In the Garden:
September, 2013
Regional Report

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These tender tropicals can be potted up and overwintered inside.

Overwintering Tender Tropicals

Tender tropical perennials used for outdoor summer container plantings have become all the rage. Where once petunias, marigolds, and zinnias held sway, we now see pots of crotons, cordyline, coleus, begionias, Persian shield, alternanthera, and more. If you have pots of tender tropical plants on your patio or deck and hope to save them for next year, this is the time to start preparing them for the big move indoors.

You may want to to leave your plants outdoors as long as possible so they can soak up the sunshine and continue blooming. However, many tropicals are damaged by temperatures below about 45 degrees, so either move them inside before these cool temperatures arrive or plan ahead on how to protect them on chilly nights by moving them in to your garage, shed or other protected location in the evening, then set them back outside in the morning.

Acclimating Plants for Indoors
To prepare plants for the reduced light levels they will experience indoors, move pots that have been growing in the sun to a sheltered, shady spot outdoors for a week or so (still protecting them on chilly nights.) This also gives you a chance to examine them carefully. This step is important because pests can hitch a ride inside; once indoors, those pests can cause serious grief over the winter. Under the favorable, protected, indoor conditions, an infestation quickly accelerates, becomes difficult to control, and can spread from just one initial case to infest many plants. What a nightmare!

Inspect the plants from top to bottom for evidence of aphids, scale, spider mites, mealybugs, slugs, and anything else suspicious. Handpicking can help reduce the populations, as can a careful all-over rinsing with the garden hose twice a week. You might also want to spray with a commercially formulated insecticidal soap or light horticultural oil spray to make sure you're not importing any pests. If you suspect a plant may still harbor a residual pest or two, isolate it until you're sure the problem is eliminated. In the case of a stubborn infestation it may make the most sense to simply dispose of the plant as a triage measure.

Repot if Needed
If your tropicals have been outside in individual pots, you can simply move the pots inside. But if they have been combined in mixed plantings, you can carefully separate each plant and pop each into its own pot for the winter. You can also pot up tender plants that you may have had growing in the ground. In either case, you may want to trim the top and roots back to make potting up easier.

Remember that once inside during the shorter, darker days of winter, plants will be growing less actively than they were outdoors, so cut back on watering and fertilizing.

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