What plants to put in your conservatory through winter
How to turn your conservatory into a “plant hotel” this winter
In high summer, late spring or the first flush of early autumn, a conservatory or orangery offers its owners pleasant vistas, and bursts of colour and light. In the chillier, darker months of the year, however, we can be tempted to retreat into the cosier core of our homes. If your conservatory gets unbearably cold in the winter, why not contact us and see how we can help upgrade your conservatory into a winter haven?
Luckily, spending less time in your conservatory in winter doesn’t have to mean it stops being a useful space for some other residents of your property — your frost-sensitive outdoor plants. What’s more, packing your conservatory with greenery can completely transform the space into a lush, airy time capsule and a herald of the oncoming spring.
This is your handy guide to overwintering your plants in your conservatory.
Why do we bring some plants indoors during winter?
Modern horticulture has brought many bright and characterful plants from foreign shores into our backyards — quite literally! Just a few centuries ago, a citrus tree, an imported palm frond or a luxurious bay laurel were expensive luxuries for a select few. Nowadays, they’re open to practically anybody with space for a few pots and the time and love to take care of them.
Unfortunately, however, many imported plants are tender, temperamental things — more suited to a Mediterranean climate than the maritime one we usually enjoy on our chilly isle. In winter, we have to bring these delicate plants inside to extend their season and protect them from the cold.
It was this realisation that led to the first orangeries being built in Western Europe in the early 18th century. Almost exclusively available to the aristocracy, these glazed-roof structures provided airy, bright and heatable environments, even allowing peaches and apricots to be grown as far north as St. Petersburg.
Now, your modern, well-fitted conservatory can serve the same purpose, preserving your delicate perennials, imported fruit trees and succulents.
When to bring plants indoors for winter
It’s tricky to make sweeping statements about what will work for every garden. It’s best to look up the low-temperature tolerance for the specific plants in your collection, and then gradually bring them inside as the mercury drops from early autumn onwards. Above all, it’s absolutely crucial to bring delicate plants in before the first frost — even a short spell in sub-zero temperatures will almost certainly do them harm and possibly even kill them.
Which plants should go in the conservatory in winter?
The Royal Horticultural Society has an extensive list available on their website. Generally speaking, any plant that’s not used to the cold, could benefit from a slightly longer growing season or is particularly young and fragile ought to be brought in.
Succulents, being plants geared towards water-retention, are completely at a loss once the frost begins to creep in. Plants that straddle the gap between garden and houseplants, especially those more suited to hot, wet climes like orchids, Gardenia (coffee plants) and stylish tropical shrubs like Brugmansia (angel trumpets) will have to be brought in particularly early, and kept relatively warm once indoors.
Next on the cold-tolerance ladder are jasmines, forest lilies, citrus trees and towering, bright Bougainvillea. These can linger outside a little longer, and put up with a cooler indoor environment, though it’s important to avoid overwatering plants indoors, not least for the sake of avoiding damp and condensation within your property.
Finally come hardier but still non-native plants like banana trees, palms and tree ferns, especially when young. Along with succulents, these plants will happily tolerate a period of low-but-not-freezing temperatures, meaning they can be left out for longer and require only minimal heating of their winter residence.
How to relocate plants from the garden
Container-grown plants can be relocated after a quick once-over with some pruning shears to excise dead or diseased leaves and prime new growth next spring. For the sake of your conservatory, avoid placing outdoor pots straight onto your floor, instead using a houseplant dish.
To remove plants from garden soil, carefully use a fork or spade to lift the plant out of the ground while doing as little damage to its root network as possible. Shake or brush soil away from the roots, again without damaging them, then repot into freshly-prepared potting compost. Trim to taste and move indoors.
It can be useful to cluster your plants together in a given part of the room to promote humidity around each individual shrub, which promotes plant health by more accurately mimicking their natural habitat. Similarly, do not overwater overwintering plants, especially deciduous shrubs which enter a period of dormancy in the cold season. Evergreen plants require a little more water, as they remain “awake” through the winter.
Finally, avoid using outdoor compost or soil from your garden to pot indoor plants, however tempting. This can unfortunately result in clouds of small insects, poor odours and even plant disease.
What to do if you don’t have a conservatory
Without a conservatory, it’s a little trickier to bring in and keep a good number of plants over the winter. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however — you can overwinter plants next to glass doors, on windowsills or in bright, airy alcoves. If you’re worried about your light levels indoors and have space outside, you could do worse than a greenhouse, cold frame or micro-polytunnel for more resilient plants.
Another charming horticultural solution is simply to swaddle frost-prone shrubs in layers of fleece!
Conservatories by Atlantic Windows
Our range of conservatories includes a range of attractive options at various price points. We offer useful, market-leading technology, including self-cleaning glass that easily breaks down grimy deposits, acoustic dampening laminate, UV filters and A-grade insulative glass.
We want to build your ideal conservatory — whether that’s a place to entertain friends, a playroom, a work-from-home space — or a plant hotel! Why not contact us today and share your ideas?