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Bringing the Outside In

Photo by Stacey Newman

If you’re like me, you have house plants that you put out in the summer. Maybe you even have plants in the garden that can be brought in and stored over winter—dormant—and you don’t even know about them.

With frost around the corner, now is the time to think about salvaging some of these living air cleaners—plants are very good at cleaning the air in your house, removing illness-causing agents and humidifying the air. It’s also about saving money next year and, possibly, hanging onto some of the plants that you like most, in case you can’t find them at garden centres.

A TINY sample of some of the Coleus that are available – such variety! Photo by Sean James.

Tropicals give an exotic sense of lushness in a summer landscape. They can be quite expensive, so it’s worth bringing them in for the winter. Also, they can add a touch of class to any home (roll your r’s so it sounds classier, very Victorian).


Mostly what you would be looking for is delicate webbing where the leaves meet the stems, which is a sign of spider mites. On the tips of branches, look for aphids. In the very least, plants that are suffering from these conditions need to be quarantined, or possibly even sacrificed to the Great Compost Pile. There’s no point infecting other plants. Now is also a good time to prune off all the dead and damaged bits. Occasionally I will cut back large plants to keep them small enough to live in the house.


There are lots of plants that can be overwintered without taking up your living space: Dahlias, Canna Lilies, Gladiolus, Taro (sometimes known as Elephant Ears), ornamental sweet potato, purple shamrocks and Acidanthera. These are the easiest things in the world to overwinter. All they need is somewhere dark, dry and cool—but not freezing. I often overwinter them in the pots that I have been growing them in. I’ll divide them or repot them in the spring. If I’ve been growing them in the ground in the garden, then they can be dug out, taking care not to damage the roots or tubers. Use a garden fork and work your way around the outside first, loosening the soil, then, gently, lift them out and put them directly in the box you’re going to store them in. Personally, I’ve had good luck with a simple cardboard box. Cover them, loosely, with garden soil. You don’t want it too moist, or the plants will rot over the winter.

Coleus cuttings potted up and ready to go. Photo by Sean James.

Occasionally, I find a variety of plant that I really like. Experience has taught me that I may not be able to find it every year (or am I just a plant hoarder?). An excellent example of this is Coleus, which is available in an incredible variety of sizes, leaf colours and shapes…but not always available. Some of these might be found one year and then fall out of fashion the next. Or they might go several years without surfacing at the garden centre. Taking cuttings of these plants is very easy. You can even share them with your gardening friends! Coleus and Impatients, for instance, can be rooted in water or moist soil. The only trick is to make sure that your cutting has a node. A node is where the leaves meet the stem, and that is where roots and new growth will come from. The node should placed be just below the soil. For an extra edge, some people use the cut off top third of a plastic pop bottle as a miniature greenhouse. Even just a couple of cuttings, grown over the winter into full plants, will allow you to take lots of cuttings in the spring and grow them for next year’s garden.

Coleus cutting ready to go. Where the leaves meet the stem is where the nodes are, and where roots will come from, so at least one node needs to end up below the soil. Photo by Sean James.

You never need to stop gardening. Don’t let winter win! Show Jack Frost that gardeners are made of stronger stuff. You’ll have fun, gain a sense of accomplishment and be ready for next season.


Sean James is Milton’s Gardener: a horticultural expert, a designer, a gardener, an ecologist and teacher. One garden at a time, Sean designs and plants eco-compatible, efficient, aesthetic, symbiotic gardens using philosophies and practices that are rooted in promoting native botanicals, edibles and responsible species.