Tropical Tips

Tips for Saving your Tropicals

by David Christopher

If you’ve had tropical plants or houseplants sunning in the outdoors all summer, it’s time to start thinking about bringing them in for the winter. Plants such as mandevilla, crotons, tropical hibiscus, palms and bouganvilla will perish once the outside temperatures drop below freezing. And because your plants have been exposed to long days of sunlight and warm temperatures, just bringing them inside at the last minute is often a shocking and traumatic experience. The results are leaves that turn yellow, drop off and sometimes death to the plant. If your wish is to save these plants for another season, than early September is the time to prepare them.

Here are some important steps to help your plants through the transformation process:

  1. Plan now: Don’t wait until frost is in the forecast. By end of September, you need to start slowly acclimating your plants from the outdoor elements to the indoor conditions.

  2. Prune: Cut back your plants branches by 1/3, being sure to leave 2-3 leaf nodes on each stem. Do this early enough so that your plant has about 2 weeks to recover before bringing them indoors.

  3.  Rid your plants of insects: Almost every outdoor plant harvests insects of some sort either on itself or in the soil surrounding it. Before it comes inside, inspect your plant carefully for pests. Spray the plant thoroughly with a strong spray of water from your garden hose to remove any unseen insects and then treat the entire plant with insecticidal soap.

  4. Stop feeding: Cut back on fertilizing at this point. Feeding will only produce new growth that might die in the process of moving your plant indoors. The goal is to slow the plant down, not to encourage it to keep growing.

  5. Repot your plant: If your plant has been growing in its own container all summer, it’s probably ready for a transplant. It’s best to move it into a new pot that is one size larger than the existing pot. Rid the plant of all the old soil and use new indoor potting soil (not a heavy outdoor planting mix). By doing this, you will also rid the plant of any unwanted bugs, worms, ants or eggs that might be living in the old soil.

  6. Acclimate: To prevent shock when you bring your plants indoors, expose them gradually to the indoor conditions. By mid-September, begin bringing your plants inside for the nights and move them back out during the day. Do this for the first 3-4 days. Then over the course of the next 2 weeks, begin leaving them in for longer periods of time and shorter outdoor periods until they are inside full time.

  7. Choose the right location for your plant: Tropical plants require a lot of sunlight so choose an unobstructed south facing window. Don’t place them near a heating duct as they will dry out, or near an entry door where they may get hit by blasts of cold air. Daytime room temperatures are best between 70 and 80 degrees and nighttime between 65-75 degrees.

  8. Watering needs: Indoor plants require much less watering then when they’re outdoors. Only water the plant when the first 2 inches of soil is dry to the touch. If in doubt, don’t water until the plant begins to droop a bit. It’s always better to underwater a plant than to overwater.

  9. Fertilizing needs: Now that your plant is happily indoors, you can feed it again. If you repotted your plant with a potting mix containing fertilizer, you won’t have to fertilize for 2- 3 months. Otherwise, give your plants a boost of houseplant fertilizer as recommended on the package instructions.