Let tropical plants winter indoors

You may not get to take a tropical vacation this year, but you can bring the tropics inside your home. With the right light and temperature, it is possible to keep tropical patio plants indoors for another summer of enjoyment.

“The colorful flowers, ability to tolerate hot temperatures and carefree nature of tropical plants make them a welcome addition to the home landscape,” said University of Missouri horticulturist David Trinklein.

Not all plants should be overwintered. If indoor space is limited or available light is poor, the easiest solution is to let large plants freeze. Start over with younger, smaller plants the following spring. Young plants are still actively growing and likely will make an impact quicker in the landscape than older plants that overwintered in less than ideal conditions.

If you opt to overwinter tropical plants, carefully inspect them for insects before moving them indoors. Mites, common pests of outdoor plants, thrive indoors and are hard to see because of their size. Use a hand lens to check for pale or stippled leaves. Wash plants thoroughly with a mild detergent or spray with a pesticide labeled for use on mites indoors.

Tropical plants suited for moving inside include hibiscus, bougainvillea, mandevilla, banana, palms and citrus.

Hibiscus does well inside and does not need much space. Plants that have grown large might need to be trimmed back before moving them indoors. When placed in a sunny window, hibiscus often bloom during winter, although flower production is sparse. If a sunny spot is not available, put hibiscus in a cool location and let leaves drop and go dormant during the winter.

Plants don’t need much water once indoors, but don’t let roots dry out. A rule of thumb is to keep the root system “barely moist,” Trinklein said.

Bougainvillea can require a lot of space to overwinter. If the plant was in a hanging basket or small container, cut it back and place it in a sunny indoor spot. Bougainvillea patio plants tend to grow in large containers. Move to a cool location where it won’t freeze and let it go dormant for the winter.

Leaves will drop but it will grow new leaves when placed outdoors in spring. Again, do not let roots dry, but avoid overwatering.

This vigorous vine needs severe pruning before being moved indoors to a sunny location. Additionally, it may need more pruning during the winter. Mandevilla also can be allowed to go dormant and placed in a cool location that does not freeze.

It also can be overwintered by harvesting its thick, fleshy storage roots. Protect the roots from drying out and keep cool.

Palms make useful houseplants as well as attractive patio or deck plants during the summer. They acclimate quickly to the lower light conditions found in the average home although some older leaves might turn yellow and drop. Watch for insects and mites that might have hitchhiked inside.

Citrus plants such as lemon and orange require about the same conditions for overwintering as hibiscus. If large, prune for an indoor setting. Place in a sunny location and water sufficiently to keep the growing medium barely moist. Citrus plants might flower if there is enough light indoors but seldom set fruit.

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