Bringing Your Outdoor Garden in for the Winter: Don’t Leave Your Plants Out in the Cold!

Snow on Garden

Snow on Garden

The leaves are changing; the temperatures are steadily dropping day by day. It is time to tend your garden one last time before Jack Frost’s impending visit. Cover your garden beds with several inches of chopped shredded leaves to protect tender plants and bulbs. In September a high nitrogen fertilizer applied to your lawn would have promoted vigorous new blade growth, but now in November it is more beneficial to use a high phosphorous fertilizer which will add inches to your lawn’s roots. What do you do with those container plantings, citrus trees, and expensive ornamentals that are planted in pots on the patio or porch?

Simple; you build a small indoor garden to overwinter your tender tropicals and pricey petunias. It can be fun and easy to bring plants inside and can also allow a real jump on planting next year’s garden. Setting up an indoor garden requires a few simple steps. First look at the plants you want to bring inside, also take into consideration if you want to start annuals for next year’s garden, or if you would like to grow some fruits or vegetables for yourself or your family over the winter. Now that you have a rough idea of how much space you will need for your garden, look around your home for an area that can accommodate it. You will need to find a space which will be protected from the cold, has electrical access, and preferably is close to a sink and drain. I suggest you consider a closet that doesn’t get much use. It will allow your garden to be tucked away out of sight, when you so desire.

If you choose a closet line the walls with plastic sheeting like Panda film to create a moisture barrier. Put a tarp down on the floor and use a staple gun to tack it 6” up the side of the walls. This will protect your floor should you inadvertently spill a bit of water. If all this sounds like too much trouble then simply purchase an inexpensive grow tent. A grow tent also offers the advantage of being able to be placed inside any existing room while maintaining a closed environment for your garden.

Next you need a light. Based on the size of your garden, and your financial and electrical constraints choose the lighting for your particular situation. The most common lights for over-winter gardens and those new to indoor gardening are either a 400 watt High Pressure Sodium / Metal Halide light system or T5 fluorescent fixtures that will fit your space. A 400 watt HPS light can easily cover a 4’ x 4’ garden. By including some shelves off to the side you can make even better use of your space. If all you want to do is keep plants alive over the winter then a 400 watt light is capable of covering a 6’ x 6’ space. Be aware that a 400 watt light gives off about 2,000 BTU of heat per hour, and you should plan to use this heat to warm your garden or help heat your home. Also make sure your plants are at least 18” from the bulb to avoid burning the tops of your plants.

Once you’ve hung your light and protected the walls and floor it is time to move your plants inside. In the interest of keeping your plants healthy it will be necessary to treat your plants with an organic insecticide to prevent bringing pests into your new indoor oasis. Wipe down planters and pots with a wet rag to remove any dirt. Now you are ready to bring your plants in to their new winter home.

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