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Over Wintering

October 28, 2017

QuestionWith the forecast showing temperatures close to freezing this weekend what do I need to do with my outside tropical plants?


We have had a much hotter fall this year than normal, so many people have delayed moving their houseplants inside, but it is now time to move anything that you plan to keep indoors as a houseplant inside. Even if we don’t have a killing frost, when plants start getting exposed to nighttime temps in the low 50’s and below, they begin to harden off in preparation for winter.  Then you move them into a heated house with less light and no humidity and they begin to shed foliage and look awful.  When inside and outside conditions mirror each other is the time to move plants inside.   If you have plants that you just plan to overwinter in storage and not expect them to be inside, then move them before a frost so they don’t die.  They can be stored in a basement, garage or storage unit provide it doesn’t get below freezing.


November 2012

QuestionI have a 10' Angel Trumpet (Datura Brugmansia) planted in my backyard. How should I winterize? Some say to cut down and it'll come back. Others say leave it and it will grow onto a tree.


AnswerThere are two plants called angels trumpet, and you have included both into one name. Datura is one and Brugmansia is another. Datura will overwinter outdoors almost statewide, but they do die back to the ground with a hard freeze. They come back and can grow the next season and then bloom next summer, but rarely do they grow taller than 4 feet or so. Their flowers grow upright and are usually white or purple. Brugmansia is typically the one that grows like a small tree or large shrub, and it is not quite as winter hardy as Datura, but it will overwinter in protected spots in NW Arkansas and does well in central and southern Arkansas. It comes in white, pink, yellow or apricot color and its large flowers hang down. If you want it to be a small tree and bloom earlier, then moving it inside or to a protected spot in a garage to prevent freezing would be called for.

November 2012

QuestionWe have a hibiscus plant in a pot outside our front door that we bought earlier this summer. It still has a flower and some buds on it. Yesterday I put a black garbage bag over it to protect it over night from the freezing temperatures. How should I take care of this plant so it survives the winter ?, if they do. Can I plant it outside ? Please give us your advice.


AnswerTropical hibiscus will not survive our winter outdoors. You have a few options: 1, leave it outside until the frost kills it and buy a new one next year (which is what I do), 2, move it into your garage or under the house in your crawl space to protect from freezing. This must be done before a hard frost. It won’t look pretty when you move it back outside next spring, but you can cut it back, repot and it should rebound. The third option would be to treat it as a houseplant all winter. However, since you have left it outside in all this cool weather, a move into a heated house would probably cause it to lose all of its leaves. Many areas of the state have had light to moderate to hard freezes, depending on where you live. I have had a light frost, but my tropical hibiscus and mandevilla are still growing fine.

August 2012

QuestionI have an angel trumpet that I rooted from a cutting. When and how much do I cut it back in the fall? Is there a special way I need to cut it to make cuttings?


AnswerAngel trumpet is the common name for Brugmansia and Datura. Brugmansia is less winter hardy than Datura which is hardy statewide. If you live in central Arkansas, you can plant the Brugmansia in the ground and let it die to the ground in the fall and hopefully come back next spring. Or you can leave it in the container and move the pot inside and use as a houseplant, put in a greenhouse if you have access to one, or store it in the garage for winter protection. If the plant is protected and doesn't die to the ground, it will become a larger plant next season and bloom earlier. It can be left whole or cut back. If planted in the ground, it will freeze to the ground with a killing frost, but you can take cuttings before that occurs. If you do cut it back, it roots readily –make the cuttings 3-4 inches in length.

May 2012

QuestionI would like to plant a plumeria but don't know if they will work in my situation. They are fairly expensive so I am asking before the purchase. It will be in a pot on my patio (apt dweller) which gets direct sun or not as I have a high-end solar sun screen shade that I can control to shade or sun the area. If you think it will work there, what do I do with it in the winter? Inside I have two 4 ft. grow lights that I use for a pretty large fish-tail palm if that would help and an afternoon sunny window.


AnswerPlumeria is a great tropical plant for a patio, and it loves full sun. You are correct that it would not overwinter outdoors, but you have several options. It can come indoors and grow well in a sunny room, or you can simply store it in a garage—some place where it will not freeze. We used to have a gardener in Hot Springs who had 20 or more plants. He planted them in the garden in late spring, had a flowering oasis by late summer, and in the fall, simply pulled them up and stored them bare root in his garage until the following spring. If you have ever been to Hawaii, you see them sold as a small dead looking stem with no leaves or roots. As long as they aren't freezing, they should do fine, but would also do well in a pot inside.

November 2010

QuestionI have a large Sago Plant that I keep outside. It is doing well, but is now inside. I want to make sure I do the right thing during the time the plant has to be in the house. Should I water less, how often? Please give me some advice.


AnswerAll plants need less water when they are inside, so that is a given. I would water no more than once every two to three weeks. Sago palms should dry out between watering. I would not expect it to grow in leaps and bounds indoors either, so no fertilization indoors. If you have a bright sunny room that is on the cool side, that is where I would put the sago palm. I would also put it as far away from human traffic as possible, since it is not pleasant to rub against. Indoor conditions can be tough on houseplants and tropical’s, since indoor heat lacks humidity and low light is also tough. Cooler conditions tend to make the lack of humidity less of a factor. The key is to protect it from freezing.

September 2010

QuestionI saw this plant at a hotel in Aiken, South Carolina and I would like to know what it is and if it would do well in the Little Rock area? The climates seem to be comparable.


AnswerIt is a cycad commonly called Sago palm: Cycas revoluta. It has been overwintering in central Arkansas, but it often freezes back to the ground and then starts over in the spring. Last year with all the rain we had, and colder than normal winter, we did lose some. Drainage is critical. If you want them to start large each season, then they can be brought inside or in a garage for overwintering.

August 2010

QuestionI have a night blooming cereus that I rescued from someone who was throwing it out. After repotting it and giving it loving care, it has recovered to put it mildly. We’ve had blooms almost every night recently. We love it. My question deals with how to keep it within bounds. It is over 6 feet tall and still going. Is it acceptable to cut the plant back? If so, how and when?


AnswerThe night blooming cereus is a member of the cactus family and I often refer to it as an ugly duckling. It is a homely plant which produces copious running stems with small stickers but when it blooms, stand back—the flowers are amazing. Unfortunately, they only open at night and are only open for one night, but as you said, an established plant can produce an abundance of blooms. Cut it back as needed before you move it back inside this fall. The cuttings you remove root easily and you can share this plant with your friends. It is a cactus, so make sure you don’t overwater. It is not winter hardy and you want it to rest a bit this winter inside anyway.

July 2005

QuestionCould you please identify the plant in the attached photo? I dug it up several years ago from an old house place in Georgia when we lived there. The fruit turns a light color and is about the size of a fifty cent coin. The main trunk will get about fifteen to twenty feet tall if I keep the suckers trimmed. The overall shape is like an umbrella and very eye-catching when it gets some size on it by mid summer. It dies back to the ground each winter, but sprouts back from the roots. The woody parts are hollow.


AnswerThe plant in question is commonly called a tapioca plant. Since your plant over winters, I would assume it is Manihot grahamii or the hardy tapioca. The edible tropical plant is Manihot esculenta, but would not over winter north of zone 9. Other common names for this plant are cassava. M. esculenta is grown for its enlarged starch-filled tuberous roots. This woody perennial can grow quite large in one season, even though it does die back to the ground each year. It has a very tropical feel to it. The plant does well in sun to partial shade. There is a variegated foliage one that is quite nice, but would not be winter hardy.

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