Bringing in Plants for the Winter

Dianne and Gary Westlake

We gave our granddaughter a drive for several mornings and passed a small variety store that often sells plants. They had wonderful Bougainvillea and we finally succumbed to the beauty of the bush without thinking where we were going to put it for the winter. So now we have a 5-foot Bougainvillea that will not survive winters out doors. You may also have a tropical Hibiscus or a Brugmansia that you want to save for next year. Bringing these tropical plants in for the winter is possible if you take a few precautions.

We always look forward to putting our houseplants outside in early summer but now their vacation is coming to an end. We have had a taste of cooler temperatures, particularly at night. This is great for working and sleeping but not necessarily desirable for those tropical houseplants. Be aware that these cooler night temperatures can harm delicate plants. It is time to start thinking about bringing them in. Keep in mind that you are just keeping the plant alive and healthy until next spring.

Plants deal best with one shock at a time, so any pruning is best done out doors giving the plants a chance to grow and recover before bringing them in. August is the time to cut back the plant to remove damaged parts or to make it a more manageable size. Those plants that have grown bushy on the deck might have outgrown the amount of space available in your home. Use a clean sharp knife or pruners to make clean cuts and don't forget to sterilize your tools before moving on to the next plant. Turn the plant as you work. Repotting, if needed, is best left until next spring.

We all like to leave our plants outside as long as possible but be careful. Watch the weather forecasts. The calendar may be saying it is summer but the weather might not be cooperating. Bringing your plants inside before the heat is turned on will give them the opportunity to adapt to lower light levels without dealing with lower humidity levels as well. There is also more light in September than later in the fall that will help them through the shock of transition and you probably still have windows open which will help with air circulation.

Move your plants to a shaded area. Carefully inspect the plant for insects and diseases as you remove and dead leaves and spent flowers. If you find that it is heavily infested, consider the whether you are prepared to deal with this condition. Perhaps it is not worth the effort and the possibility of infecting your other houseplants. If it is a particularly important plant, or one with sentimental value, consider taking cuttings. Soak the stem in a soapy water solution for 15 minutes and then rinse well before planting.

Wash the exterior of the pot. Use a mild detergent solution with a brush. Pay extra attention to any cracks or decorative detail where insects or eggs might lurk.

Use a soap solution (40 parts water to 1 part soap) to drench the plant. Don't forget the underside of the leaves and the stems. Allow the solution to remain on the plant for 20 minutes and then rinse well with clear water. It is easiest to do this outside but if necessary use your bathtub or laundry tub. Let the plant dry and then bring inside. Watch carefully and repeat this treatment weekly if necessary,

Place in a cool, sunny place and give the plant some time to acclimatize before turning on the heat. Whenever possible, try to avoid heat sources like force air registers and electric heaters.

Be aware that the reduced light of your home will cause some plants to shed their leaves and reduce the amount of growth. Our ficus loses many of its leaves each time it comes into the house.

Throughout the winter, water thoroughly and allow pots to dry down between waterings. Water in a tray of pebbles that is placed under the pot will help to raise the humidity. A regular reminder might be necessary to jog your memory to water those plants that are kept in out of the way places.

Many plants go dormant in the winter, so do not over fertilize or over water. Withhold fertilizer until later in the winter when light levels start to increase. Apply fertilizer at half strength.

Inspect for insects and disease regularly throughout the winter and take action at first sign a problem.

Periodically, wipe leaves with a damp cloth to remover dust.

If you should introduce new plants, inspect them carefully. As an added precaution quarantine them before placing them near your healthy specimens. Do not buy plants if any visible signs of insects and diseases.

This is also a good time to take cuttings of other plants that you wish to keep. Geraniums can be cut just below a leaf node and the lower leaves and any flowers removed. After drying the stem for 6 to 12 hours, insert the cutting into a pot of moist soiless mix. The method for dealing with impatiens is much the same but plant the cutting immediately. Those fabulous potato vines can be reproduced by placing the cuttings into water and planting after roots form.

This is the time to take action to deal with those plants we wish to save.