Overwintering Outdoor Tropical Plants
All plants love to be in the outdoors! Mother Nature does a pretty good job at controlling growth and any pest invasion and keeping them at a minimum, she pours down rain, piercing winds, and good bugs that just love to eat the bad ones. She also provides the perfect array of light to allow your plants to grow beautifully during the summer months. But that day arrives when it is time to bring those plants inside. You may think, at first glance, that your plants are free from pests. But often it takes just one or two insects to re-infest your plants. Mother Nature is not there to beat them back and so they go unchecked. In just one months time, that one bug can produce hundreds of thousands of progeny. This is where we turn to spraying plants to ensure that they are clean once more.
The first consideration is whether to use organic or synthetic insecticides. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Synthetics have a greater efficacy at killing and, depending upon which one is used, may leave a residual for longer control. You can typically get a 80 to 90 percent kill rate out of synthetic insecticides. Organics are definitely milder on the environment but the key is coverage, spraying both upper and lower leaf surfaces. In addition, they need to physically come in contact with the insect. Their kill ratio is not as good as synthetics but ranges from 50 to 70 percent. No matter which way to choose, both organic and synthetics insecticides will work. You just have to be consistent and put yourself on a schedule. Let our professionals help you find the best solution to fit your lifestyle.
As with most insecticide controls, they just kill the adult population. Egg and larval stages can be resistant to pesticides, heat, and most environmental extremes. So the key to controlling a pest population is three to four weekly sprays. Get to know which insect you have a problem with. Each has its own life cycle and the key to control is knowing how often to spray. If you miss just one application, the life cycles starts over and you must start again. Often, folks will find an infestation, grab an insecticide, and begin spraying. They see the visible population die off and think they have it licked. But then those larvae turn into adults, reproduce, and the cycle starts all over again. So start with clean plants. Set a date, begin your spray program weeks early, and bring them indoors bug free!
Watering can be another obstacle in the success of growing your plants indoors. Remember, the key to over wintering is to ensure they survive to the next growing season, that’s all. We often have this mental note stuck in our heads that our tropicals need watering daily, or weekly. But we are heading into the darkest months of the year. Add to this scenario, a shorter day (we are losing daylight each day) and a lower quality of light as the sun sinks lower into the horizon, and a schedule of watering leads to a disaster! The best advice I can give you is, it’s a great that you want to check the soil for signs of drying, but when that dries down, look to your plant for its needs. If it’s still healthy, happy, and upright, let it go another day. You can always water tomorrow but you cannot take that away once you have already done it.
When to fertilize is easy! The only time you should, is when your plants are actively growing. We do not want them actively growing, usually the quality of growth is pretty poor and spindly. They typically do not grow much during the winter months so you can keep the frequency to a minimum. Maybe once per month should do it. About mid-February you will see a change in your plants. It’s like a light switch has been turned on and new growth appears on your plants.
Do you wonder why they typically don’t bloom for you until early summer (or even later perhaps)? They were blooming when you got them. It’s because they need time to grow after a good pruning.
As we bring our plants inside during the fall season, we give them a once over, and check for critters. We often decide to give them a little trim too….they got big over the summer! We watch them grow all winter, enjoying our little indoor tropical paradise. Some times they will provide us with a flower or two…..big time score! Spring gets closer and all of the sudden the temperatures are getting nice enough to spend some time outdoors. Hey! Our tropicals would love to be out here too! You go inside to grab them and all of the sudden they are looking kind of leggy and flopping all over. So, you decide to trim back some of that weaker winter growth. Boom! There lies the problem!
Let’s rewind to last fall. Always plan for the day to bring your plants inside, approximately anyway. Begin by spraying those plants for any potential bug invaders. Left unchecked, and before you know it, one bug can turn into millions. Spray once every seven days for three to four weeks.
Before you spray for the last time, that is your opportunity to cut them back. The general rule of thumb states “you can safely trim back one third of its growth without changing any of your cultural practices”.
For me, this is my chance to really cut them back and give them shape again, they went nuts during the summer! Before I do this though, I let them dry out a little, I am about to cut off and ton of growth. I start by going through and cutting off up to fifty percent of the total growth. The next step is to shape them. First, cut off any growth that criss-crosses through the middle of the plant, then the weaker, more spindly growth, and finally thin it out a bit. The goal is to open up the inside of the plant to as much sunlight as possible. Then, spray for the last time and bring my plants inside.
I don’t really touch my plants all winter, just letting them grow. When we hit the first couple of weeks in February, I make my final trim. I just pinch back most of the winter growth to a couple of nodes on the stem (a node is where a leaf comes off the stem). This gives my tropicals from mid-February until it’s warm enough to get my plants outside to grow and mature. As the sun reaches its highest point during the summer, my plants are in full bloom and providing me with endless blossoms.
Remember, the ultimate goal during the winter months is to just get them to survive until spring. Watering is tougher to judge, for when we do, they stay moist that much longer. What if it’s cloudy for the next three weeks….no sunlight? Fertilizers are questionable. If we were to give them food, they are just going to grow. And chances are, that growth is going to be poor quality. Everything you do has more risk. I leave my plants alone all winter to grow. My last trimming occurs the first week in February. This gives the plant a chance to grow a little and gain momentum as the light levels increase, the quality of lighting is better, and day length increases. By the time spring hits, my plant is getting fuller, more mature, and is more apt to set buds more quickly.