By now, John Lemley has probably got his banana trees all tucked in for the winter. He has several in the gardens around the Lagoons home he shares with his wife Judy, so he has to start early and have a plan.
Banana trees are such a delight in the garden, but they take some commitment if one is going to keep them over the winter at our latitude. Other tropical plants going indoors for the winter don’t need as much.
With the long mild fall we have had, some folks are just now thinking and asking about the cannas, dahlias, Norfolk pines and other plants that must come indoors. As with so many other issues in horticulture, the steps will depend on the species, and the Purdue Extension office in Bartholomew County would be happy to help you find the right instructions. Consider the following three options.
Make it a houseplant
That Norfolk pine, or the spider plant, or the weeping fig will do fine indoors, though the fig will react to changed conditions by dropping some leaves.
Spray the plant with some water first, to knock off aphids or stray bugs. Give it a chance to dry and bring it in. Try to give it light similar to what it had outdoors and cut back on water and fertilizer. The plant will naturally enter a cycle of slower growth, and heavy fertilizer could be harmful.
Indoors, the plants will fare best with good air circulation (avoid crowding) and some added humidity. Placing pots on trays of pebbles holding water, or misting the plants, are worthwhile steps.
Some herbaceous tropicals are hard to winter indoors. To start spring with newer versions of those, consider rooting some cuttings. Coleus and geranium multiply well this way. Choose succulent stems – not tough ones – and strip the bottoms of leaves, placing them in water in a sunny spot. You will eventually pot up the rooted cuttings, and keep them watered and fertilized under lights — or in a south window — until spring.
Cool, dry storage
The cannas and dahlias and caladiums can be treated much like potatoes. Give them cool, dry, dark conditions. If the plant was growing in a pot all season, it can stay in the pot and be brought indoors. If the plant was growing in the ground, you can cut it back, dig it up and let the bulbs or tubers dry in the open. Label the bulbs if that’s important to you, and store them loosely in a spot where you can check them periodically for rot or other problems.
This also is the time of year that insects such as stink bugs and lady beetles get lost indoors. Also mice and voles. While those insects are merely seeking warmth, and really are lost, the mice would take up residence if they could. Be aware, and contact us for best practices.
Kris Medic is Purdue Extension Bartholomew County’s educator for agriculture, natural resources and community development. She can be reached at 812-379-1665 or firstname.lastname@example.org.