Annuals Gardening Tender perennials

Which Annuals Can You Save From the Cold?

By Larry Hodgson

Gardeners in temperate climates have a long history of saving certain “annuals” by bringing the plants or cuttings of the plants indoors in the fall to protect them the cold of the winter. 

I mean, would we even be growing pelargoniums and fuchsias if that weren’t possible? 

But you can’t “save” just any annual. Some simply die at the end of the season. You can collect seeds and sow new ones in the spring, but little comes from bringing in French marigolds, cosmos or bachelor’s buttons. 

Why is that? 

True Annuals and False Annuals

True annuals grow quickly, but die after they bloom. They leave seeds to start a new generation. Illustration: Twinkl

True annuals go through their entire growth cycle in a single year, from seed to leaves to bloom to fresh seed … then they die. There’s not much you can do to save them: it’s just not in their nature. So, you can’t overwinter true annuals, indoors or out.

However, most of the plants we grow as annuals these days aren’t true annuals. They’re tender perennials, tropical or subtropical herbaceous plants (some are even tender shrubs!) offered by plant nurseries as annuals because they’ll be killed by frost. Tender, in this case, means not resistant to frost. You may also have heard them called temperennials. although the term is probably not in any dictionary. Therefore, these plants are only expected to bloom for one season in areas were frost reigns.

Some annuals simply die at the end of the season, but others can live on… if you give them tropical conditions. Photo: pxfuel.com

These are the ones you can bring indoors and keep from year to year. 

Of course, the merchant who sells these plants as annuals would really prefer that you treat tender perennials like annuals and let them die with the first hard frost. That way you’ll buy new plants the following spring and they’ll make more money. But gardeners tend to be a frugal lot, plus we love experimenting with plants. Learning to overwinter these false annuals can be a real pleasure!

Here are lists of both types: the true annuals you can just let die their normal death and the false ones, tender perennials, that you can save. 

True Annuals

Pinks cosmos in garden.
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a typical true annual: it comes into bloom quickly from seed, produces seed of its own, then dies. Photo: PEAK99, Wikimedia Commons

These plants will simply die when they’ve finished producing seeds. There’s no use trying to save them from the cold.

  1. Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
  2. Amaranth, globe (Gomphrena globosa)
  3. Annual gypsophila (Gypsophila elegans)
  4. Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes)
  5. Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii)
  6. Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanea)
  7. Balsam, garden (Impatiens balsamina)
  8. Balsam, Himalayan (Impatiens glandulifera)
  9. Bells of Ireland (Molucella laevis)
  10. Black-eyed susan* (Rudbeckia hirta)
  11. Blue tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia)
  12. Burning bush (Bassia scoparia, syn. Kochia scoparia)
  13. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  14. California bluebell (Phacelia campanularia)
  15. Calliopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
  16. Candytuft, globe or common (Iberis umbellata)
  17. Candytuft, rocket (Iberis amara)
  18. Cardinal climber (Ipomoea quamoclitI. coccineaI. × multifida)
  19. China aster (Callistephus chinensis)
  20. Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile)
  21. Chrysanthemum, annual (Ismelia carinata, syn. Chrysanthemum carinatum)
  22. Chrysanthemum, garland (Glebionis segetum, syn. Chrysanthemum segetum)
  23. Clarkia (Clarkia spp.)
  24. Cleome (Cleome hassleriana)
  25. Corn cockle (Agrostemma githago)
  26. Cornflower (Centaurea cyanea)
  27. Cosmos, garden (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  28. Cosmos, sulfur (Cosmos sulphureus)
  29. Cushion baby’s breath (Psammopyiliella muralis, syn. Gypsophila muralis)
  30. Daisy, Livingstone (Cleretum bellidiforme, syn. Dororeanthus bellidiformis)
  31. Daisy, Swan River (Brachyscome iberidifolia)
  32. Everlasting (Xerochrysum bracteatum, syn. Helichrysum bracteatum)
  33. Farewell to spring (Clarkia spp.)
  34. Fivespot (Nemophila maculata)
  35. Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum)
  36. Godetia (Clarkia amoena)
  37. Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)
  38. Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium)
  39. Joseph’s coat (Amaranthus tricolor)
  40. Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Persicaria orientalis)
  41. Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)
  42. Larkspur (Consolida spp.)
  43. Lavatera (Malva trimestris, syn. Lavatera trimestris)
  44. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)
  45. Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)
  46. Marigold, African (Tagetes erecta)
  47. Marigold, French (Tagetes patula)
  48. Mexican sunflower* (Tithonia spp.)
  49. Mignonette (Reseda odorata)
  50. Monarch-of-the-veld (Arctotis fastuosa)
  51. Morning bride (Scabiosa atropurpurea)
  52. Morning glory (Ipomoea nil)
  53. Morning glory, bush (Convolvulus tricolor)
  54. Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora)
  55. Nemesia (Nemesia strumosa)
  56. Oriental woodruff (Asperula orientalis)
  57. Ornamental gourd (Lagenaria siceraria)
  58. Perilla (Perilla frutescens)
  59. Phlox, annual (Phlox drummondii)
  60. Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
  61. Poor man’s orchid (Schizanthus spp.)
  62. Poppy, California (Eschscholzia californica)
  63. Poppy, corn (Papaver rhoeas)
  64. Poppy, opium (Papaver somniferum)
  65. Poppy, Shirley (Papaver rhoeas)
  66. Portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora)
  67. Princess feather (Persicaria orientalis)
  68. Rose mallow (Malva trimestris, syn. Lavatera trimestris)
  69. Sage, clary (Salvia viridis, syn. S. horminum)
  70. Scarlet flax (Linum grandiflorum)
  71. Snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata)
  72. Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana)
  73. Stock, night-scented (Matthiola longipetala)
  74. Stock, Virginia (Malcolmia maritima)
  75. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  76. Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
  77. Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
  78. Sweet scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea)
  79. Tassel flower (Amaranthus caudatus)
  80. Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)
  81. Thorn apple (Datura stramonium)
  82. Toadflax, Moroccan (Linaria maroccana)
  83. Toadflax, netted (Linaria reticulata)
  84. Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri)
  85. Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
  86. Zinnia, creeping (Sanvitalia procumbens)

