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Bringing Your Tropical Plants Indoors for the Winter

As the summer comes to an end and autumn approaches, the days get shorter and cooler temperatures signal the time to ready your plants for winter. How can you protect your treasured tropicals from winter damage?

Overwintering Tropical Plants

Don’t wait until frost warnings or freezes occur to bring tropical plants inside, especially since these plants are more susceptible to dropping temperatures. Try to have all of your plants acclimated to the new indoor environment by the end of October. Avoid the temptation to move your tropicals back outside if it suddenly gets warm, because they will have to re-acclimate when you bring them back inside again. With a little extra care even exotic hibiscus can be over-wintered inside the house.

First, it’s a good idea to prune approximately one-eighth to one-fourth off the total height of the plant’s foliage. This helps reduce the shock that the plant receives with the change of conditions when bringing them indoors. Check the plants for signs of insects and treat them with insecticidal soap or pyrethrin spray as well as a systemic insecticide that will provide protection for up to six weeks.

Position indoor tropical plants in a very bright location that receives no less than 6 hours of light per day. If the winter is very cloudy, supplement your plants with an artificial light source. Be sure the room is warm, but avoid putting the plants too close to a heating vent, which can dry them out drastically.

Because they are tropical plants, they will need good humidity which can be achieved by using a humidity tray. Use a saucer that is at least 3-4 inches larger than the pot and fill it with an inch of stones. Pour water over the stones until they are half covered, then place the pot on top of the stones. The humidity immediately around the plant will be increased, but avoid setting the pot directly in any water, which can lead to fungus and rotting. Grouping several plants close together can also help them preserve humidity for more luxuriant growth.

Fertilizing should be continued throughout the winter, but at a rate of once per week. You will find the plant will not utilize as much water in the winter because its growth has slowed. Generally, plants should be watered every 4-7 days depending on location, pot size, soil type and plant type.

If you have any questions about winter care of your plants, our staff will be glad to help you keep your tropicals in good condition all winter long.

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Over-Wintering Container Plants Outdoors

All containerized plants that are considered hardy in your zone can spend the winter outdoors, but you do need to take a little special care to keep them safe and comfortable as temperatures drop. Despite their hardiness, winter is still a challenging season, but it is possible to keep your container plants healthy until the days grow longer and warmer again.

Options to Overwinter Your Container Plants

  • In the late summer or fall, removed the plant from its container and plant it in the ground while the soil is still warm. Another method is to bury the pot, with the plant in it, in the garden and remove the pot following spring. Both of these methods will help insulate the root system, preventing it from freezing solid and killing the root system.
  • Place containerized plants in an unheated garage but along a heated wall. This is an excellent method for very large pots or porous pots that tend to break apart from the constant cycle of freezing and thawing, and so would not be very hardy if buried. For extra root protection and insulation, wrap the pots in plastic bubble wrap or wrap an old comforter or quilt around the pots.
  • Group pots together along the sunny side of your house or shed. If this area is windy, create a windscreen with stakes and burlap. Place bales of straw or hay around the perimeter of the grouping up against the pots to further protect plants from cold winds. Fill in areas between pots with mulch, shredded leaves, grass clippings or hay for insulation. Lay evergreen branches or place a layer of mulch on top of the pots for additional protection.
  • Use a cold frame covered with plastic or Reemay fabric to help control temperatures and reduce light as well, helping plants stay dormant in winter. It will still be necessary to use mulch, shredded leaves or hay around and in-between pots for insulation. Rodent control, such as Havahart traps, may be necessary when using this method.

Watering Container Plants in Winter

Make sure that plants go into the winter with moist soil so that there is water available to plant roots. Check soil moisture occasionally, never allowing it to dry completely. It is also a very good idea to spray needled and broadleaf evergreens with an anti-desiccant. This acts as a protective coating for plant foliage and stems as it helps them retain moisture.

With just a little care and forethought, you can easily prepare containers for winter without risking the plants and arrangements you have so carefully cultivated.

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