Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Winter Homes for Garden Houseplants

A few plants in the kitchen.
Every winter a number of plants that spend summer in the garden have to find homes away from the cold, the damp and the snow of a typical British winter. Every year we try to reduce the number of plants requiring homes but somehow the numbers never seem to get any smaller.

We are fortunate in having two greenhouses, plus a temporary plastic greenhouse to overwinter some plants, as well as using the jungle hut (See here). However a number of other plants come into the kitchen and occupy window sills in the house.

Many gardeners might wish their partner was more interested and encouraging of their hobby, sometimes it has its drawbacks. As we both are keen gardeners we are not very good at self restraint, so every windowsill and spare space in the house will have some plants in.

Knickers is fascinated by the Phoenix.
We are fortunate that our kitchen has a particularly high ceiling so can be home to a large palm, Howea fosteriana that would be far too tender to live outside, other potted palms such as Phoenix roebelenii and a selection of Chamedoreas also find homes in the kitchen.
A small number of Aloes spend winter months in the lounge bay window – often relegated to a tighter spot elsewhere over the festive season to fit in a Christmas tree, windowsills in the bedrooms all find small pots of unusual and rare Agaves occupying every spare inch.

Only the most tender plants find homes inside, other plants are grouped into the greenhouses depending on the temperature they need.

The first greenhouse we have is home to various Aloes and Agaves, as well as a few more leafy plants such as Begonia luxurians. This greenhouse is well insulated with bubble wrap and has a small fan heater set to keep the temperature between 3 and 5C (37 to 41F).
The second greenhouse has hardier plants inside, most of these will eventually be planted out, but with them still being smallish plants in pots we keep them under cover for winter with a heater set to keep these above 0C (32F). For the majority of winter this heater will not be needed as average winter temperatures will be above freezing.

We also take advantage of the wooden workshop we have in the garden, this building is insulated and double glazed and in summer is occupied by a home gym. However in winter a selection of Palms and Ferns take advantage of the protection offered (3 to 5C minimum) and will cope well with the low light levels.

Inside the workshop
The key considerations when planning the winter homes for plants are the light, heat and humidity requirements. Each plant will have different requirements and juggling this can be quite a skill to ensure everything that needs a home can find a suitable one. Balanced against this is the costs of providing heat, if money was no object then heating the greenhouses to 10 or 15C would reduce the risks and avoid having to have as many plants inside the house, but this would be very expensive. Therefore the most tender generally find homes in the house – except those that hate the dry conditions.

We need to have a regular routine of watering the houseplants – many of the palms require a lot of water in the house over winter as the dry air from central heating quickly removes all the moisture from the compost.
It is always a welcome relief at the end of winter when the plants go back outside and the house regains a light and airy feel!



  1. what would you do with a bird of paradise thats in a cold conservatory would you water through the winter or not Thanks

  2. Well, that gives me some idea how you manage to have a tropical garden in the U.K. I suppose it means you can have your tropical garden in Winter too...without going outside.

  3. Gaz, great post! I wish I had a greenhouse, too. On the other hand, I'd probably get even more tender plants :-). My wife and I spent some time protecting our tender plants today since we're expecting a cold front from Alaska.

  4. Cheers guys :)

    Gerhard, it's handy having a greenhouse especially for the winter. But as you say, once you have the temptation is always there to fill it with more tender plants :)We're expecting a cold spell here too, cross fingers it won't last (or snow!).

    Hazel, it doesn't help we're both plantaholics :) It's not too bad outside though, still lush and leafy, but if you get the urge to do some gardening at least we have all these plants to play with it indoors.

    Brummi, if it's in a cold conservatory, keep your Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) bone dry all winter. It will be fine like that totally unwatered even for a few months. Once it starts to warm up (and it will be quicker being in a conservatory), say end of March onwards, you can start watering it again.

  5. I found treeferns not easy to keep inside the house over winter because their constant high transpiration rate causes chronic high humidity in the house, but it also means their potting mix dries out unbelievably fast.

  6. Hi Peter, I agree with you, overwintering ferns and tree ferns in a centrally heated house is difficult due to the low humidity levels, it can get bone dry at times.

    I avoid putting ferns in the house, if needed I place it raised over a saucer with water.

    We keep most of the tree ferns in the workshop where humidity doesn't drop (it's the other way around even) with its minimal heating. Rather tricky too to ensure it doesn't get too damp in there.

    I wrap the trunks of some of the tree ferns in the workshop with clingfilm, it keeps the trunk constantly moist and makes it easy to water too, minimising splashes. Works a treat every winter, and I remove the clingfilm come spring when it goes out :)

  7. Dear Mark and Gaz, So now I know the secret of your exotic jungle!! As I do not keep a houseplant alive beyond the time it takes to take off the wrapping, I should never cope with maintaining what looks to me like Kew Gardens alive in your various glasshouses [and the kitchen] over the winter. I admire your stamina and just wonder how you manage to cook amongst the greenery?!!

  8. Hi Edith, the majority of the garden is permenantly planted out, with these plants being used to add to the over all effect. I wil take a few pictures of the garden over the next week or so so show how the garden looks now we are into winter mode. You may be surprised just how jungly it still looks.

    As for the kitchen, we are fortunate to have quite a large room, so the plants are just on one side, the cooking and preperation areas remain plant free.

  9. Great post. I am jealous of your greenhouses. I live on a tiny city plot and like you a bit, have to bring in my tropical plants. What a chore as they get repotted and trimmed back too. They are in every window and space available. My office has windows on three sides and I can barely move with the larger plants sharing the space. You are also lucky to have a high ceiling in a large kitchen. Your palms are much larger than mine. Now I know what to look forward too. The dry heat of the winter does play havoc with the plants, so no inside ferns are living at my place.

  10. I would love to have a greenhouse and a lot of space. And also a gardening companion, but that will be seen later.
    Your plants look great! it must be really cool to have your little garden jungle inside your house.

  11. Thanks for all the great tips on how you do it! I'm not lucky enough to have greenhouses, so I use mostly plants that can go dormant, or plant the most tropical stuff against the house, covering them during hard freezes. How cold does it get there?

  12. Thanks again :)

    Maintenance feels like a chore sometime, especially when you're tired from work, but most of the time I enjoy being able to do some gardening indoors.

    I'm amazed myself at how many plants we've got inside, and to think they are just a tiny fraction compared to what's planted outside.

    The lowest we've had here was -8C (17.6F), more typical is down to -6C (21.2F), and on cold spells daytime temps don't go above freezing for sometimes days on end. We've just had two bad winters in succession, hopefully this and succeeding ones would be much milder (fingers crossed!!)

  13. Always so interesting , true gardeners


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