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How to Save Tropicals for Winter

How to Save Tropicals for Winter

By Justin Hancock, Costa Farms Horticulturist
Photographs courtesy of Costa Farms

Every fall, if you’re in a region with freezing winter temperatures, you either save your tropical plants or let them succumb to winter’s cold and replace them the next year. For me, overwintering tropical plants inside has become a fall tradition. Every summer, I pick the varieties I’m going to keep and haul them in before frost. Some come in every fall, others just a year or two. If you’d like to save your tropicals, here’s how.

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Step 1: Spray Them

First, wash your plants and pots with a strong stream of water from the hose. This decreases the messiness of cleanup inside and reduces pests you don't want to bring in with them.

Step 2: Trim Them

Plants experience shock when moved from outdoors in. They typically respond by dropping leaves. This is normal, so when you see it happen, don’t worry!

A haircut cuts down on the leaf drop. It also spurs new growth so your plants start to look full again. You can prune up to a quarter of overall growth.

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Step 3: Search for Pests

Examine the remaining growth on your plants for evidence of pests. Because new growth is favored by most insects, you may have already eliminated them when you pruned your plant.

If you find insect pests, use an insecticidal soap or an oil-based neem solution to treat them. There are synthetic and organic varieties available.

Step 4: Acclimate Them

If your plant was basking in the sun, move it to a shaded spot for a couple of weeks to help it become used to lower light levels. Then when you move it indoors, select the brightest area you have. If you don’t have a bright window, no worries. You can use artificial lights, too! I keep my plants in a room with fluorescent shop lights, for example. Your plants care more about getting enough light than where the light comes from.

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Step 5: Keep Them Happy

Indoors, you can treat most tropicals like a typical houseplant: Water as the top couple of inches of the potting mix dries out. (The amount and frequency of water differs by environmental factors, including light, temperature, and pot size.) You’ll probably notice you need to water a lot less frequently than when the plant was outside.

Avoid placing your plant near a source of drafts, such as heating and cooling vents. Exposure to drafts can lead to yellowing, fallen foliage.

Here are some plants I’ve successfully overwintered: Abutilon, Angelonia, Coleus, Duranta, Hibiscus, Mandevilla, Passionflower, and Persian Shield.

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