Six on Saturday: Camping Out Indoors

This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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We love big and colorful leaves in our summer garden, and we end up growing a pretty good collection of tropical plants each year that can’t make it through our coldest winter nights outdoors.  By the end of October, we are deciding which plants will get to camp out inside for the winter, and where (and how) they will overwinter.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.  It died back to its tuber in the basement last winter.  This winter it is still in growth in our sunny garage.

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Some plants get to grow on in their pots in our sunny living spaces.  They will stay comfortably warm from November through April or May.  Aside from living with a little less light than they’d like, they have a good winter of continued growth and minimal disruption.  I continue to fertilize many of these plants to encourage winter blooms.

Others come into the garage.  It is a good deal chillier, and they get even less light.  But they remain active, with very little new growth, and most manage to survive the winter.  I water these only as needed to keep their soil barely moist, and don’t apply any fertilizer until the weeks before they move back outdoors.

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Begonias live in our garage and living room through the winter.  Some may lose their leaves, but often return from their rhizomes in the spring.  this one is growing well this winter and is still producing new leaves.

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A few sturdier plants, Alocasias, Zantedeschias and Colocasias, are re-potted into much smaller quarters and overwinter in the basement near a window.  Most of those that get this treatment have a dormant period built into their annual life cycle and are at least marginally hardy here in Zone 7.

I spare them a real period of freezing temperatures and make sure that they stay barely moist through winter.  They lose most, or all of their leaves and may survive as a tuber with a few active roots.  The Zantedeschias we are overwintering this way have continued to throw out sturdy new leaves, reaching for the feeble winter light from our basement windows.

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Begonias with Caladium ‘Moonlight’. Cane Begonias can be overwintered in vases of water as cuttings. Once the stem has roots, it can be potted up in a much smaller pot, indoors, until time to plant it outside in late April.  Cuttings of this Begonia rest on my kitchen counter, waiting for spring.

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Finally, most of the Caladiums and some Zantedeschias go fully dormant in November, with all leaves and roots dying back.  Once their tubers have dried out, I pack them away in rice hulls, in bags, and put them in an out of the way spot indoors for the winter.

They slumber through winter without any moisture or light, and must be re-awakened each spring by planting them in moist soil.  They send out all new growth each spring and are ready to back out doors in May or June.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ was a newcomer to our garden this summer.  Its tubers are resting, waiting for me to wake them up next month.

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The alternative to going to all of this trouble would be to treat our beautiful summer tropical plants like annuals, allowing the frost to kill them each fall and starting over with new plants each spring.  Some gardeners may go this route, especially if you don’t have the space indoors to let the plants camp out in comfort for a few months.

It would be an outrageous expense for us, and there isn’t a guarantee that you will even find the plants in spring to replace those lost.  We lost our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ last winter, and then didn’t find it in any catalogs for spring.  We were delighted to find A. ‘Stingray’ in Brent and Becky Heath’s spring catalog, and have several on order.

So every fall we bring as many as we can indoors, care for them through the winter, and then begin moving them all back outside again in April.  They may look a bit worse for the winter in doors, but all soon grow new foliage and perk up in the sunshine to enjoy another summer of beauty and growth.

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Zantedeschia, calla lily, blooming last June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.

 

 

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

6 responses to “Six on Saturday: Camping Out Indoors

  1. Jeanne

    As always, I’m grateful for the promise of spring and summer to come, breathing through your post and photos!

  2. Don’t the alocasias and caladiums prefer some degree of dormancy? I have never grown alocasias. When the caladiums went bare at the end of winter, I just figured that they were supposed to do that. They did not get frosted or anything; they just died back. Callas are bare for part of the year as well, although those that stay green do not seem to be any worse off.

    • Yes, Tony, Caladiums definitely want some dormancy. Even those that come inside in a pot with something else rest a while, and then begin to produce leaves again. I have one leaf of Moonlight that just sprouted in a pot with a large Alocasia. The Alocasia have a rest from producing new leaves, but don’t always die down to just the tuber. The large Alocasia in the first picture currently has only 2 new leaves, even though it is in the living room near a large window with morning sun. I think I may have waited a week or two too long to bring it indoors last fall and it got too cold. All of the larger leaves died back in the weeks after it came inside. But the little Rex Begonia beside it in the same pot is just fine and still in active growth. They are always full of surprises and there is always more to learn! The Colocasia also wants a rest, even if indoors. I have a few new leaves coming up on C. ‘Tea Cups’ in the garage this week! Tony, if you’ve not grown Alocasia I hope you’ll treat yourself to one soon! They are very easy to grow, dramatic and gorgeous. Our local Trader Joes has them in 6″ pots from time to time, sold as houseplants. But I am sure you have great suppliers in your area. If not, then check out the link to A. ‘Stingray’, which takes you to Brent and Becky’s bulbs. They have a good selection on offer this spring. Top quality.
      Enjoy the day!

      • Coincidentally, we have considered adding Alocasia to a few spots of the riparian zones at work. The only limiting factor is the frost. We do not get real frost here, but the riparian zones are the coldest spots. Some say that they do just fine is such situations, but I really doubt it. I am afraid that the only way we will know is if we try. I know that the common spider plants grew like weeds out in the open at my house, and were not even damaged when things around them got a bit of frost. They have naturalized and become very invasive in Aptos Creek, which is probably not much colder than our riparian areas.

        • Tony, You might want to consider a native or Japanese Iris, instead. Colocasia is more cold hardy and would work as well or better than an Alocasia. But the hardy ones I grow spread quite a bit.. unless that is what you need… C. ‘Pink China’ is hardy here and attractive. I’m sure you’ll find others hardy to zone 7 or 8 like C. ‘Tea Cups’, which is neat and has upturned leaves like an Alocasia. C. ‘Black Magic’ is marginally hardy for us, and is known for spreading quickly with runners. They might work in your situation.

          • Oh, I certainly do not need more iris. there are two native specie here that grow like weeds, and there are MANY bearded iris. There are only a few more other species of iris that I want, but they will not be going into the riparian area.

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