*Most clones are annual, but a few are perennial.

False Annuals (Tender Annuals)

Begonia Angel Wings
No begonia (here Begonia × hybrida Dragon Wings) is a true annual: all will live for several years if protected from the frost. Photo: David J. Stang, Wikimedia Commons

These plants are sold as annuals, but can live more than one year in a mild climate (some are hardy to zone 8, but most require near tropical conditions to grow year round outdoors). To keep them going in colder climates, you’ll need to either bring them into your home or a heated greenhouse for the winter.

  1. Achimenes (Achimenes spp.)
  2. Agastache (Agastache aurantiaca)
  3. Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)
  4. Alternanthera (Alternanthera spp.)
  5. Allamanda (Allamanda spp.)
  6. Angel wings (Senecio candicans ‘Senaw’)
  7. Angelonia (Angelonia spp.)
  8. Asparagus fern (Asparagus spp.)
  9. Australian violet (Viola hederacea)
  10. Baby sun rose (Mesembryanthemum cordifolium, syn. Aptenia cordifolia)
  11. Bacopa (Sutera cordata)
  12. Banana (Musa spp. & Ensete spp.)
  13. Basil, common (Ocimum basilicum)
  14. Bean, hyacinth (Lablab purpureus, syn. Dolichos lablab)
  15. Bean, scarlet runner (Phaseolus coccineus)
  16. Beggarticks (Bidens ferulifolia and others)
  17. Begonia (Begonia spp.)
  18. Black-eyed susan vine (Thunbergia alata)
  19. Blood leaf (Iresine herbstii)
  20. Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica)
  21. Blue daze (Evolvulus glomeratus)
  22. Blue pimpernel (Lysimachia monellii, syn. Anagallis monellii)
  23. Blue star (Isotoma axillaris, syn. Laurentia axillaris)
  24. Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.)
  25. Browallia or bush violet (Browallia speciosa)
  26. Brugmansia (Brugmansia spp.)
  27. Cabbage tree (Cordyline australis)
  28. Caladium (Caladium bicolor)
  29. Calibrachoa (Calibrachoa spp.)
  30. Canna (Canna spp.)
  31. Cape marguerite (Dimorphoteca ecklonis, syn. Osteospermum ecklonis)
  32. Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
  33. Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
  34. Cathedral vine (Cobaea scandens)
  35. Celosia (Celosia argentea)
  36. Cherry pie (Heliotropium arborescens)
  37. Chicken gizzard plant (Iresine herbstii)
  38. Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
  39. Chinese pink (Dianthus chinensis)
  40. Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum × morifolium)
  41. Cigar flower (Cuphea spp.)
  42. Clerodendron (Clerodendrum spp.)
  43. Cockscomb (Celosia argentea)
  44. Coleus (Coleus scutellarioides)
  45. Copperleaf (Acalypha spp.)
  46. Cordyline (Cordyline australis)
  47. Cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)
  48. Creeping gloxinia (Lophospermum erubescens, syn. Asarina erubescens)
  49. Cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens)
  50. Cuphea (Cuphea spp.)
  51. Dahlia (Dahlia ×)
  52. Daisy, blue (Felicia amelloides)
  53. Daisy, Paris (Argyranthemum frutescens)
  54. Daisy, Transvaal (Gerbera jamesonii)
  55. Datura (Datura metel and D. innoxia)
  56. Diascia (Diascia spp.)
  57. Digiplexus (Digitalis ×, syn. × Digiplexus)
  58. Dipladenia (Mandevilla spp.)
  59. Drumstick (Craspedia spp.)
  60. Dusty miller (Jacobaea maritima, syn. Senecio cineraria)
  61. Edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus)
  62. Egyptian starcluster (Pentas lanceolata)
  63. Elephant ear (Colocasia spp., Alocasia spp. & Caladium bicolor)
  64. Everlasting, winged (Ammobium alatum)
  65. Fall mum (Chrysanthemum × morifolium)
  66. Fan flower (Scaevola aemula)
  67. Feathered amaranth (Celosia argentea)
  68. Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea)
  69. Flowering maple (Abutilon spp.)
  70. Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata N. sylvestris)
  71. Four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa)
  72. Freckleface (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  73. Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.)
  74. Gazania (Gazania spp.)
  75. Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
  76. Gerbera (Gerbera jamesonii)
  77. Glorybower (Clerodendrum spp.)
