A convenient place to store frost-tender plants is in the crawl space under your house. Assuming your home isn’t built on a slab, there should be a few feet of warm air between the first floor of the house and the ground. Not only is it humid in that area, it also has a characteristic that many plants thrive in: stable, warm air. Perhaps most surprisingly, there are no wild fluctuations between daytime and nighttime temperatures.

Crawlspace garden

A crate is an easy way to transport several plants into the crawl space area under your house.

Photo Credit: John Buettner

Shell ginger

Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ is a tropical plant that can be dug, cut back and stored as a dormant root in the crawl space garden.

Photo Credit: John Buettner

The most basic approach for “crawl space gardening” is simply using the crawl space for bulb storage. Callas, cannas, dahlias, elephant ears and gingers, along with other winter-dormant bulbs that don’t tolerate the low temperatures in your region, can be protected in the crawl space garden. For these types of plants, all you need to do is clean them up by removing any pests or diseased plant parts, trim them back and set them in a dark corner away from the door or any vents.

Once the plants have gone dormant, you can pretty much leave them alone all winter – just don’t forget about them! When spring arrives, simply bring them back out into the garden and resume watering and feeding after the first sprouts emerge from the pots.

A more advanced approach to this technique involves creating an environment for continued plant growth. Mounting a fluorescent shop light on the ceiling of your crawl space can provide artificial sunlight. Appropriate day length can be achieved by using an inexpensive timer set for 12-hour days (lights on) and 12-hour nights (lights off). Cool-season plants like begonias and succulents will produce some amazing results in this simulated environment. I’ve also had success with pineapples and tree ferns using this method.

If you’re not “down with” crawling around, consider digging a trench just deep enough to allow you to stand up in while under the house. In effect, the plants will now be on waist-high earthen benches, while you’re standing in the trench/walkway.

Some plants may need to be watered once a week, but the naturally moist air keeps most plants happy. Some insect problems might occur, but they’ll never be as severe as what you’ll experience when outdoor summer gardening.

Most crawl spaces are more wasted space than anything else. Whether you simply overwinter tender plants or grow cool-season varieties, you can turn that wasted space into a great gardening space!