Overwintering Tropical Plants Indoors

Posted by Megan Nichols on Oct 4th 2018

Summer has come to a close. Plants and people alike are getting ready to hibernate for winter. Though this is the end for growing plants outdoors, some plants can be moved indoors and enjoyed throughout the winter months. Ready? Let’s Get Started. 1. Before you haul plants indoors, make sure they’re safe for the pets and kiddos in your life. (Check out aspca.org for pet friendly options.) 2. Treat for pests. Outdoor plants can become home to ants, pillbugs, or other unwanted creepy crawlies. Spray the soil and the plant (leaves, stems, etc.) with insecticidal soap a week or so before you invite them inside. Or, if they need to come in now, just spray and park them in the basement shower or laundry room. 3. Re-pot, if needed, in a container that’s at least one size up (two is better) from the current one. Use fresh potting soil, and make sure your container has a drainage hole. We recommend planting them in lightweight plastic liner pots. This makes plants easy to drop into decorative containers and easy to pull back out again for pest control, repotting, or watering. 4. Wash and wipe - leave the dirt outside. Start by wiping larger leaves with a damp cloth and if leaves are small, hose them down. Leaf shine can be used on leaves to, well, shine them up. Do read the label as some plants, including dracaena and ferns, don’t fare well with this product. To clean cactus and succulents, use an air duster or a small paintbrush. Finally, clean off dust and grime from the exterior of the pot. 5. Style your plants. Choose fabulous containers to drop your liners into. Be sure there is drainage and remembers to reinforce the inside of your container with a plastic saucer so they don’t leak. Hang, group, combine, mix and match and/or display at different heights. 6. Fertilize. Go for half strength and feed less often. A water-soluble fertilizer is fine or use a compost tea brew. Hint: add a few drops of peppermint oil to your brew to make it smell fresh, not funky. This also helps keep pets away. 7. Foliage for the win. Easy care plants for indoors are generally the varieties prized for their foliage and that can handle lower light conditions. Basic light classifications are low, medium and bright. If you’ve used fiddle-leafed figs, crotons, pothos, philodendron, sansevieria, ivy, spider plant, or just about any other variety of plant prized for its leafy greens or golds or reds or purples in your outdoor containers, re-pot and invite them to stay indoors for a while. 8. For us cold-climate dwellers it can come as a surprise that succulents and cactus can handle a little chill. After all, it does freeze in the desert! These plants can stay outside a little longer to take full advantage of the sunlight. Be sure to bring them in before they become popsicles, though. Flowering plants are more challenging. They require a lot of light, so a sunny window is best. The ideal temperature for most flowering plants is approximately 50 degrees at night and 65 degrees during the day. Don’t be tempted to jack up the heat just for the plants, as warmer air temperatures can lead to leggy growth and insect problems. They don’t like it dry, either, so place a bowl of water among the plants to increase humidity. If you want to let your plants simply go dormant, let them rest in a cool place (40 to 50 degrees F) with little or no light—their leaves will gradually yellow and drop. They can then spend the winter in an unheated basement, unheated garage, or even a cool closet. Water sparingly – about twice per month. If you want to try keeping citrus as houseplant and maybe even coax a few blooms (success is generally a cross between the right conditions and sheer luck), follow these instructions: Give them a lot of light and a bit of room, as they can grow quite large. Plan for this in advance. Once you find the right light conditions you don’t want to have to relocate due to too tight a space. Given the right conditions– usually a south-facing window with good airflow and if necessary, supplementing sun with a grow light during dark winter months– citrus will bloom in fall or early winter (and give off an intoxicatingly delicious scent) and set fruit in winter or early spring. It’s a fun process, but oh-so-slow, so be patient.

Good to Know

Growth and blooms on overwintered tropicals will appear later next spring than a grab-and-go container from the garden center. Water carefully. Often our heated homes become quite dry, which can cause plants to lose moisture quickly. However, plants aren’t actively growing during the winter months so they don’t require as much water. Test the soil using the tip of your finger. If the top inch is dry go ahead and water. Practice makes perfect. Watch for pests. Mealy bug, scale, aphids, and others all show up at the darndest times – like January (how do they do that?). Treat with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Read the directions. Feeling bad about “failure” is not allowed, this isn’t Florida. If a plant fails, it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of a trip to #yourgreenhousehome for new indoor plants. Plant plants (indoors, too). It’s important.