Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Overwintering Tropical Plants

Hello fellow readers,

Weather apps are no longer providing frost advisories as the growing season is over! It turns out many of you share the wish to keep things going.  Scott emailed wanting to overwinter palm trees he bought this summer but doesn’t have room in his house.  His garage is somewhat heated and rarely gets below 45 degrees and wondered if it would make a good winter home.

Overwintering woody tropical plants such as palms, bougainvillea, hibiscus and citrus can be tricky.  The best bet is to treat them to an indoor tropical vacation. If you provide a sunny window where the air temperatures stays about 60-70 degrees and create humidity by putting the pot in a pan with water and gravel (or by using a humidifier) you can keep most tropical plants growing. However Monrovia, a large grower of plants, writes “you can induce many tropical plants and tender perennials – even ones that grow as shrubs and trees – into dormancy by withholding water and keeping them in a cool, dark place above 35 degrees.”

To store as a dormant plant, cut back herbaceous plants after frost has withered their tops. But bring woody tropical plants inside just before a frost is expected and don’t cut back or prune them. Deciduous plants that still have leaves will gradually yellow and likely drop off. New leaves will grow when you return the stored plant to light and warmth come spring. That’s the time to prune the plants back into shape. Palm trees are evergreen so my bet is the coolness of Scott’s garage even with windows will not be ideal.  There are varieties of palm trees however that are hardy in zones close to ours and if that is the case Scott may be in luck.  Keep dormant plants on the dry side, but not parched over the winter checking for moisture every few weeks.

For tropical plants such as begonia, dahlia, sweet potato vine, caladium, and canna you can store them over winter as bulbs, corms or tubers – those nifty underground storage structures with nodes from which new stems and leaves develop. Bon voyage growing season.  Hello preparations for spring!

Garden dilemmas?


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