Cheer up and colorize your winter with Outdoor Perennial and Annual Plants That Also Like Living Indoors

Traditional outdoor plants can also be grown inside, or brought in at the end of summer to color your winter world. Bringing houseplants outdoors for the summer is commonplace. Growing outdoor plants indoors year-round or just for the winter, not so much. It's something that will cheer you up throughout the cold and dreary months until spring, when you and your plants get sprung again. It'll add lots of living color to your home decor all year.

We're asking a lot of a plant when we expect them to grow outdoors and indoors year-round. But many plants are just happy being where you are, and will gladly do that for you.

We aleady know that we can grow many vegetables, greens, herbs and gorgeous tomatoes indoors through seeding, division or cloning before fall and fill our windowsills with plants. We know lots of goodies for our eyes and plates can be possible indoors using supplemental grow lights, if needed. Growing outdoor plants indoors is not just about wintering them over. Which is always pretty handy. You can also grow many decorative plants year-round in the home. Some are quite easy, some languish or just refuse to grow indoors. You have to research your outdoor plants and consult your wishlist to know which will do best for you. Bring some indoors for winter or just grow them as houseplants. Possibilities are endless. But perennials in one planting zone may not be perennial in another, so you'll have to choose what you like about your outdoor plants and research whether they can be grown indoors.

If you do not have sun or good light conditions, use grow lights. I use grow lights in almost every lamp and fixture - they look and shine as bright as your regular everyday warm white bulbs, but you can grow something pretty or tasty under those lights, on a table, shelf or stand, in a low light room. These are way more energy efficient and last longer, too. You can grow just about all of your outdoor plants, fruits and veggies indoors with grow lights. I sow a bed of leaf lettuces indoors under lights and pluck a salad just about every day in winter. Herbs grow on the windowsills.

Annual Plants That Grow Well Indoors

Most annuals can do well indoors with supplemental lighting. There are also several perennial foliage and flowering plants that can be brought indoors before and without going dormant. Evergreens should be number 1 on your indoor perennial list - They stay green outdoors over a long and cold winter, so they'll be evergreen in your home, and some of the flowering types will present you with blooms. Like Camellias. Many ivies and your ornamental grasses can also live indoors. Beautiful dwarf conifers are available and do well indoors, as well. I like them at the base of plants in big pots, and i like the odd-shaped in Asian-style containers for Zen. You haven't seen awesome until you combine bamboos and variegated English Ivy at the base. Many vines are happy living indoors. A very pretty foliage plant is the sweet potato vine. Ornate in color and shape. Clematis does well indoors in pots, as well. To learn about Clematis, visit this page.

Overwintered and indoor-grown annuals

You can buy annuals and keep them indoors, or you can dig up the entire plant before your first fall frost. When over-wintering, back the plant by about a third, and then plant it in a pot with fresh organic potting soil.

Annuals or over-wintering plants won't need feeding during the winter. But you can start feeding them in the late winter or early spring with a liquid feed or foliar feed like organic fish emulsion, or sprinkle the top of the soil with epsom salts.

When it's time to move your over-wintered plants back outside, give them a chance to acclimate to outdoor conditions before placing or planting. After the danger of frost has passed, move the pot outdoors each day for a gradually increasing amount of time for at least a week, in a protected area, and out of the sun. Keep the plants in their pots (that's what I do), or plant them in the ground. Pots make more sense to me because i'll only be digging them up and bringing them inside in fall for houseplants. Bring the plants you want for indoors into your home before the first frost. Take cuttings from in-ground plants and pot them up, or dig up the whole plant.

Joseph's-coat, polka-dot plant, nierembergia, verbena, sweet potato vine, ornamental peppers, eggplant, and even kale can be grown in containers indoors. You can find them in online nurseries, and many annuals will be listed as houseplants.

Coleus is a very colorful foliage plant, and they sometimes get flowers that you'll probably want to pinch off to save the plant's energy. There are so many colors available, and a grouping is breathtaking.

Geraniums - cuttings or plants. They probably won't flower indoors, or might sporadically. But they will grow and be bushy with a good pinching now and then. Don't let them get tall and spindly. Both zonal and trailing do well, but the trailing does better for me.

Impatiens - Place the potted plants in a bright, sunny location. Impatiens that have spent the summer in containers can be pinched back leaving one-third of their original height and brought indoors. This also applies to the New Guinea impatiens, semi-perennial.

Fibrous begonias - Because they have a fibrous root system, they can easily be dug from the ground and placed in containers for the winter. Like the impatiens, trim the tops back to about one-third of their original height. Dwarf varieties are the most successful for indoor use.

Browallia -Indoor care similar to impatiens and begonia. 

Fuchsia, like geraniums, can be overwintered. 

