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.

overwintering
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…

overwintering
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…

overwintering
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.

Common Household Toxins Might be Making you Sick

Common household toxins may be making you sick.  Toxins are present in your home in the form of cleaning products, paints, furniture, synthetic building materials such as particle board and insulation, carpets, and even your printer and photocopier!

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful gases released by all of the common household items listed above.  These gases cause lethargy, skin rashes, headaches, drowsiness, itchy eyes, asthma-like symptoms and even cancer.

Be aware of what you are bringing into your home!  I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was cleaning my house.  I had run out of my usual brand of toilet cleaner, was in a hurry, and so grabbed a bottle of javex I still had sitting around the house from my pre-toxin awareness days.   I used it (sparingly) to clean the toilets in my home…

The next day I woke up with what I thought was the start of a cold.  My chest felt heavy and I could not seem to draw a full breath into my lungs.  I also had a vague headache, and a “tickle” in my throat, but no other cold like symptoms developed.  Later on that day, I developed a shallow, dry cough which felt like my lungs were trying to clear whatever was irritating them.  These symptoms lasted for four days.  Coincidence?   I don’t think so; this is how my lungs felt most of the time before I switched to non-toxic products.  Please visit the Melaleuca page on my website, listed below, to see the products I now use, all made with tea tree oil, an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, natural ingredient.  My respirologist agrees, as my asthma-like symptoms have disappeared since switching to these non-toxic products…

You can also make your home healthier by adding house plants to your decor.  Not only do plants look nice, they can help keep your family healthy.  Carbon dioxide and the VOCs described above, as well as other harmful gases such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene are absorbed through the roots as well as through pores in the leaves on plants.   In exchange, beneficial and healthy products like oxygen and moisture are released into the air for us to breathe.

Choose plants such as spider plants, dracaena, English ivy, mother-in-law tongues, bamboo palms and other tropical plants; they are all easy to grow and readily available.  Tropical plants are suitable for indoors in homes and offices because they are used to growing and processing gases in reduced light under the canopies of jungles and rain forests.  Water your plants thoroughly with warm water and let the soil dry out between watering; too much water is the easiest way to kill your house plants.

Get rid of the common household toxins making your family sick.  Fifteen medium to large plants (greater than six-inch pots) in an average sized 2000 square foot home can greatly improve the air quality in your home, so get growing!