St. Charles Herald-Guide

How to keep your tropical plants happy this winter

By Dan Gill - November 1, 2006

BATON ROUGE - Tropical plants that thrive on decks, patios, porches and courtyards through the summer canít withstand freezing and must be protected in the winter.

That means bringing them indoors. The same is true for other houseplants you may have taken outside for the summer so they could enjoy the favorable growing conditions.

For those you will bring inside, look through your house and decide where they will be placed. Remember, you must locate these plants in or near windows or glass doors so that they get plenty of light.

One of the most difficult problems these plants must deal with when brought inside is the sudden reduction in the amount of light they are accustomed to receiving. Plants use light as their source of energy to create the food they need to live and grow. When their light is suddenly and greatly reduced, itís as if they were put on a starvation diet.

To help with the transition, it is a good idea to move your outdoor tropicals to a very shaded location outside a couple of weeks before you move them indoors. Acclimating them to lower light conditions helps them adjust to the reduced light available in most homes when you bring them inside. The better you acclimate your plants and the more light you are able to provide for them indoors generally means less leaf drop.

Houseplants that spent the summer outside also should be groomed before you bring them inside. This will help them look their best, and you will be less likely to bring pests inside with the plants.

Among the things you should do before bringing plants inside are:

•Clean the outside of containers using a brush and a mild solution of dish washing liquid and water. Add a little bleach to the solution to kill algae growing on the pot sides. But do not allow this solution to get into the soil.

•Remove dust and debris from the foliage and where leaves join the stems. Hose down the plants and wipe the foliage clean with a soft damp cloth.

•Remove all dead or yellow foliage, old flower stalks and dead or injured branches and stems.

•Do not repot immediately prior to moving plants indoors. Repotting should be done four to six weeks before bringing them inside.

Food & water

Once they are moved inside for the winter houseplants will need to be watered less often. But how much less is something you will have to determine. Feel the soil regularly with your finger, and water when the soil feels dry but before the plants wilt.

In time, you will reestablish a schedule for watering the plants indoors. Remember, it is better to water less often than to water too often and cause root rot. Cactuses and succulents are particularly vulnerable to over watering, so be especially careful about not watering them too often.

Also keep in mind that water coming out of your indoor faucets can be decidedly chilly during the winter. Tropical plants do not appreciate being watered with cold water, and, in some cases, it can even cause damage (For example, cold water causes spots on African violet leaves.) When filling up your watering can at the tap, mix hot water with the cold until the water temperature feels tepid or barely warm.

Generally, the plants you bring in for the winter will not need to be fertilized this time of year. They usually will slow down or stop any new growth and enter a dormant or semi-dormant state. But indoor plants that show active, vigorous growth during the winter could be fertilized, if desired.

Pest control

You also need to do a good, thorough job of pest control before you bring container plants inside.

Thoroughly clean all snails and/or slugs from the bottom of pots and dispose of those pests.

Spray plants infested with aphids, spider mites, white flies or thrips with Malathion, insecticidal soap or pyrethrin before they are brought inside. Control scale with a light horticultural oil.

Gardeners also are sometimes surprised to find that ants have taken up residence in the soil of a container plant that was outside over the summer.

Kill the ants before bringing the plant inside by drenching the soil with a solution of Malathion mixed per label directions. This will also rid the soil of other undesirables such as earwigs, centipedes and grubs - none of which you want crawling around in your carpet.

Finally, be on the lookout for critters such as frogs, toads, lizards, rats, mice and snakes that may hitch a ride inside with the plants.

These beneficial animals should be carefully removed and released outside unharmed.


Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.