Many gardeners grow vining plants like Bougainvillea, glory bower, and mandevilla in hanging baskets or other containers during the summer. They can be brought indoors for the winter months. They won't flower indoors but will hopefully survive and bloom again next season outdoors.

Before bringing plants indoors for the winter, make sure plants are healthy and insect free. Acclimate plants to their indoor environment well in advance of cool temperatures. Bring easy-to-carry potted plants in when nights first begin to get nippy, and put them out again in the daytime for about a week, as long as a frost isn't happening yet.

Some outdoor plants have needs that make it impossible, or undesirable, to bring them in for winter. Some will outright refuse to grow indoors. Like Daisies (for me). And after all, who wants a pathetic looking plant indoors that went dormant and is bald for the winter? Or ferns that go dormant indoors anyway and shed brown leaves all over the place throughout the winter that you have to sweep up? Or specialty plants, primadonna hothouse beauties, and outdoor bulbs that are needy indoors? Those will not cheer you up.


Using my nemesis, the perennial fern, as an example, I leave most of my outdoor (growing in-ground) ferns outdoors. 

After lengthy battles over entire winters, when most go dormant, turn brown and fall apart each time i attempt it no matter what I do, they are staying where they can go bald, sleep outside, and grow back outside. No help from me. 

I keep a few unusual and frilly potted and houseplant ferns in long, rectangular planters, and a few that don't go dormant once inside. Outdoors they go in spring, returning home after their vacation in fall. But the perennial outdoor types are staying out there to freeze until spring. I did my best for years to accommodate them in a warm and cozy home. Karma. My pretty Crispy Wave house fern appreciates me. Boston Ferns, even potted, hate me. The only outdoor fern i really succeed with is the bright green and cheerful New York Fern.

I do not grow spring blooming bulbs indoors. I just don't see the point of forcing them to bloom at a time when it's not normal for them to do so. And then have to plant them outdoors. I leave that to florists and greenhouses cranking out off-season flower plants as gifts in spring and winter. I prefer a large and colorful, natural early spring welcome displayed in my front garden after my long winter of being cooped up. Spring bulbs and birds go together and should be outdoors, in my opinion.

I do like bringing perennial greenery indoors. don't ask for much, and I already grow most things in pots or raised beds. So they don't mind being shuffled in and out, without being uprooted, at the proper times. I succeeded with hosta, english ivy, ornamental grasses and dwarf clumping bamboo for a very zen look and feel.

I let all of my cacti and succulents summer outdoors. Most of my Prickly Pear Cactus plants remain in-ground all winter because it's perennial here, and fooling with those prickly things is risky, but my best specimens spend winters indoors.  I want insurance against a killing winter. I plant them in decorative cactus and succulent bowls, where they permanently reside, and are shuffled back and forth as the weather allows. These all do great for me as indoor and outdoor ornamental plants. If you live in a warm planting zone, depending on your hardiness zone, cacti are perennial and you can leave most of them outside and bring some inside as houseplants. Care is simple. Letting a plant suffer for want of water is something i've always been good at. So cacti are just the thing for novice or forgetful gardeners like myself. Give it sun and/or grow lights, give it water when you remember (works for most of winter). All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. They need a refreshing drink more often than cacti. They will tell you when you're being negligent - the succulent leaves on mine begin to shrivel and look old and tired, and they're not their usual bright green.

All geraniums and chrysanthemum are happy indoors and outdoors for me. I rotate the same plants in and out each year. These plants need sunshine and a regular pinching to keep them from getting too leggy. Fish Emulsian liquid fertilizer does them wonders. Ivy Geranium does best, and looks very pretty in a hanging basket or trailing from the tops of shelves and bookcases.

Perennials Indoors - Get To Know Your Hardiness Zone's Perennials

Lots and lots of annuals can be over-wintered indoors and brought back outside next spring. 
Here is a list of hardy and tender perennials that won't get upset being houseplants. 

Hardiness is relative to where you live, so plants can be considered perennial plants in one zone and not another. Regardless, these outdoor plants are said to do well as houseplants. In fact, many start out as being recommended as houseplants, and are put outside or planted outside in zones that fit their hardiness.

Boston ferns are recommended by some (these don't do well for me indoors if they're being brought in from outdoors). They're fine when started indoors and moved in and out.

Try Agapanthus, Agastache (Hummingbird Mint), Bamboo, Bougainvillea, Cordyline, Croton, Dracaena, English ivy, Geraniums, Dwarf Papyrus (this is an umbrella plant, not the indoor tree), and Hibiscus
Also consider: 
 Jasmine, Lady ferns, and other small fern varieties

Clematis - I have a lot of these vines growing outdoors, but i will try to grow some indoors, as well. There are shorter, bushier varieties to use for this purpose. Mine are potted, so a trim and a trip on a dolly to a spot indoors will be easy. Use it as a climbing vine or as a tabletop plant. It needs bright light/full sun or supplemental grow lights, and very well-draining soil. Water when the soil is starting to dry out. Clematis is toxic to pets, so keep them out of their reach. Use fertilizer once a month, and remove any dead branches you see all year-round to keep it healthy and growing from season to season. It can remain indoors or be brought back outside and tied, if you wish. 
To learn about Clematis, visit this page.