  78. Golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta)
  79. Golden trumpet (Allamanda spp.)
  80. Grass, elephant (Pennisetum purpureum)
  81. Grass, fountain (Cenchrus × advena, syn. Pennisetum × advena Pennisetum setaceum)
  82. Grass, St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum ‘Variegatum’)
  83. Heartleaf aptenia ((Mesembryanthemum cordifolium, syn. Aptenia cordifolia))
  84. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
  85. Honeywort (Cerinthe major)
  86. Hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca and other species)
  87. Impatiens, garden (Impatiens walleriana)
  88. Impatiens, New Guinea (Impatiens hawkeri)
  89. Inch plant (Tradescantia spp.)
  90. Ivy, English (Hedera helix)
  91. Ivy, German (Delairea odorata, syn. Senecio mikanoides)
  92. Ivy, ground (Glechoma hederacea)
  93. Ivy, Swedish (Plectranthus spp.)
  94. Joseph’s coat (Acalypha spp.)
  95. Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos spp.)
  96. Lantana (Lantana spp.)
  97. Laurentia (Isotoma axillaris, syn. Laurentia axillaris)
  98. Lavender cotton (Santolina spp.)
  99. Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare
  100. Lily, Peruvian or Inca lily (Alstroemeria spp.)
  101. Lotus vine (Lotus bertholotii)
  102. Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)
  103. Mallow, African (Anisodontea spp.)
  104. Mandevilla (Mandevilla spp.)
  105. Mangave (Agave spp.)
  106. Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa)
  107. Maui wormwood (Artemisia mauiensis)
  108. Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)
  109. Mexican sunflower* (Tithonia spp.)
  110. Million bells (Calibrachoa spp.)
  111. Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea & I. tricolor)
  112. Morning glory, Dwarf (Evolvulus glomeratus)
  113. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  114. Osteospermum (Dimorphoteca ecklonis, syn. Osteospermum ecklonis)
  115. Painted tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata)
  116. Pansy (Viola × wittrockiana)
  117. Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)
  118. Parrot’s beak (Lotus bertholotii)
  119. Passion flower (Passiflora spp.)
  120. Pelargonium (Pelargonium spp.)
  121. Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)
  122. Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)
  123. Pepper, ornamental (Capsicum annuum)
  124. Periwinkle, bigleaf (Vinca major)
  125. Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus)
  126. Petunia (Petunia × atkinsiana)
  127. Pink smartweed (Persicaria capitata)
  128. Plectranthus (Plectranthus spp.)
  129. Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  130. Potato bush (Lycianthes rantonnetii, syn. Solanum rantonnetii)
  131. Potato vine (Solanum jasminoides)
  132. Purple bell vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineus)
  133. Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida, syn. Setcreasea purpurea)
  134. Red-hot cat’s tail (Acalypha hispida)
  135. Red-leaved hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)
  136. Sage (Salvia spp.) (most species)
  137. Sedge, Japanese (Carex morrowiiC. oshimenus and others)
  138. Sedge, leatherleaf (Carex buchananii, C. comans and others) 
  139. Sedge, umbrella (Cyperus alternifolius)
  140. Silver falls (Dichondra argentea)
  141. Snapdragon (Anthurium majus)
  142. Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata, syn. Mina lobata)
  143. Statice (Limonium sinuatum)
  144. Stock, common (Matthiola incana)
  145. Streptocarpella (Streptocarpella ×)
  146. Sweet alyssum, hybrid (Lobularia ×)
  147. Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
  148. Taro (Colocasia spp.)
  149. Ti plant (Cordyline terminalis)
  150. Trailing snapdragon (Asarina procumbens)
  151. Treasure flower (Gazania spp.)
  152. Twinspur (Diascia barberae)
  153. Umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius)
  154. Verbena, mock (Glandularia ×)
  155. Verbena, rose mock (Glandularia canadiensis)
  156. Verbena, tall (Verbena bonariensis)
  157. Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
  158. Wingpod purslane (Portulaca umbraticola)

