Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Growing Tropical Plants Inside During Winter

Northeast River
Thanksgiving is over and as we gear up for the holidays, I thought I would write about how I grow tropical plants indoors over the winter. Although I live in an area that is considered almost subtropical during most of the year, we still can have freezing temperatures many days in a row. As you well know, tropical plants don't like freezing.

Last year, I read that you can bring pepper plants indoors over the winter so that come spring, you have a plant ready to bloom, instead of starting with a seedling. So, I gave it a try. I brought three plants into my back porch which gets sun for several hours every afternoon. I pruned the plants back in December and kept the soil around the roots moist until spring. When the temperatures warmed up in April, I set them back outside in the full sunlight, expecting them to burst into lush growth, but they were dead. On the other hand, I potted two little seedlings that I found in my garden in late September, knowing they would never survive the cold and brought them into my kitchen and set them on my window sill - more for a little greenery than to get peppers. Well, those two little plants just kind of hung out there all winter, not growing new leaves and not losing any. I set them outside also in the spring and they came to life, producing a nice crop of long red peppers. I brought them back in and today they sit in front of an east-facing window and are still producing peppers now in December.

Since the peppers worked, I am also trying the same technique with a tomato seedling I found on my patio where someone must have dropped a seed. We will see how it survives.

Another beautiful specimen of a plant is my daughter's avocado tree. She started it from a Haas avocado seed while she was still at college living in the dorm. Of course, she had to move out at the end of the year and so the avocado tree came home. I set it in my back porch and tried to keep it alive in the winter. In the summer, the plant thrived in our warm humid environment but I kept trimming it back, knowing I still had to bring it in over the winter. Today, the beautiful long leaves grace a corner of my dining room where I am hoping the added warmth with the eastern sunlight will keep it vigorous until the yard warms up again. 

A friend of mine shares my passion of growing seeds and gifted me with an orange plant she started from a seedy but delicious orange. It was maybe eight inches tall at the time. I love using the leaves in Thai cooking. Since then, the tropical, heat-loving plant has thrived with long thorns but glossy leaves into a bushy ornamental. Since it is so beautiful, this year, I set it in my bedroom near a window to overwinter. 

Finally, I will mention my favorite, my Meyer lemon tree. Eric and I were trying to break up the monotony of gray late-winter days last year and attended a Home and Garden show. The show was a real drag but I walked away with a blooming lemon plant with a fragrance that was intoxicatingly sweet. I placed it outside on my patio where we all could enjoy walking by it daily and the little thing kept growing every time I watered it. The flowers dropped and little green fruits appeared. All summer long, my kids kept remarking how many limes my tiny lemon tree held. As the weather cooled, I brought it into my dining room and the green limes turned into lemons. (I do understand that a lime and a lemon are not the same plant. I just got tired of correcting my kids.) Today, there are a mix of green and yellow lemons as well as new blossoms forming. 

As winter kills off most of the green life outside, I enjoy the challenge of keeping my tropical plants alive. I wonder what else I can try to grow inside.

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