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Tropicals head indoors for the cold months

The weeping fig is a popular house plant that must be brought indoors for the winter. This plant is famous for dropping leaves when the environment shifts from bright outdoors to low-light indoors. New leaves usually follow.
The weeping fig is a popular house plant that must be brought indoors for the winter. This plant is famous for dropping leaves when the environment shifts from bright outdoors to low-light indoors. New leaves usually follow. Observer file photo

Late October is the right time to turn our attention to house plants that spent the past six months or so outdoors on porch or patio. They, unlike we humans, prospered there in heat and humidity, growing well.

But these tropicals will require a place indoors through the winter and early spring. Night temperatures under 50 degrees are a guide to this.

Because these plants spent the summer outside, they grew robustly, especially when given the right amount of sun or shade and regular water.

Some may have outgrown the pot and would benefit from a larger one. Roots growing out of the bottom of the pot are a clear signal the need for a new pot that is 1 to 2 inches in diameter larger. Rapid wilting of foliage is another signal that the pot is filled with roots that require more wiggle room. Upon close inspection of tropical ferns in a pot or basket, you may also see young plants emerging around the perimeter. These can be dug out and replanted in small pots.

Repotting is not difficult and can be done outdoors or inside. A larger container, fresh potting soil and a trowel are all you need. A layer of newspaper or plastic will catch spilled soil.

Turn the pot onto its side and help the plant slip out by tugging at the base near the soil line. You may have to help a bit by sinking a knife or trowel around the inside perimeter to loosen it and allow the plant to slide out smoothly. This will be needed when the root ball is well developed and takes up most of the space in the pot.

Shake the plant gently to get rid of loose soil. Look over the root ball. It is likely you will see roots wrapped tightly around it. Use your trowel to loosen them so they will grow new roots into the fresh soil of the bigger pot. Don’t forget to cover the drainage hole with a piece of broken pottery. This keeps soil from running out and ensures good drainage.

If a plant does not require repotting, look over it carefully for insects. Raise the leaves, check the stems and look at the bottom of the pot, where slugs or others may lodge. A heavy spray of water can dislodge some, or you can deal with slow-moving ones with your trowel.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. How long do I have to get flower bulbs planted. It is so dry that the soil seems hard to dig.

A. You can do this through November, even into December. Keep the bulbs in the cool, dry location, inside their paper bag until planting time.

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