Emergency plant storage

Judith Adam

It never fails that at this late date in the season, I’m still juggling plants that are out of the ground and have no hope of finding a proper home this season. These are plants I’ve purchased and then nursed along on the driveway all summer (too busy to install them). Others are the result of dividing large perennial clumps this autumn (indecision on where to plant the extras); and others are seedlings that needed special care (no discipline, I should have given them away). But they are all out of the ground and about to freeze, so something must be done.

I’m fortunate to have an attached garage that is slightly warmer than a freestanding structure in winter. Although the garage is unheated, the temperature is usually about 10 degrees warmer than outside. This has made it possible to store plants over winter, with never any loss. Some plants come into the garage in pots. I make sure the soil is moist and set them on the floor against the walls, with black plastic bags thrown loosely over them. (I check every few weeks to be sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely.)

Now don’t think the worst of me, but clumps of particularly hardy and resilient plants like hostas and daylilies don’t get a pot, but are stowed away in plastic grocery bags, with the tops loosely folded over to allow some air circulation. If the soil around their roots is moist when they go into the bags, I don’t need to check for moisture through the winter months. I always remove the dead foliage before storing perennials to eliminate any potential fungus growth over winter.

This emergency storage works well, and the plants are ready to grow early in spring. Plants stored this way know when spring is approaching and begin to grow. Even stored in darkness, they will initiate growing tips around the end of February. And what’s more, when stored in total darkness, they still know which direction is up. Last autumn I was preparing several clumps of hostas for storage, and after removing the leaves, accidentally put one of the clumps into the bag upside-down. In spring, that hosta began growth and, finding itself topsy-turvy and with roots facing up, sent its downward-facing stems on a 180-degree turn to climb up. Now both the roots and the new buds were facing up! I managed to correct this, but it took some time and work, and I wouldn’t want to do it again. Best to get them into the bag right side up.


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