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Bringing Tropical Houseplants Indoors for the Winter

September 13th, 2008

Is winter on its way?

Do you live in the temperate zone? Don’t forget that most of your houseplants are native to the tropical zone, and they don’t like it when the temperature falls much below 55 °F.

If you have been giving your indoor house plants an outdoor vacation this summer, you had better decide what you’re going to do with them this fall. Tropical plants are perennials, so most of your houseplants could probably survive the winter months indoors.

Some plants, such as coleus, are easily propagated by cuttings. So you may decide to give birth to some daughters instead of preserving the mother plant. If so, you should start the process about 6 weeks before the first frost, in case your cuttings don’t “take” the first time. After potting your new plants, treat them just like your other indoor tropical plants.

Don’t move your tropical plants indoors too quickly. Sudden changes in temperature, light, or humidity could shock them into losing all their leaves, or even death.

If daytime temperatures are still high enough, just bring them indoors overnight for a while. When it gets too cold to bring them out again, start their days in a sunny room, or closed-in porch.

Don’t forget to check thoroughly for insects and disease!

Never bring an unhealthy plant indoors. If you can’t cure it, throw it out! It could infect your other healthy plants.

  • Start by soaking your pots in a tub of water first, to force any insects out of the rootball.
  • Carefully inspect stems and the underside of leaves. Mites and mealybugs can usually be washed off with a rag soaked in soapy water.
  • Remove cocoons using a Q-tip and alcohol, to unstick them from the foliage.
  • Lift the plant out of its pot to examine the roots, and remove any remaining insects.
  • If there is white gauze-like stuff in the roots, you may need to soak the rootball in some insecticide.
  • You may decide to repot, using fresh potting soil, and a little fertilizer.

How to care for houseplants during the winter.

  • Don’t use any fertilizer for at least two or three months. Since your plant is not growing, it’s not absorbing as many nutrients, and the excess salts could damage the roots.
  • Don’t over-water. When indoors, plants don’t lose as much water due to evaporation caused by wind or hot sunlight. Only water when the top of the soil in the pot is quite dry to the touch.
  • Many plants react poorly to the lower humidity indoors during the winter. Some may prefer living in a bathroom, which has periods of higher water vapor content. Another solution my mother used to use is to group plants together on shelves that are lined with a tray of moist pebbles.
  • Finally, all plants need light. Unless they are native to the jungle floor, tropical plants are used to about 12 hours of sunlight each day. Place pots close to a window, and consider using fluorescent light to prolong their daylight hours. Don’t forget to rotate the plants regularly, so they don’t develop a permanent lean toward your window.

Good luck. And may your thumb always be green!

Posted by Professor and filed under tropical house plants, winter | 7 Comments »