As the growing season draws to a close, I’m beginning to look around with an eye to which plants I’d like to save for next year, and which will be left to the frost.
Other years I’ve sometimes assumed that a favorite variety will be available the following spring and let a beautiful annual expire at the end of the season. Sometimes that variety is available, and other times not.
Last year I grew several gorgeous varieties of Coleus ‘Under the Sea,’ a fairly recent introduction with intensely colored, deeply cut leaves.
This spring they never turned up at my local garden centers.
Some annuals are reasonably simple to keep indoors from one season to the next.
And if you have a favorite variety, that you want to enjoy again next summer, it may be worth the effort.
While perennials are engineered to survive over many seasons, almost indefinitely; annuals are engineered to grow, flower, set seed, and then decline.
One reason for “pinching back” or “deadheading” is to keep a plant productive by preventing it from ever setting its crop of seeds.
It keeps producing flowers until it fulfills its life’s purpose with seed production.
That said, the annual you’ve had growing on your patio all summer might not be a good candidate for overwintering in the garage.
Even if it survives, it may not look like much the following season.
A better approach is to overwinter cuttings of a favorite plant. The cuttings can then be grown on into beautiful plants when the weather warms in spring.
And this is the time to begin the process of evaluating which plants you intend to save.
I got a head start this season thanks to some deer. The deer chose one Coleus plant out of several to disassemble over a period of about two weeks.
We would go out in the morning and find another branch or two torn away each day. They ignored an identical Coleus a pot or two away, and kept working on one poor plant until nothing was left.
They may have actually eaten a little here and there; but mostly they just tore off branches and left them near by.
I gathered the branches as I found them, gave the ends a fresh cut, and stuck them into a jar of water in the windowsill.
Coleus is ridiculously easy to root. It roots easily in moist soil or in water. And Coleus will grow in a simple jar of water for months.
All you need is a windowsill wide enough to hold a jar or a vase, or an area near a window where you can tend houseplants from October until early May. Depending on your growing season, you may need to start a little earlier than we do here, or hold your annuals inside a little later.
Take cuttings that are 10″ or longer if you plan to keep them in water.
If you are planting them in moist soil you can use any cutting with at least two sets of leaves. Strip off the lower leaves, and push the cutting into the moist soil.
Keep the pot outside in the shade for a few weeks until there is resistance (roots) when you gently give it a tug. Bring the plant inside when nights begin to dip down towards 40F, and keep it in bright light .
Pinch the growing tips from time to time to keep the plant bushy, and water when the top of the soil begins to feel a little dry.
I treat my Begonias the same way. Many varieties of Begonia root easily in a jar of water, and will live in just water for many months. I keep jars of cuttings in the windows over winter. Many Begonias will root, just like Coleus, when the lowest set of leaves is removed and the cutting pushed into the soil so that lowest leaf node is buried in the soil.
It’s that easy. Dip the cutting into a little rooting hormone powder to speed the process if you want to; but many people have success without the hormone powder.
You can easily root many other annuals and herbs in water, and then pot them up once the roots are an inch or so long.
Try Basil and mint, impatiens, scented geraniums, New Guinea impatiens, Oregano, and Petunias.
Some of our “annuals” are actually tender perennials. They grow year round in warmer climes, but are killed by freezing temperatures.
Plants like Geraniums and Caladiums can be kept from one season to the next indoors.
They will survive with low light and minimal moisture, so long as you keep them well above freezing.
Caladiums don’t even like to go below 50F. If you have space in a basement or garage, you might be able to save these plants over the winter, bringing them back as the weather warms with more water, light, and warmth.
Our unheated garage gets enough sunlight through the windows, and enough heat from the house to serve as a shelter for many pots through the winter.
Some plants are worth keeping, others, maybe not.
But even if you don’t have space to keep a large pot of a favorite plant, you can still keep cuttings of many going in minimal space. Once you know how to handle cuttings you can continue to create new plants form your existing stock indefinitely.
Some of my “annuals” are now into a fourth or fifth season, started anew each year from cuttings kept in windowsills over the winter.
And cuttings are easy to share. Friends share with me, and I with them.
That poor Coleus, torn to pieces by the deer, has resulted in more than a dozen “cuttings,” most now gone to new homes.
I’m always happy to give cuttings to friends who will take them.
And growing on gifts of cuttings fills one’s garden with love and happy memories.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014