Annuals · Container Gardening · Houseplants · Tropicals

Overwintering Tropical Plants

It’s just about time to decide which tropical plants get to spend the winter indoors and which ones will be sentenced to the compost bin. I wish I could save them all but:

  • I live in a small house.
  • My husband doesn’t want to live in a jungle.
  • My grandboys spend every Friday with me and need room for railroads and racetracks.

The process starts by checking each plant for insect infestations. Any plants under attack by insects like mealybugs, spider mites, aphids or scale are often discarded. Only favorites get a reprieve, treatment, and a recheck.

Next, the light needs of plants are considered. I only have one set of south-facing sliding glass doors available for sun lovers.

Finally, the fussy factor of each plant is taken into account. Prima donnas are apt to find themselves in the compost bin.

Being judge and jury is extremely difficult, but these are the lucky plants that made the cut.

The ficus will winter in front of the south-facing sliding glass doors.

A healthy ficus has an easier transition to drier air and lower light indoors, although leaf drop is common whenever there is a change in their environment. They don’t require much water in winter but do need misting every couple days. Fertilize with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer every other month, and position them away from drafts. Increase watering and begin fertilizing once a month in spring. Repot if necessary.

The palm will keep the ficus company in front of the sliding glass doors.

Palms adapt easily to the move back indoors. Position them in a sunny window and let the soil dry between waterings. Remove yellowing leaves as they adjust to life indoors. Palms are a favorite of spider mites, so inspect leaves – tops and bottoms – regularly. Treat if necessary.

The crotons that inspired my front porch tropical paradise will share space with the ficus.

Crotons require moist, but never soggy, potting mix. If their soil dries out, they quickly wilt. Fertilize every couple weeks with a diluted balanced fertilizer. Crotons need bright light to retain their vivid colors, and they don’t tolerate drafts. In spring, begin feeding with full strength fertilizer and repot if necessary.

Click here to revisit my front porch tropical paradise.

Move over ficus, palm and crotons – a pot of Agapanthus will be joining you in the south-facing sliding glass doors.

Move Agapanthus into a bright, but cool location. Let the soil dry before watering and do not fertilize once inside. Some leaves may yellow and should be removed. In early spring, increase watering and begin fertilizing every couple weeks with a balanced fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Read more about Agapanthus here.

General guidelines for bringing tropical plants inside to overwinter as houseplants:

  1. Bring plants in before the first frost. Big sways in temperatures are hard on plants.
  2. Spray them with a strong spray of water from the garden hose to rid plants of insects looking for a free ride. Spray with insecticidal soap if necessary.
  3. Plan on misting plants to provide the humid environments most prefer or place plants on a saucer of pebbles filled with water.
  4. Leaves inside gather dust. Wipe them periodically with a damp cloth.

The bananas will spend the winter in dormancy.

Banana trees can spend the winter as a houseplant in front of a sunny window or as dormant plants. If the banana tree was grown in a container, let the soil in the pot dry, cut the plant down to four to six inches, and store it, pot and all, in a cool dark spot. In spring, begin watering. It won’t be long before new growth begins.

My ferns will overwinter in a dormant state, too.

Ferns enjoy a winter vacation indoors with bright light and high humidity. If space is an issue or their preferred conditions are not available, let ferns go dormant and rest in a cool, dark place like a basement. When ferns go dormant, their fronds turn brown. Water lightly – just enough to keep them alive, but not enough to encourage growth – every two to three weeks. Do not fertilize. In spring, move ferns into a bright location and begin watering them regularly. When new growth begins, feed them with an all-purpose fertilizer at half strength. Prune out brown fronds.

The tubers of cannas will spend the winter  in the basement.

After a light frost, remove cannas from their pots or dig them from the ground. Cut the stems back to four to six inches. Remove all the soil from the tubers and let them air dry before packing them with peat moss. Store them in crates or cardboard boxes with holes punched in the sides for air ventilation in a cool, dark place. Check them every month or so. If tubers are shriveling, mist them lightly with water; if they are rotting, discard them. Repot them six to eight weeks before the last frost date to get a head start on growth next spring.

Do you bring your tropical plants in for the winter; do you let them go dormant; or do you just toss them on to the compost pile? Share your experience with tropicals and garden with me!




4 thoughts on “Overwintering Tropical Plants

    1. I have heard from others about letting their ferns go dormant, so I am trying this for the first time too. I just hate tossing all of them in the compost bin, so I figure it’s worth a try. Let’s compare notes in spring, Helen!

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