For suggestions on how to bring outdoor plants indoors, read Bring Your Plants Indoors… Without the Bugs.

And here is an article about how to cuttings from tender annuals in the fall: Time to Take Cuttings of Annuals.

Now, get out there and save a few plants!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

11 comments on “Which Annuals Can You Save From the Cold?

  1. Great list and lesson to share…thanks!

  2. Terrific list Larry – Thanks!

  3. Interesting who is perennial and who is not. I experiment every year so my garage tends to overflow with overwintered plants each year some more successful than others. Great luck with pelargoniums, abutilon, cuphea, herbs such as rosemary and sage, salvias, dwarf conifers, tea roses and agaves. I call it my winter garden.

  4. Ha! In our mild climate, some annuals and some perennials that work as annuals can work both as warm season and cool season annuals. Nasturtiums sown in spring perform through the warmth of summer before succumbing to cooling autumn weather. However seedlings of those same nasturtiums perform well through the cool weather of winter before succumbing to the warmth of spring. They replace their preceding generation before the preceding generation finishes, so seem like they never leave. Wax begonias can get planted both in spring and in autumn. Those planted in autumn perform through winter to get cut back in spring. Those planted in spring perform through summer to get cut back in autumn. It works out well.

    • Wow! That would never happen here!

      • It is odd how individual plants perform through one half of the year or another. For example, nasturtiums perform either through spring and summer, or autumn and winter, but not both. They seem to continue throughout the year, but only because new plants replace the old.

  5. Thanks for this list. I have recently moved to the Scottish Highlands and live in a walled garden that was completely cleared out before two houses were built. I would love to restore at least some of the garden but am limited in how much I want to spend and how much I am able to dig! I want to use as many native plants as possible but am considering asking my neighbours for cuttings of plants that they find do well here. Can you recommend good plants to start from cuttings and tell me if I need to do anything special to them to get them to root? And would a polytunnel be good enough to over-winter tender perennials or would I actually need to bring them into the house or garage? Thanks!

    • First, your idea of asking neighbours for cuttings (and divisions, put those on your list as well) is an excellent one. They’ll know what grows well and what doesn’t. I’m not going to make any recommendations: I don’t know your conditions well enough. Still, your climate is certainly milder than mine (I live in Canada and not in the warmer parts; we sometimes have -40C temperatures in winter: Arctic weather). Therefore, a poly tunnel would probably work for some of the plants mentioned: fuschias, chrysanthemums, carnations and some gerberas, for example. Again, your neighbours might have some great advice!

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