes a tropical hibiscus to drop many of its leaves. As it gets acclimated, it will show signs of new growth. Once you are frost-free in the spring, prune it back, repot and fertilize it. It will soon be flowering again.

9 / 10

elephant ear plantsMOHD RASFAN/Getty Images

Elephant Ears

Unlike other plants, elephant ears, Colocasia sp., are usually overwintered as bare bulbs.

In the fall, trim off leaves as they turn brown, then lift the bulb out of the soil and clean it off. Place it in a protected area for a few days where it can dry off. Then place the dry bulb in a bag with dry peat or vermiculite and store it in a garage or basement. Check it occasionally to be sure it stays dry.

In the spring, repot the bulb and it will soon be growing again.

10 / 10
High Angle View Of Pink Flowering PlantNngkhray Kracang Chay/Getty Images

Caladiums

Caladiums are another plant with beautiful foliage. Overwinter them by digging up the bulbs before your first frost, then allowing them to dry. Store them as you would an elephant ear bulb.

If they’re growing in a container, you can also overwinter them by moving the container where the temperature stays around 60 degrees, then let the soil dry out. Begin watering in the spring, and the caladium bulbs should begin growing again.

Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.