With a little care, you can save most tropical plants over the winter for replanting or repotting outdoors next year. Here's how.
Canna, Colocasia (elephant ears), caladium
After the first light frost turns foliage brown, cut plants down to 6 inches and dig up rhizomes, corms or tubers. Rinse, separate "bulblets" and allow to air dry completely, then place in peat moss in a box in which you've cut out some holes for ventilation. If you have many, use a milk crate or other large ventilated box. Place in a cool, dark place, such as a crawl space or cellar. Check monthly and spritz with water if they look like they're starting to shrivel. Discard rotted roots. Plant outdoors around Memorial Day, or to give them a head start, pot them up in potting mix in April and set them by your sunniest window or under grow lights, keeping the soil lightly moist. Transplant outdoors in May.
Hibiscus and Brugmansia (angel trumpet)
Bring potted plants indoors before the first frost and place in your sunniest location, watering as you would a houseplant. Expect plants to drop leaves and look sickly, but they should bounce back when returned outdoors in May and fertilized. Alternately, allow them to go dormant by storing at 40-45 degrees. Check every other week by sticking your finger as far as it will go into the soil. When it's dry at 3 inches deep, water very lightly. In May, bring plants into a warmer, sunny indoor location, prune back a bit, fertilize and bring outdoors around Memorial Day.
Ideally, vines should have been brought indoors in September, but if they're still alive, do so now. Place in a warm spot (68 to 70 degrees) in indirect sunlight and keep the soil consistently moist. When leaves drop in October or November, prune and move plants to a cool (50-60 degree) spot. Over the winter, water only when the soil completely dries out. In March, cut back by one-third to one-half, if desired, and place pots near a sunny window. Pick up the watering again and fertilize. Alternately, keep as winter houseplants, but expect leaf drop and legginess.
Cut potted plants down to soil level when leaves begin to brown (after the first frost) and store containers in a cool (40-45 degrees), dark spot indoors. Check monthly and water only slightly when soil is completely dry. New growth will begin in spring. Move plant outdoors in May, resume watering and fertilize. For those planted in the garden, dig up plants but do not cut back yet. Place root ball in a plastic garbage bag and store as above. Cut back to 6 inches in spring and plant in the garden.
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