Tropical plants can be a stunning addition to your garden, but they won't survive long in our cold Niagara winters! Here are some tips for what to do when you bring your tropical plants inside this fall.
Most sun-loving tropical plants should be brought inside before the temperature outside gets too cold for them, as a frost could easy kill a tropical plant. Many of these plants would benefit from pruning at this time. Pruning lessens the chance of insects remaining on the plant and improves your plant's shape and density. It also makes it smaller, and therefore easier to keep in your home.
Location, Location, Location
Choosing a good location for your tropical plants in your home is important. For instance, plants will often suffer from leaf drop if placed in a drafty spot. Warm air blowing from a register, or cold air from a door or window will almost always result in fewer leaves and poor growth.
Water is the most important factor in tropical plant care. Many plants prefer to be kept moist during the hot summer months, but fall and winter is a good time to allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings (for most plants), as plant growth slows during this time, the plant requires less water. Excess water can promote root and stem rot.
Remember: It is always easy to add water to dry soil, but it is very difficult to dry out a waterlogged root ball.
In general, the brighter/warmer the location, the more water a plant will require. Certain plants, like ferns, prefer higher humidity levels than are found inside the home and would benefit from occasional misting. If you have room in your bathroom, ferns would love the humid conditions created when you have a shower.
To promote healthy growth, flowering tropical plants generally require a bright location. A bright window (with southern or western exposure) is usually sufficient for most varieties. Rotate plants periodically to maintain even growth.
Many non-flowering ‘leafy’ plants do not require direct light to remain healthy indoors. If your home does not have any bright windows, you could use a grow-light to ensure your plants get enough light.
Most plants will don't require as much fertilizer in the fall/winter months, because growth slows and water requirements diminish. A monthly feeding of a liquid fertilizer, such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 should be sufficient for most plants. Applying a slow release fertilizer at the beginning of the season is also beneficial.
Over-feeding your plants in the winter can lead to weak growth, but you can increase fertilizing as Spring arrives.
Managing Pests & Diseases
To help prevent pests, spray plants with soapy water (5mL dish soap – not detergent – to 1 L of water) before bringing them inside for the winter.
Get good coverage of the leaves (top and bottom) and remember to spray under the rim of the pot too! Move the plant to the bathtub to spray if there are any further outbreaks over the winter.
Are your leaves changing colour? Are they spotted, speckled or yellowed? Have the leaves changed shape? If the answer is yes, then it's time to take a closer look. Insects and pests can sometimes be a problem for indoor plants and they don't always live on the tops of the leaves, you'll have to inspect the underside too. Common houseplant pests include;
- aphids - usually hiding on the underside of the leaf. Green in colour. They suck sap out of new leaves turning them yellow in colour. You can treat them by squishing these pesky invaders and spraying the underside of the leaves with soapy water.
- whitefly - small black flies usually living on the soil. They need organic matter in order to survive so pick up any dead leaves that may be sitting on the soil and bottom-water your plants so the surface stays dry.
- spider mites - silvery dots and delicate webs on your leaves are the first signs that you may have a spider mite problem. Clean your leaves using a damp paper towel or Leaf Shine and mist your plants periodically.
- fungus gnats - tiny black flies that, similar to whitefly, live on organic material. Keep your soil free from dead plant matter and bottom-water to keep the top of the soil dry. You may want to use sticky cards to trap the gnats.
- thrips - thrips are not easy to spot but you will see their damage as they suck the sap out of the leaves leaving white or silver coloured streaks behind. Get control of thrips before they take over your indoor jungle. Use water to spray the bugs off your leaves. If that doesn't work, try insecticidal soap.