Overwintering Tropicals

December 30, 2019

Camouflaged Anole in Crown of Thorns
Anole in Crown of Thorns

I dare say most of us in the temperate zones love the beauty and vibrancy of tropical and subtropical plants although we know they will likely only serve as annuals during our warmer months if not moved inside or protected. Living in North Texas, and maybe a little closer to the tropical zone than most, sometimes my lantana, asparagus fern and other tender perennials will make it through a mild winter (never below 25 degrees) if I mulch them heavily.

However, as I’ve become older and wiser, I almost solely plant trees, shrubs and perennials in ground that are native or very well-adapted to my gardening zone. This practice is better overall for the environment (produces healthier plants and feeds the existing insects, birds and animals) and is certainly better for my back as I am not changing out plantings on a yearly basis! I admit that I supplement small spaces and/or borders with flowering annuals from time to time, but this is only to enhance what I already have permanently in my landscape.

Despite above, I indeed have a few very special, potted tropicals that I go to the trouble of overwintering inside every year. They have a bit of sentimental value to me and, I admit, they are simply beautiful on my patio during the summertime. Fortunately, I have a small sun room that allows me to maintain these plants during the cold months. However, the sun room has become a bit too small for all of my tropicals as they have grown quite tall and wide over the years. Thus, I use our garage for winter plant storage as well. I currently have a lime tree, plumeria, tecomaria and large crown of thorns situated in large pots that rest on wheeled caddies. The lime tree and crown of thorns enjoy the sun room this winter while the others are protected in the garage.

Tecomaria Overwintering and Blooming in Garage
Tecomaria Overwintering and Blooming in Garage

If you have a similar situation where you are raising tropicals/subtropicals that are, or will become, trees or large shrubs I highly recommend that you invest in sturdy, wheeled plant caddies. The caddies are well worth their cost!

Lime Tree on Heavy Iron Plant Caddy - Great for easily Overwintering Tropicals
Lime Tree resting on a Heavy Iron,
Wheeled Plant Caddy

This leads me to the main topic of my post. Without doing any extensive research online or otherwise, I wish to tell you here what I have found that works for me regarding overwintering tropical plants.

  • Place tropicals in an area of your home or garage where they can obtain some sunlight from time to time. If you must use your garage as overwinter storage, open it up on the warmest, sunniest days of winter and allow the sun to bathe your plants even if only for a couple of hours. If you can roll the plants out into the open air for a few hours, do so. (Unfortunately, I live in an urbanized area so I have to caution you to not keep your garage door open if it endangers you or your property. I roll my plants out of the garage a few feet, close the door and reverse the process at the end of the day.)
  • Speaking of rolling your plants outside, it is optimal to allow for good air circulation among indoor plants to avoid fungal issues as well as to deter some “houseplant pest” infestations from taking hold, such as scale and mealy bugs. If you cannot roll your plants into open air, perhaps you can instead open up a nearby door or window on the warmest of the winter days. (Again, taking heed to safety.)
  • Water your overwintered plants very sparingly. Over-watering can cause the fungal issues mentioned above as well as root rot. Note: Plumerias are especially susceptible to root rot. In fact, I only water my protected plants when I have rolled them outside on warm days and never more than once per week or two at that.
  • Remove dead leaves that drop. It is fairly common for tropicals to drop leaves when moved to a new environment. In fact, there have been some winters that my plumeria has dropped all of its leaves. Again, to deter fungal and pest issues, it is best to dispose of dropped leaves on a regular basis.
  • As spring arrives and temperatures warm, slowly increase sun exposure to your tropicals, allowing them to acclimate over a two – three week period. If you have a partially shaded deck or patio, start their outdoor acclimation in those areas before exposing the plants to all day full sun.

As I mentioned above, I feel fortunate to live in North Texas in Hardy Zone 8a, where the low temps very rarely reach 20 degrees. In fact, some winters we barely reach 30. We are also fortunate to experience more sunny days than cloudy ones. Thus, another bonus I personally experience regarding overwintering tropicals is that during long winter warm spells, my plants may actually bloom. In addition, if the winter has been mild overall, the bees and other pollinators become busy again for days at a time. Below is a recent picture of my lime tree bursting with blooms in mid-December. After rolling it onto the patio for a couple of hours, a bee kindly stopped by to help pollinate. I hope to be getting a head start on a lime crop this year!

Bee Pollinating Late Winter Lime Blooms
Bee Pollinating Lime Boom
Bee (hopefully) Pollinating Lime Tree – Mid-December 2019

If you, too, have a tropical plant, shrub or tree (or more) that you are overwintering this season, I hope the above tips correspond with your actions and/or help you to keep your special plants happy the remainder of the season. I also hope if you’ve ever wanted to invest in a citrus or tropical, that you give it a try this summer and hopefully the tips above will allow you to enjoy it for years to come.

Until next time,


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One Response to Overwintering Tropicals

  1. Dee Dee says:

    Very interesting! Love that you have been able to keep some of your favorite plants healthy and happy!

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