Tropical Plants Need Winter Shelter

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.

Get It Growing

Get It Growing News For 10/21/05

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

As the weather cools down and nights get nippy over the next few weeks, gardeners need to decide what to do with their outdoor tropical plants that are in containers.

These beautiful plants, grown for their attractive foliage or beautiful flowers, commonly are placed outside for the summer – where they provide a valuable 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.

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’s a good idea to move your outdoor tropicals in containers to very shaded locations outside for a few weeks to prepare them for their move indoors. Acclimating them to lower light conditions helps them adjust to the reduced light available in most homes when you bring them inside. Do this now, and there should still be time for them to acclimate before the first freezes.

It’s a good idea to move your plants inside before you have to turn heat on constantly. That way they can adjust to indoor conditions better before the extra stress of warm, dry air is added to the situation.

Even with trying to help them make adjustments, expect many of the plants to still be unhappy about the move. But 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 also should be groomed so they will look their best, and you will be less likely to bring pests inside with the plants.

Here are some other tips on what to do before bringing plants inside:

–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 pot sides. But be careful not get this solution in 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. If a plant has grown too large for it to practically fit back indoors, feel free to prune it as needed to make its size more appropriate.

–If some of your plants have become pot bound and need repotting, you generally can put this off until next spring. It would be more convenient to move plants inside in smaller pots than larger ones.

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 over the first few weeks they are inside. 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. But as you go along, 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. Be especially careful about not watering them too often.

Ironically, plants that spend all of their time indoors actually may dry out faster in the winter because of the warm, dry air and lower humidity produced by heating systems. Monitor plants carefully.

Most houseplants do not need to be fertilized this time of year, including those brought in from the outside. These plants generally 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


You should do a good, thorough job of pest control before bringing houseplants inside. You’ll be glad you did.

Thoroughly clean all snails and/or slugs from the bottom of pots and dispose of them. 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 Ultra-Fine Oil.

Gardeners are sometimes 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 or pyrethrin mixed per label directions. This also will rid the soil of other undesirables such as earwigs, centipedes and grubs.

Be on the look out 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 unharmed outside.

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

10/7/2005 2:16:11 AM
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