I spent a good deal of this past weekend overwintering my tropical plants from patio pots and container gardens, with the help of my husband, Steve.
First, I walked around our yard with Steve and asked, “If you can move this or that – it would help me a great deal?” He was very happy to do so.
As he worked on “this or that,” which consisted of various pots with Canna lilies and such, I worked on taking apart some plants from a couple large and tall patio pots on my deck and disassembling my large tropical garden filled with a elephant ears, perennials, and a huge red banana plant (Ensete). I posted photos and videos of the process on my Container Crazy CT Facebook page.
The weather was fantastic both Saturday and Sunday, which helped a great deal, but it was cold out – I needed to wear warm gloves. We had two “light frosts” this month so far (one on the 20th and one prior in the month) but we still haven’t had a hard frost which would kill and blacken the foliage of my tropical plants that I was focused upon.
When I say tropical plants, I’m referring to the red banana plants, canna lilies, elephant ears, and mandevillas – plants which will not tolerate the frost here in CT.
I document my storing process every year usually so if you need information on it, use the red search bar on this site (right-hand side of the screen, scroll down to locate) and enter ‘red banana plant,’ or ‘overwintering’, or ‘ensete’, ‘canna’, etc – and you should be able to locate the prior detailed articles I have posted.
This year, I planted Upright Jumbo Elephant Ears (Alocasia macrorrhiza) in two new pots I acquired. The tall pots are about 5 feet tall or maybe a little less, and are very nice, BUT the spiller plants in the pots grew so well, they actually hid the beautiful pots.
By the way, the spillers were Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’ and Plectranthus coleoides ‘White Surf.’ Both were amazing. I especially love the plum color of the Alternanthera, and the Plectranthus (with green leaves serrated with white edges), both of which are always great spiller performers in container gardens. They can take full sun and part sun. And both are vigorous growers as annual plants here in our CT zones.
The tubers of the upright elephant ears were shipped to me in early April and I planted them in nursery starter pots, first in my greenhouse and then moved them out to my new patio pots later after all chances of spring frost, usually around the same time we plant out our tomato and pepper plants (around Memorial Day in late May).
I had visions of these upright elephant ears growing super huge and tall, but they didn’t reach the 6 to 8 feet height described by the producer of the tubers. However, they reached about 3 ft high in the first year – I expect it to be taller next season. And I will probably start them in the nursery pots sooner in the greenhouse to get the growth going earlier, which helps get that big show I was looking for.
The leaves were on average about 20″ long, but what impressed me the most about this variety were the clumps they formed. One tuber shot up about 15 stalks per tuber, or tubers, which reproduce on the side, as they grow in summer. As seen here:
The original tuber is on the left. When it arrived in the mail in April, it had a dry papery brown covering and was big and solid. As you can see on the right, it grew another plant after I planted them in the patio pots outdoors, and this is what I love about tubers from tropical plants – you get more plants at the end of the season to replant next spring. In fact, as seen here, I got LOTS of new plants for next year:
There are 12 stalks in this photo – all from one original tuber. After I removed them from the big patio pots, I cut the stalks down to about 4-5″ from the base of the tuber area (root end) and I will store these in a cool, dark, dry place (my basement which is unheated but it does not freeze there).
You may cut back all the foliage before or after frost before you dig up and store the tubers. I prefer doing it before frost because it is less messy. After frost, the foliage turns black and mushy.
After I dig out the tubers from the patio pots, I usually lay them out for 2 days in the sun to dry a bit. After that, they get placed in plastic rubber maid type boxes (low height containers) with peat moss covering them and a lid on the box. I sometimes drill small pin holes in the lid to allow some air exchange in the boxes/containers. Again, all of this is documented in detail in prior posts on this site too. Do not store them in too deep of containers or boxes as this increases the chances of rot. And I also recommend you only lightly cover them with the peat.
When I posted this process with videos last weekend, a few people asked some questions – one of which was, “Do you keep the soil in these pots for next year?”
Traditionally, I do not keep soil in patio pots after a year’s use – UNLESS they are really big pots like these. Potting mixes lose their ability to retain water well in smaller to medium sized pots after a year or two’s use.
I am a big believer in using the best potting mix possible – fresh every year in your containers, and to use reputable sources. I really need to do a long post on potting mixes – one of these days soon.
But for really big pots, I do keep the soil mix in there for a couple years. Sometimes with smaller patio pots, I use the “old” soil as filler only in the base of big pots. Or it goes to compost areas or garden areas as filler at the end of the season. To me it is so worth it to have quality potting mix for your plants because they thrive and put on a wonderful show of growth when you do.
I put these two big heavy patio pots on trays with wheels so we could push them to a more sheltered location on my deck and I will cover each of them with thick tarps. I sometimes put a board over the top of the openings and then cover it. This seems to work well with my bigger pots in my yard – none of them have ever cracked, thankfully.
These upright elephant ears made me happy despite not getting super tall. The sun rose behind them every morning and lit up the leaves. I enjoyed looking at them from my bedroom sliders. These plants could be over-wintered as a houseplant IF you owned a a large home, but alas, I do not, but I would if I could. However, what I love about these is how you may store the tubers in a compact way to reuse them again and again every season. And it may look like lots of work or effort, but it was relatively quick to get it done. It doesn’t take too much muscle strength to get them dug out of pots either, as compared to the ground, where the roots extend further into ground soils.
You may also allow these plants to go dormant and store them in their growing container or pots but that also means having the space to do so. When I started these in the spring, the original tubers were planted about 4″ deep in my nursery starter pots. It was the waiting game that was difficult – waiting to see how they would grow, but when they did, many weeks of viewing was enjoyed in summer till almost the end of October. Tropical plants last well beyond annuals in most cases. Another reason I continue to enjoy them.
Also, these plants very rarely get insect problems. The upright elephant ears’ leaves are slick, shiny, glossy, and dark green. They’d make great candidates for making leaf bird baths the hypertufa style way! But who has time for that? I have to get ready for my holiday workshops now – and speaking of – I have to mention them:
Registrations ARE happening now for my December 7th, 2019 holiday workshop and if you are interested, I encourage you to sign-up early. The start time is 11 am to whenever you like, we have fun in these workshops making kissing balls, wreaths, or candle centerpieces with beautiful fresh greens. For as long as I can offer them, you should be taking these workshops – cause, I dare say, they are wonderful! Will I ever loose steam to do them, like I do all these pots in fall? Hmm, only time can tell. Hint: Don’t Miss Out! Sign-up now!
Lastly, I also took down my two big red banana plants in other big pots in my yard. Here’s a photo of the stumps (technically pseudo stems) that get stored in BIG plastic bins, of course. I posted some time lapse videos of the process on my page noted above as well. Like the tubers of the upright elephant ears, I let them sit out in the sun to dry and drain because these big stumps hold excess water. I also clean the soil off the roots with a soft brush. Today, they will be laid to rest for the winter in the big bins in my basement.
Container Crazy CT
Located in Broad Brook, CT (East Windsor)
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