I looked out on my patio a few days ago to see a pelargonium I planted in May coming into flower yet again, at a time when most of my summer pots have been emptied.
Despite a lot of rain, it’s been a mild October, and this may lull many of us into a false sense of security about how long we leave it before offering our plants some protection from the winter chill.
If you live in a frost pocket, the pelargonium is going to need to come under cover soon. If you have pots of pelargoniums (bedding geraniums) which you want to enjoy next year, put them inside too, in a light, frost-free place such as a slightly heated greenhouse, a sheltered porch next to the house or an unheated spare room or conservatory, cutting them back to 10cm (4in).
Don’t expose them to warm central heating or they’ll just wilt when you put them out next year.
Fuchsias, which lose their leaves entirely and spend winter looking like bare sticks, will need the same treatment. You’ll hardly need to water them at all until growth resumes in spring, at which point you can repot them and harden them off before placing them outside when the risk of frost has passed.
Marguerites (Argyranthemums) will also not stand any frost and are best dug up and potted, cut back by half and kept in a dry, cool, frost-free place that has sunlight through the winter, like a cool greenhouse. Water them sparingly to keep their roots dry until spring, when you can start to water them more frequently.
If your garden has a Mediterranean theme, you’re likely to need to protect other vulnerable plants, such as cannas, olive trees, ginger lilies and dahlias, which may not survive winter frosts.
Leave dahlia tubers in the ground until the foliage has been blackened by frost, which may be as late as November, then cut the plants down to around 15cm (6in) from the ground and dig up the tubers. Shake off the soil, wash the tubers and turn them upside down so the moisture drains out of the hollow stems. When they’ve dried off, hang them in nets in a shed or store them in stacking trays with plenty of holes for ventilation.
If you don’t have heating in your greenhouse, insulating your more tender plants with bubble wrap can make a huge difference.
Alternatively, you may have to venture out on really cold nights and cover your tender specimens with horticultural fleece to keep the winter chill at bay.
Other plants that form tubers such as ginger lilies are best dug up at the end of the season, the top growth cut off with secateurs and then the tubers stored until spring in dry potting compost in a cool, frost-free place like a garage or shed. They can be planted out next year when all danger of frost has passed.
Hopefully, a bit of TLC over the winter will ensure that your plants are brought back to their full glory next year.