How do I overwinter my tender and half-hardy plants

WIth winter fast approaching Geoff Stonebanks offers his hard earned advice regarding overwintering plants

Geoff's agaves are moved under cover for winter Image: Geoff Stonebanks

With my vast collection of containers throughout the garden, visitors often ask me what happens to the huge array of non-hardy plants during the winter months. This season, I had approximately 300 assorted pots in both the front and back gardens.

Plants for free

I have a very large collection of aeoniums which get split between the front and back porches of the house and the balance in the heated greenhouse. I always think it is such a shame for them to be out of sight through the winter, so try to have them where I can appreciate them within the house. This year some have grown so large that I have had to cut the tops off and will have many new plants to either sell on or use myself next spring.

Geoff cuts back aeoniums and uses the tops to take cuttings
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The dipladenia comes in out of the garden into the front porch for the winter too! Just over a third of the pots contain annuals, which, once they have gone-over, are discarded and pots cleaned up and stored ready for use next year. I do try and store my geraniums from one year to the next by cutting them right back, repotting them and storing in frost free conditions, under cover on shelves and then protected with fleece.

Potted shrubs

Most of the other planters contain a mixture of succulents and shrubs. In general, most of the shrubs are left unprotected, as we don’t really get heavy frosts here on the coast! The biggest problem for me throughout the winter is usually the strong, salt-laden winds. I have a large collection of fleece and tend to use it on plants that can get badly burned by the salt. Most of my palms are covered as well as the standard olives and oleanders in containers too.

The brick wall acts as a radiator for Geoff’s less hardy plants, which are wrapped and shelved for the winter
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The six pots containing the oleanders are just stored under cover in light conditions and seem to do well. I’ve had them quite a few years now and they always flower well, usually towards the end of the summer months. I have several hardy standard fuchsias in large pots too, which generally get fleeced and sometimes over-wintered in a long alley to the side of the house that has a clear corrugated roof over it. In the centre of the garden I have a very large jelly palm (Butia capita) which is very hardy. This will be the first year however that it will not be covered to protect its fronds, as it is now too tall to fleece. Fingers crossed the winds are not too severe, otherwise it will have very brown fronds come the spring.

Some plants such as this Butia are too big now to be protected
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Winter protection

I have several pots planted with eucomis, many friends locally leave them out all winter but I tend to move mine and store in the heated greenhouse. This year I placed one in the beach garden and it looked quite stunning, so I may place them all out there next summer.

These pineapple lilies will be brought inside for winter protection
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The composition of my garden means many containerised plants look as though they are actually growing in the ground as the containers are hidden by the foliage from other plants, just like my eucomis. The two pots with kangaroo paws I’ve had for three years now both get lifted and stored on shelves in the heated greenhouse, as well as my collection of five bonsai trees. At the edge of the pond is the gunnera, which is also in a large container. It is far too heavy to move, so I cut the large leaves off, carefully cover the crown of the plant with fleece and if the weather gets really cold I put bubblewrap around the outside of the container too.

A potted gunnera is wrapped up like a festive gift
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The largest collection of plants that have to get moved indoors or into the greenhouse are my thirty five agaves in the front garden which all get lifted and stored undercover as they don’t like to get too wet. The covered alley at the side of the house is perfect for this. The wooden slatted workbench allows some on top and some below while still getting some light. Happy gardening.

Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £131,000 for various charities in 9 years, £80,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex for the National Garden Scheme.
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