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Overwintering Tropicals in Iowa

THE TED LARE LOOK

“You can’t get too much winter in the winter”
– Robert Frost

Winter in Iowa can be a bittersweet time for most of us – while we won’t say no to a delicious cup of hot chocolate or the frozen, but stunning, winter aesthetic, it’s hard to say goodbye to our gardens and spending warm evenings outside. Once we start to feel that chill in the air, we know that our plants are getting ready for the season change. However, this doesn’t mean saying goodbye to all our plants quite yet. Bringing a few of your tropical plants inside for the winter is the perfect way to save them for next year, while allowing you to hold onto a slice of summer heaven all year.

How to Overwinter Your Tropicals:

The obvious answer to overwintering your delicate tropicals – who are much happier in a heated oasis than in our snowy Iowa prairies – is to simply bring them inside for the winter, and there are even a few different ways to do so. This makes it easy to find a method that is tailor-fit for your favorite plants, as well as your home and indoor lifestyle.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Overwinter as a Houseplant:

For tropicals of most shapes and sizes, bringing them indoors as a winter houseplant is a popular method to protect them. Plants like crotons, palms and philodendron will reap the benefits of your cozy indoor lifestyle, without the chilly winter weather, but you will also get to enjoy its beauty all year!

Simply repot your plant from your garden, shaking all the garden soil from the roots before moving to an indoor pot. For the best results while potted over the winter, always use fresh soil from a bag, not from your garden – this will also help to manage any pests from outside. Place your new temporary houseplant near a window to give them the sunshine they crave and water them as needed throughout the season – keeping in mind that they may need a drink more frequently in a pot than they would in your garden.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Start Fresh With Plant Cuttings:

Some of our bigger plants are simply too large to manage indoors, like hibiscus and mandevillas, but that doesn’t have to prevent us from saving them in some way. Rather than struggling with a large mother plant, trim off a few healthy growths to repot and start growing them over the winter.

Take your cutting, remove the lower leaves, dip the stem in rooting hormone and plant them in new potting soil. With the warmth of your home and a little humidity (consider misting them to really encourage successful growth), you should see your cuttings taking root and thriving over the winter season.

Let Your Plant Go Dormant:

Allowing your plants to go dormant and hibernate through the winter will let you save your favorite tropicals without all the fuss of nurturing them in your house all winter. Whether it be a canna, begonia, or banana, leave your plant outside in the cooler weather this fall for a little longer, to let it know that it is time to hibernate – though, never past freezing. Once your plant has been chilled – but not killed with frost or snow (keep and eye on the forecast) – repot it in fresh soil and place somewhere cool and dark for the season. Although your plant is hibernating, it will still need some water, so don’t forget to check the soil for dryness periodically. Once the winter passes and the weather warms, you’ll have a gorgeous tropical plant that is ready to shine in your garden again after its beauty sleep.Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

Potential Pest Issues:

Before you bring your plants indoors make sure to look them over good for any pests that might be trying to hitch a ride indoors for the winter. Common pests often include mealybugs and spider mites and you’ll want to remove or treat them before bringing them inside where they can spread to other plants.

Mealybugs are fuzzy, white bugs that grow in the branches or crevices of plants.  Check the undersides of leaves for a fine webbing or mottled tiny leaf spots – signs of a pest problem – and remove any you see with a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Spider mites can be treated by spraying your plant with organic insecticidal soap, which can also be used to treat a wide host of other potential pest problems on tropical plants, such as aphids and whiteflies.

Pictured below from left to right: Mealybugs, and spider mite damage.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Getting Adjusted:

Moving your plants from one climate to another normally causes a little bit of stress. To have healthier and more attractive plants through these transition periods, you can help them through their adjustment period from outdoors to indoors and back. Successful transitions start with happy plants. Try to get your tropicals as much sunshine as you can before you move them, and aim to keep their conditions similar to what they will experience in your home. Once you’ve moved your plant inside, keep them in as much sunshine as you can, and even consider using a sun lamp to help out, if you need additional light. Stressed plants show their dissatisfaction by wilting, browning, or dropping their leaves – making the adjustment easier is an investment in a healthy plant that looks great all year.

Once winter is over and the weather has warmed up again, it’s time to reintroduce your tropicals to your garden. For the best results, take your time to do this over a few weeks. Your plants will be spoiled with the consistency of your home climate and will need time to get used to the variability of our Iowa weather. If possible, shift them into a seasonal area, like a sunroom, or begin by taking them outside for only a few hours each day, leaving them for longer each time. Once they’ve had the chance to get used to outside temperatures and conditions, they’ll be happy left outside in the garden for the rest of the season, allowing you to enjoy them and the rest of your yard when the weather is mild.

We associate winter with freezing temperatures and the end of our garden, but it doesn’t have to be the end for all your plants. With the right overwintering, you can keep your tropicals to enjoy year after year beside all your favorite hardy garden perennials. All you need is a little know-how and extra care for your garden to continue to flourish every year, enhancing your outdoor experience with each new season, and saving a touch of greenery to get you through the frozen winter.

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The Ted Lare Look

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