More Plants for the Basement

I overwinter a host of plants in my cold dark basement. Every year I try new ones and am perennially amazed at what succeeds. Basically the idea is to trick a plant into dormancy, then keep it there. Cold-or at least coolness- helps. So does darkness. To survive, many plants need light, others need warmth, and some need both; those are NOT the ones I’m talking about here. For the basement, we need plants that can go into deep dormancy, a state of almost suspended animation. One clue to a plant’s likelihood of subterranean survival is its place of origin. If it is native to any area with a pronounced dry season or to a high altitude part of the tropics, it may have a naturally occurring dormant period in its annual growth cycle. That’s a good thing. But really it’s worth trying almost anything–because if you don’t try, it will surely die when cold comes along. On the other hand, if you do try to keep it alive, it just might survive, and your reward will be a nice strapping specimen for the next season. For more in-depth info, check out a story or video on this topic I did for Fine Gardening magazine. In the meantime, Here’s a list of plants that have been reliable survivors of my basement overwintering regimen.

I overwinter these plants in a cool, dark setting–in the basement with temperatures in the 40s-50s, and with no light. Since my basement is humid, there’s no need for me to water any of these during the whole time they’re in storage. I grow most of the plants in pots, and just put pot and plant into storage. Anything grown in the ground gets potted up, although some things, notably the bananas and the brugmansias, are sometimes stored with bare rootballs. Keep them DRY, they’re unlikely to dry of thirst, but rot or fungus will kill them for sure.

Abutilon

Brugmansia

Clerodendron

Dicliptera suberecta

Duranta spp.

Euphorbia cotinifolia

Fuchsia spp.

Hamelia patens Mexican firecracker

Lantana

Musa and Ensete

Tetrapanax papyrifera

Tibouchina

And I overwinter these rhizomes, bulbs, or tubers in cool, dark setting. After frost kills the top growth, I dig the roots, knock off some soil -whatever falls off readily–and pop them in the basement. Most of these-save for the cannas and dahlias–are best if they are kept in a pot filled with soil. And whatever the plant–they are are best stored DRY.

Acidanthera

Agapanthus

Alocasia, Colocasia, Xanthosma–Elephant ears

Amorphophallus

Begonia (tuberous varieties)

Caladium

Canna

Curcuma

Dahlias

Eucomis Pineapple lily

Hedychium spp. ginger

Mirabilis jalapa Four o’clocks

Salvia patens

Salvia guaranitica

Zantedeschia calla lily

Zephyranthes rain lily

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7 Responses to More Plants for the Basement

  1. Lisa at Greenbow October 25, 2008 at 7:14 pm #

    You are lucky to have such a place to stash these plants. I would try to keep more if I had such a place. I have left canna in the ground and a piece of it will live. It is always puny the next year. I love begonias and have horrible luck with them in the house or any place else. I end up purchasing them each year. WHINE…

    Hi Lisa–Have you ever thought about protecting any in-fground tenders with a pile of leaves? It works really well. An 18-inch heap mounded generously over say, a canna, is going to give it at least an extra zone, maybe more. Maybe it’s not sooo bad you can’t overwinter stuff inthe house–at least it gives you a break and probably really helps you recharge for the spring season.-Steve

  2. linda October 25, 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    Since our basement isn’t cool enough for dormancy, I have many of the plants and tubers on your list down there under lights. It’s more work since they have to watered. On the plus side, it’s a great place for propagating, and seed starting in the spring. Hooray for basements, warm or cool!

    Linda–I agree. Yay for basements! And I’ve also got lots under lights down in mine, trouble is the whiteflies and mealy bugs, but…This year I’m going to try something new. We have a bilco door–you know those hatchway thingies lots of basements have as an entry?–and I’m going to try to convert ours to a modified cold frame/greenhouse. Look for a future post!–Steve

  3. Heirloom Gardener October 26, 2008 at 10:35 pm #

    What an informative post! I am trying to overwinter brugmansia inside, however it’s making a mess everywhere with leaf and flower droppings. I think I will cut it back and put it in the basement. Thanks for the information.

    Thanks! It’s definitely better to overwinter brugmansias as dormant plants. They are whitefly magnets, and you’ll spend all winter fending them off. The ciritters don’t bother dormant, leafless plants.–Steve

  4. Gail October 27, 2008 at 10:24 am #

    Lately this gardener has been experiencing basement envy. But the piled leaf method works very well in my zone 6b/7a garden…it works for all the plants I haven’t had time to get in the ground before our first frost and holds the shrubs and trees until November or December. I have a datura that I might want to try burying in the leaf pile.

    Gail-Give the leaves a shot, you should definitely be able to get a datura through winter in your area unless it’s really cold one. Sometimes they come through without protection in my 6a spot. Not very likely for a brugmansia though.–Steve

  5. Blackswampgirl Kim October 28, 2008 at 2:10 am #

    Hey Steve… I just inherited a brugmansia cutting (literally a cutting–it’s just now getting over the whole “I’m wilting!” drama stage) from one of the guys I work with at the botanical garden. Any chance that I could somehow force it into dormancy and keep it in the basement yet, or do I need to really baby it since it’s newly rooting? (My lazy inner gardener hopes that you say the former… lol… if only because I’m running out of room!)

    Sorry Blackswampgirl, you are going to have to baby that thing a little. Sounds too teeny to survive dormancy for long. Just keep it going as a houseplant. And then, starting in March or April, put it outside for the day whenever you get a warm sunny one–that will give it a big head start before it goes outside full time.–Steve

  6. Jen September 15, 2009 at 6:09 pm #

    what kind of light do have to use for plants in the basement

    Jen- I’ve been using, lately, 1/2-inch florescents. They are an excellent source of illumination and provide a lot of output for minimal energy consumption. I used to use an energy-glutton, fancy-shmancy HID light, but have found the florescent-one warm and one cool bulb in each unit-far better. And lots cheaper to purchase and operate.–Steve

  7. Kate October 18, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    overwintering in ground: Z7 here (east of Seattle), 2 tall Brugs in ground at 4.5′ & almost 6′. Dig them up – no where to put inside that is cool/dark plus the garage can freeze. yay. leaving in-ground – would this work with a mulch? A cage constructed of chicken wire containing bark mulch/coir/leaves? Cage measuring 12″ high & 18″ wide? Wrap with bubble wrap for extra protection? I an flummoxed – these are 3 year old Brugs I raised from seed which performed admirably. I hate to let that rootball die, but digging them up might result in huge loss of roots. Soil they are in is wonderful with excellent drainage…