 Lantana, New Zealand flax, Oxalis

 Palms, Salvia, Golden trumpet

 Succulents and Cacti

Jasmine - there are several varieties of Jasmines that can be kept as house plants. All are climbers and many bloom with clusters of flowers that offer gorgeous fragrance. 'Pink Jasmine' is the easiest to grow. Clusters of pale pink buds that open into masses of star-shaped white flowers in mid-winter. A vigorous climber, it can grow up to 10 feet high.

Many perennial herbs will do well indoors too. Grow Scallions (green onions), Chives, garlic chives, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme. One scallion plant with roots in a jar of water or potted gives me scallions for my salads and Asian recipes daily. Keep trimming the tops, and it will keep growing new stems, as long as there are roots. Start out with a clump from the supermarket produce section (which will probably be organic) or from your outdoor garden (which should be organic). It seems to grow forever no matter where you put it, or how you plant it.

Ornamental Grasses

*= I grow these indoors

*Spider plants are very common grasses grown indoors by most gardeners.

*Blue Fescue - "Elijah Blue" is a very pretty dwarf, evergreen mounding ornamental grass. Most fescues (festuca) grow well indoors, but you'll want the dwarf varieties in pots. These cuties grow to a little over a foot tall, and need no trimming or special care. These are stunning outdoors with snow cover and the blue-green blades. But save one for indoors - they look nice with color-coordinated hosta. I have one in a pot that i shuffle back and forth.

*Dwarf Papyrus - Umbrella plant. All it cares about is water and lots of it. Plant in soil and keep wet, or plant in a pot with no drainage holes. It grows in bogs and by ponds, so it likes wet feet.

*Corkscrew Rush - Most rushes like it indoors and are happy as long as they are wet. Another pond/bog plant. I use them in water features outdoors, and grow them indoors and in urns as well. Corkscrew is very pretty and has curly, grassy stems.

Fiber Optic Grass

*Sweet Flag - i grow these in a container in a small bog garden with louisiana irises in summer, and divide a bunch for growing indoors in pots.

Japanese Blood Grass

A beautiful, ornamental grass that has shades of red, orange, green and yellow in its blades. The colors intensify in fall. Because of its invasive tendencies outdoors, gardeners should take care to purchase only the named, sterile types, like 'Red Baron' and 'Rubra.' I grow this ornamental grass in large containers outside, and smaller containers inside. These sterile types of grasses don't look different from the species, but have the important attribute of forming few or no flowers, and spreading pretty slowly by rhizomes, rather than quickly taking over the outdoor flower bed. I don't grow this in the ground. I learned my lesson from invasive mints. This plant is easily propagated by divisions.

*Dwarf clumping bamboo - a favorite that i grow everywhere i can for a zen garden indoors and out. Doesn't need much care at all, except that it does enjoy water.

Whether your indoor perennial plants do well in the home depends upon the needs and treatment it has as an outdoor plant, and whether you can meet those needs indoors - if a plant or dwarf tree is destined to live outdoors, or needs a high number of chill hours to do so for next season's flowering or crop, it's better to leave it outside if decorative value is all you seek indoors. Bringing a plant in that will look like a bare stick all winter is really not your goal. Those can do that outside, or be stored in your garage or basement in the dark (dormant plants don't need light) if you wish to over-winter them. Dwarf flowering or fruit trees that aren't permitted to go dormant outdoors, can usually be grown indoors as ornamentals. But remember the chill hours and whether or not your tree is self-pollinating.

Some ornamental dwarf fruit trees can do both and don't need to go dormant. They're awesome houseguests. They grow great in pots and can be shuffled in and out. Examples are dwarf lemon, lime and most fig trees. These are ornamental plants that look great indoors. The dwarf lemon and lime do not go dormant. They flower all the time, the flowers turn into fruit, (they are self-pollinating) and they keep their beautiful glossy leaves. You can have full-sized fruit all year. The fragrance of the flowers and fruit will cheer you up. Using your indoor-gown lemons in your recipes is a great incentive. Bring them in as soon as temps drop to 50's at night in the fall, because they cannot take frost.

Japanese maples come in dwarf sizes, I have several, and they can be grown indoors in containers. Mine are in pots and spend time indoors, as well.

