Overwintering frost tender tropical plants

After procrastinating about it for years, last fall I chanced across the opportunity for overwintering some tropical (frost tender) plants. I have always put off doing this because I could never bring myself to purchase plants for my garden, deck or porch that would require more than minimal work.

Bringing plants inside for the winter seemed like too much work. I know, that sounds lazy, but my style of gardening favors perennials that can withstand our cold winters with minimal maintenance. That’s what my clients are looking for too, in fact low maintenance is their number one request.

Back to last fall. One of my gardening clients has a neighbour that is moving to a smaller home. My client suggested I look over the plants he was looking to donate to a good home. I assumed she meant the low maintenance perennials I referred to above, but instead found several bougainvillea and other tropical plants that he could not remember the name of. (Part of the reason he is moving is because he had a stroke and struggles to remember words)

As most were not blooming, I could not tell what they were. He did tell me he always moves them indoors for the winter. From that I was able to determine they are tropical or frost tender. I did recognize a few bougainvillea plants by the withered, hot pink blossoms that had fallen into their pots. If you are not familiar with bougainvillea, look at any touristy picture of Greece. It is the gorgeous pink flowered vine climbing the walls of many of their homes.

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bougainvillea

So, I loaded all of his offerings into the back of my van and brought them home. Some, including one bougainvillea and one mystery vine-like plant, are spending the winter in the sunny corners of my bedroom. All others are in my basement, near a window.

A word of warning if you try this. Shortly after you bring them inside their leaves dry up and fall off. No amount of watering can prevent this from happening. In fact, while overwintering these plants, watering should be minimal until all the old leaves have fallen off and new growth appears. This will prevent mold from forming on the soil and soil gnats from thriving in the pots. To deter both of these possibilities, I spray the soil of these plants as well as all of my house plants with a mixture of lemon and thyme regularly. You can help the overwintering process by gently removing any dead (brittle) leaves and stems, although this makes a bit of a mess…

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messy project

After that step, be patient and wait for new leaves to appear. They will come back! In the meantime, tie up any vines so they have support to climb on. I like using plant ties made of Velcro. Pictured below, they are gentle on plants, reusable, and easy to remove from the convenient roll they come on. Simply cut or rip off the size you need. These ties are also green, so camouflaged to blend into your stems and leaves. Nothing ruins the look of a beautiful plant than an unsightly support system.

This is the bougainvillea that currently has a prime spot in my bedroom, it is well on its way to recovery. I have watered this one more frequently than the rest of the plants I am overwintering because of its sunny location. No blossoms yet, but new leaves are sprouting daily…

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overwintered bougainvillea

My only dilemma now is waiting for spring. In our gardening zone I will not be able to move these plants outdoors until mid May. I am very anxious to see what these plants will look like on my sunny front veranda and back deck. I think the vivid pink blossoms of the bougainvillea will be spectacular against the white railings on the veranda. It should thrive in the hot, full sun conditions there too.

As soon as I figure out what the mystery plants are they will find a new home for the summer too, depending on their sun requirements.

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