Get It Growing: Tropical Plants In Containers Need Protection From Winter Weather

For Release On Or After 11/07/2003 

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Container-grown tender tropical plants commonly are placed outside for the summer – where they provide a beautiful addition to decks, patios and porches.

But these plants will not withstand freezing temperatures and must be brought back inside the house for the winter. Like children going back to school, they generally are not too happy about it either.

Before you start bringing these plants back inside, decide which plants you really want to protect. You may have a few plants that are readily available and are relatively inexpensive to buy. It might not be worth the trouble to bring inside plants that are easily replaced.

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, so that they get plenty of light.

One of the most difficult problems these plants must deal with when brought back 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, it’s as if they were put on a starvation diet.

It is a good idea to move your outdoor tropicals to a very shaded location outside a week or two 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, the less leaf drop you should see.

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

  • Clean the outside of containers using a brush and a mild solution of dishwashing liquid and water. Add a little bleach to the solution to kill algae growing on the sides of the pots. But do not get this solution in the soil.
  • Remove dust and debris from the foliage and from 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 weeks to six weeks before bringing them inside.

Watering and Fertilizing

Once they are moved inside for the winter, houseplants will need to be watered less often. 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 overwatering, so be especially careful about not watering them too often.

During the winter, water coming out of faucets can be decidedly chilly. Tropical plants do not appreciate being watered with cold water, and in some cases it can even cause damage (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. These plants usually will slow down or stop any new growth and enter a dormant or semi-dormant state. Indoor plants that show active, vigorous growth during the winter could be fertilized, if desired.

Pest Control

Do a good job of pest control before you bring houseplants 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 UltraFine Oil.

Ants are another issue to consider.

Gardeners sometimes are surprised to find that ants have taken up residence in the soil of a container plant outside over the summer. Kill them before bringing the plant inside by drenching the soil with a solution of Malathion mixed per label directions. This also will rid the soil of other undesirables such as earwigs, centipedes and grubs.

In addition, be on the lookout for critters such as frogs, toads and lizards 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 A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

11/9/2006 12:52:17 AM
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