Yes, I sleep with bananas all winter long. A ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’ banana plant, that is.
It’s a quiet, green guest that doesn’t snore, unlike my husband! The plant is about four feet tall, in a 14-inch blue ceramic pot that sits in front of the west-facing window in my bedroom.
My Buddha Belly plant (‘Jatropha podagrica’), on the other hand, is extremely noisy. Its seed pods explode to expel ripe seeds, sounding like shotgun blasts as seeds collide with walls, furniture and metal file cabinets. That’s why it overwinters in my office rather than the bedroom.
Treating tender tropical plants as houseguests is one way to preserve the gorgeous flowers, fruits and foliage of plants from hot climates that grace your patio, deck and outdoor living spaces during the summer.
It may look innocent, but my Buddha Belly plant has seed pods that expode with sound of a shotgun blast, hurling seeds 20 feet away.
I was given two tropical hibiscuses by Costa Farms last June (in the spirit of full disclosure) with flowers that are uniquely colored and stunning. We enjoyed them in our outdoor living space, so I brought them inside for the winter. They’re in front of a south-facing window in the family room and thriving.
'Mango Daiquiri' hibiscus is one of two wintering in front of south-facing windows in my family room. It even has buds!
Other tender plants that can be treated as houseplants include agapanthus, citrus, croton and mandevilla. Choose a south, east or west facing window. Citrus will flower in strong southern or western light and set fruit if you hand-pollinate blossoms. Three to four hours of sun daily will sustain most plants. Do not repot plants brought indoors, as they will not add roots during the winter months. Extra soil will only encourage root rot.
Some large tropical plants can be forced to go dormant when stored in a cool, dark area such as a basement or garage where temperatures remain above 35º F. The trick to keeping them alive in a state of suspension is to maintain root moisture. Once roots dry out, they die, and so does the plant. Water every two to three weeks, depending on temperatures. Bougainvillea, brugsmansia, datura, fig, passion flower and plumeria will winter this way.
Cannas, colcassia (elephant ears) and other tropicals grown from bulbs or tubers are easy to store for the next season.
Lift and store tropicals that grow from underground bulbs, corms or tubers, even though they may reach six feet in height. When nights drop into the low 40’s or high 30’s, leaves of these plants will brown and begin to die. That is your cue to dig up them up. Remove dirt from bulbs and set them on newspapers in a shaded area or the garage to cure for a couple of days. Cut off top growth, and pack the bulbs, corms and tubers in a box filled with dry peat moss or vermiculite. Store in a dark area where the temperature is between 40ºF and 60ºF.
When spring arrives, plant again for another year of enjoyment. Bulbous tropicals will increase their numbers and produce bigger bulbs, corms and tubers for larger plants when saved from year to year in this manner. Dig up these to save: amaryllis, caladium, calla lily, canna, dahlia, ginger, tuberous begonia, colcassia and aroids like ‘Titan’ and ‘Konjac’.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.