Bring a potted outdoor maple indoors before it can go dormant and lose its leaves, or plant a dwarf maple nursery tree in a pot. Give it sunshine or grow lights. The plant must receive 8+ hours of sunlight per day indoors to maintain its foliage and make enough food through photosynthesis to remain alive and healthy. Outdoors, Japanese maples can work with both full sun and partial shade . Sunlight needs to be at least 5 or 6 hours when planted outside. I fertilize with liquid fish emulsion in the soil or as a foliar spray once a month indoors. Applying used coffee grounds creates humus in the soil. I add them every week indoors or out.

Water your indoor Maple tree daily, but not too much. Trim the ends of the branches as necessary so that the tree does not overgrow the pot. Acclimate it to the outdoors if that's where you'll be growing it most of the time. Put it outside a few hours a day a few weeks before your last frost date.  This is a perennial ornamental tree, but if it hasn't gone dormant and lives in the house all winter, you would treat it like a new garden plant after the winter, or you might kill it. Ornamental and fruit trees can be planted in March outdoors in the ground in most northern areas. If a surprise freeze is forecasted, bring your potted tree indoors until it's above freezing again. If you feel the need to stunt it's growth, use a sharp trowel and slice through the soil and root all around the pot every couple of months to keep it from growing too big for the pot indoors.

I love fig trees. I keep some dormant trees over-wintering in my basement in the dark, and i have some that i don't allow to grow dormant before i bring them indoors. I like the look, and especially the fruit. I live in a northern zone (6b) that makes it iffy as to whether or not the heat-loving fig trees will make it through a bad winter outdoors without death or damage. I watch the weather forecast, and leave most of the hardy ones bundled up outdoors in sheltered areas, i let a few of the iffy-hardy go dormant and bring a few in to sleep off the winter dormancy in my basement (no light needed) Easy houseplants and perhaps some figs with supplemental grow lights. Figs are also self-pollinating, and do not need to go dormant to produce fruit, so they can be grown as fruiting houseguest. They do not produce flowers. The fruit itself is the flower. Once I begin to espalier a few, those will need to be kept outdoors and will hopefully make it through bad winters. Some will be grown inside to preserve the trees in my mini orchard.

Dwarf Potted Citrus and Fig trees

Hello, Dolly

Growing portable ornamentals in pots is the best plan if you want to bring fruiting and ornamental trees indoors to live with you in winter. Back outside they go in spring. Word to the wise.... Plant dwarf fruit trees in big pots, but make sure you can lift or move the pots in and out on wheeled plant trivets or dollies. Move the pots when the soil has not been drenched by rain recently. Amazingly heavy when they are wet. Water them if they need it, once it arrives indoors.

Bear in mind that flowering and fruiting might require the plant to have a certain number of "chill hours" outdoors, before they can bloom or produce fruit. Most nurseries tell you what that is on the tag, or you can find that info on this page. If you plan on getting fruit or flowers indoors or next season outdoors from your plant, be sure it gets the chill hours it needs (if any) for production. Not doing so is why so many people wonder why their fruit or ornamentals don't produce either indoors, or when they go back outdoors in spring for the growing season. You can do it wrong and never get fruit or flowers because the plant has not completed the cycle. Some fruits and flower trees need more chill hours than others. Figs, depending upon variety, need very few chill hours below 45 degrees, and some need none at all. Some trees need a lot, and these are probably not the best ornamentals to grow indoors.

It may sound silly to experienced gardeners to be reminded, but you do have to remember that you can bring in a perennial plant or fruit tree before it goes into dormancy to winter it over, and plant or put it outside in spring after the last frost, but you can't change your mind and put it back outside until spring - if you put the plant back outside after harboring it from the normal freeze, you have to treat it as a new plant. You will probably kill it, perennial or not, if it goes from no freeze to deep freeze. Once a perennial is in the ground, it goes dormant in fall to protect itself from freezing to death, the top dies back in most plants, the roots remain alive, and the plant returns and grows in spring when dormancy is over. If you prevent dormancy in order to bring it inside, or want to plant a non-dormant perennial from indoors in the outdoors, you just can't say "Never Mind" and put the plant outside in freezing weather. It isn't and it won't go dormant, and it will die.

Do not forget indoor annuals and perennials in hanging pots - ivies, trailing and fragrant vines and many other climbing plants can be grown indoors in pots and many foliage perennials don't need a lot of sun. Trellises in the pots is what you'll need or some type of support for the plants to scramble up. If you lack the sunlight needed, there are clip-on grow lights that you can attach to the pot or plant hanger that will take care of that. Grow lights are very effective as supplemental sunlight, and it costs pennies per year to run them. I have all types and more than a dozen clip-ons and those standing types running most of the year somewhere around here for 12 hrs. or so per day. I haven't seen a sign of a noticeable increase in my electric bill. Use them. You'll thank me later. Your only concern will be where to find room for all the pretty outdoor plants you can also grow in your home.



Article 2021 Mary Hyland
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