Overwintering Plants Indoors
As summer comes to an end, it’s tempting to bring tropical plants indoors for the winter. It’s not a bad idea, but as you probably already know, some of them don’t do so well in our cool, dry houses for months on end. The key is to offer the right amount of care, which sometimes means a lack of care, depending on the plant.
If you want to try to keep tropicals alive so you can bring them outdoors again in the spring, there are three ways to do it:
- Bring the plant in and let if just keep on growing in a warm sunny spot.
- Put the plant in a cool, dark place and let it go dormant.
- Take cuttings from plants you like, root them and pot them up so you can enjoy those new plants in the spring.
Going with option one means you need to have a sunny window where temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees during the day and not below 45 at night. Jasmine, hibiscus, bougainvillea and small citrus trees are just a few of the plants that can survive the winter this way. If you don’t have that sort of sunny spot, you can always put plants under fluorescent lights or grow lights, but make sure you set a timer so they get about 12 hours of light daily.
If plants grow enough to get leggy, prune them back at least once. And do worry about a few dropped and/or yellowed leaves because that’s bound to happen, particularly right after you brings plants indoors. Water as needed, but don’t fertilize plants until spring. And be sure to inspect plants regularly for pests. If you find some they can usually be controlled by plopping the plants in the sink or shower and giving it a good blast with water.
Letting plants go dormant takes more of an understanding of plants’ individual needs. Good information on that can be found in the book, Bulbs in the Basement Geraniums on the Windowsill: How to Grow & Overwinter 165 Tender Plants by Alice and Brian McGowan. Basically, it all depends on whether the plants are woody, soft-stemmed or bulb-like. For example, elephant ears and caladiums should get a little bit frost nipped before they come inside so they understand that the season is over and it’s time to go dormant. They can either be stored in a cool, dark place right in their pots and your job is to keep the soil slightly moist until spring. Or, you can take them out of their pots, remove the stems and foliage and store only the bulbs. Read up on how to do that: everyone seems to have a way they like to do it.
Taking cuttings from plants that are difficult to overwinter, like coleus and geraniums, is easier than it sounds. If you’re going to do this, take the cuttings in the fall and toss the main plant (sometimes called the “mother” plant) in the compost bin. Instructions for taking cuttings and rooting them can be found in books, online and of course there are YouTube videos.