The beginning of November is your last chance to save tender bulbs and plants that need winter protection. Variables such as how low the temp goes this winter, where you store your plants and even how much humidity is in the air, will determine your success with saving those plants.
Look at that project as a fun experiment because you don’t have much to lose. Even if your geraniums, fuchsia basket or cannas fail to make an encore appearance next summer, you will still have time to visit your local nursery and replace failures with greenhouse plants.
If you are impatient for more color in the month of May, these saves may not be for you. Overwintered plants sometimes take until mid-July to perk up from long days in winter storage.
Three Ways to Save Geraniums
The easiest method is to place the potted plants close to the house and shelter them on cold night with a tent of plastic bubble wrap. Water very little — I like to check the soil on holidays — about once a month. If our winter is mild, geraniums will survive and with some extra feeding in May they will thrive and bloom a second summer.
If your geraniums are growing in the ground, pull them up by their roots, put a string around the base of the plant and hang the uprooted geraniums from the rafters of a cold, but not freezing, garage or garden shed. You can prune the top of the plants off by one half to make them more manageable. In April cut down the hanging, bare root geraniums and repot into fresh potting soil. Grow indoors near a bright window until May.
If you a have a greenhouse or sunroom, you can overwinter potted geraniums by keeping the soil on the dry side and not fertilizing until you see signs of spring growth. You can also try taking cuttings from old plants and rooting them over the winter.
Two ways to save Fuchsias
The easy way is to hang or place the basket near a protected corner of the house and drape them loosely with bubble wrap using clothes pins to secure the plastic in several spots on the rim of the pot. Help them go dormant by holding back on water and fertilizer until you see new growth in late spring.
A more reliable way to coax your fuchsia into a second year of blooms is to cut back the entire hanging basket to six-inch stumps. Next place this butchered basket in a cold but not freezing spot or dig a hole one foot deep, deposit the basket and cover it with fallen leaves.
Place a tarp on top to mark the spot and keep out the rain. Unearth the dormant plants in March, bring indoors and grow near a sunny window until all danger of frost has passed. You do not need to take any heroic measures to save hardy fuchsias (Fuchsia magellanica). These are the shrubby fuchsia with tiny leaves and small flowers. Just leave then in the ground and resist the urge to prune back their woody tops until you see new growth in June.
Two ways to save tender bulbs of canna, begonia and dahlias
The safest way to recoup your investment from plants that sprout from tender bulbs is to cut off the stems at soil level this month and dig and remove the tuber from the soil.
Shake off any soil and allow the root to dry a bit indoors for 24 hours. Then place inside a brown paper bag (plastic holds too much moisture) and store in a cool garage, basement or crawl space.
The hard part is remembering where you put the bulbs and when to replant them. Mark the calendar now so you can replant begonias and cannas indoors in pots during the month of April for setting outdoors in late May. Dahlias can be planted back into the soil outdoors in early May.
An easier way to save tender bulbs if you are a gambling gardener is to leave them in the ground or in their pots and cover the newly cut crown of each plant with sword fern fronds or a section of tarp. By keeping out the rain and snow, your tender bulbs can often survive the winter on their own.
So what have you got to lose? Make this the winter of your plants’ content and see what plants honor your garden with an encore.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.