Overwintering my Alocasia Plants

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There are many tender tropical plants which I overwinter each year around this time of year in October. They are either dug up and packed up in a cool, dry, frost free place, moved into my home as a houseplant, or moved into my low-temperature greenhouse for the winter.

Today, I will share how I overwinter my newest favorite tropical plant, Alocasia macrorrhiza or Alocasia macrorrhizos (Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears).

Here is a photo of me standing by it around mid-September 2020. It is quite tall and an impressive specimen showcasing dark green huge leaves, big enough to serve as a patio umbrella.

Cathy Testa standing next to her Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plants in 2020

Each leaf reached just slightly over 3 feet long from tip to the start of its rigid stalks, which were also 3 feet long. Thus, the plant towered over us at 6 feet tall total. The width of the leaves reached about 2-2.5 feet across.

Measuring the leaf after it was removed in the fall from the planter

This plant is not winter hardy here in Connecticut, so it must be removed from the planter to store the tubers (or rhizomes) for the winter. This may be done after the plants get touched by a light frost (which will damage the leaves and make them turn yellow) or immediately after a hard frost (which will completely kill the top parts of the plants and its foliage.)

I prefer to move them in before frost for two reasons: (1) It is not cold out and easier to work with the plants. And (2), sometimes if you leave the tubers in the soil too long, when they get cold and wet this time of year, rot may actually start on the tuber before you dig them out. The tuber will be soft if any rot has started. BTW, the tuber is referred to as a rhizome as well. For the sake of this post, I will use the term “tuber.”

Cathy Testa holding a leaf from the Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plant in October 2020

While working this weekend to continue my overwintering chores, I asked my husband to take a photo of me with a single leaf to show the shear size of this dramatic foliage plant. I obtained the tubers in 2019. That year, the plant grew more clumps of leaves, but this year, in 2020, the plant grew much taller stalks and bigger leaves. I always tell my followers and customers, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant.

This planter going into my greenhouse

If the plant in your container or patio pot is small enough, you may bring it into your home for the winter, or even into a greenhouse. However, I typically choose to store them by digging up the tubers, after cutting off all the foliage, and storing them in my basement, which is unheated but does not freeze.

The location is key. You need to consider the place you are putting them. A cold closet in the home may work. You need to experiment the first time you do this and hope for the best. A garage (unless it is attached and gains some heat from the house), does not work. The tubers would freeze and die.

Okay, here are my steps:

(1) Chop off all the foliage. You may use either a sharp long kitchen knife or a machete, which I often use the machete when it is a very thick stalk or stump. Just be sure your tools are clean to not transmit any disease or insect problems. I usually start with removing each leaf stalk individually, then cut across the whole stump area if it happens to be large.

(2) Dig out the bottom part with the tuber from the soil. Do this by digging around the plant with your shovel or garden trowel and pushing down around in a circle. You should hear the roots snapping as you are cutting them during this process. Then lift the whole clump together out of the soil. Try to be sure you are not breaking the tuber below the stump area.

(3) Lay the bottom parts in the sun. The bottom part of the plant will either have a visible tuber, or not. Either way, lay them in the sun for a minimum of one day to dry (and/or cure, as they say). Sometimes, I let them sit in the sun for a few days but do not leave them out if you get a hard frost after digging them out. If the bottom piece you dug out is thick and fleshy, turn it upside down to allow the excess water to drain out. These plants hold lots of water. You may gently brush away any excess soil or use a garden hose to blast off the soil, but sometimes I prefer not to add any more moisture to them if I can help it.

Lay the tubers out in the sun

(4) Snip off any long roots. Notice in this next photo how long the roots reached. Because the soil was fluffy and dry in my planters, I actually pulled the roots out of the soil because I wanted to see how long they were. They almost reached the bottom of the gray tall planters. The reason I snip off the roots is to eliminate as much fleshy material from the pieces. Fleshy, wet materials may rot in the storage box.

Showing the root lengths

(5) Put the stumps (for lack of a better word) and or tubers into a storage box and cover it with peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss may be purchased in large square bales or in bags in smaller amounts. It is a natural and organic ingredient that absorbs moisture and aerates around the tubers in the box. Pour some of the peat moss in the box in the base, lay the tubers and stumps on it, and then pour dry peat moss over and around them. Do not over do this. You are only lightly covering them with the peat moss. BTW, the peat moss is reusable every year. It lasts a very long time.

(6) Place the box in a cool, dark, dry location that doesn’t get below freezing and is somewhat unheated. Such as my basement. If placing the box on a concrete floor, place a tray or something to elevate it a bit off the floor because as that floor gets cold in the winter, it may create condensation in the storage box. My basement does get some woodstove heat from time to time, but the woodstove is way at the opposite end of the basement from where I store my overwintering boxes. And the woodstove is not used all winter, just on some nights. So the area where I put all my overwintered plants in boxes stays colder. It has become my sweet spot for this process. It is okay to stack your boxes on top of each other. I use plastic bin type boxes with a lid. Do not use clear plastic boxes, use those that will eliminate any light. Sometimes I have drilled holes into the lids to allow some air to enter. The tubers tend to stay dry but just slightly moist by the peat around it – but not wet. Do not store them in a very wet state. This will lead to rot. If your basement is too hot and dry, they will dry up and shrivel and may just rot away to a dry state which is not usable. If your basement is super cold, the tubers might freeze and die.

(7) Label the box with a sharpie marker, date it, and note what you stored so you will remember in the spring. If the tubers make it, you may recognize them, but if they don’t, you will be wondering what you stored, at least I have, because I store many types of container garden plants over the winter months.

An Alocasia in a large pot

You have other storing or moving options as well. You could just move the pot with the plant into your basement and hope for the best, but you may not have the space, or the muscle power to move a big pot. And usually a big pot is too big for a home. But that is another option to mention. If you move the entire pot with the plant into your basement, you will need to monitor it for insects and add water to the plant, but at a very minimal fashion. You are not watering it like you would during the summer season.

Left – See the Tuber?

In this above photo, the tuber on the left is covered in brown papery like material, which you leave on there. However, on the photo on the right, you really only see a stump. Storing either works for me.

This storing process allows the plant to go into a dormant state. They will not grow in the dark boxes and will usually do fine. When spring returns, you may bring them out of the darkness by starting them in smaller pots inside the home to awaken them. They should not be planted outdoors in your patio pots or container gardens again until all chances of spring frost has passed. These tender bulbs will bring back repeat performance year after year by following my steps above.

If you found this post helpful, please comment below or share my site with others.

Thank you.

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT 06016
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Other sites: www.WORKSHOPSCT.com and www.ContainerGardensCT.com
Container Garden Designer, Plant Lover
and a little “Crazy” about plantings in containers!

Currently taking orders for custom Succulent Topped Pumpkins. They are created with live succulent plants, fall or Halloween decor, and are amazing on real pumpkins. They are low maintenance, easy care, and last for months. Porch Pick-ups and some deliveries arranged. Inquire for current prices. 860-977-9473 texts are welcome.

3 Signs it is Time to Move your Plants In

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Here are 3 signs it is time to start thinking about moving your plants in:

You closed some windows in your house this morning because the chilly morning air is making your fingers cold as you type on your laptop in your home office or as you reach for your cup of coffee! (ME, this morning.)

You have a cat you allow outdoors, but he or she is screaming to come back in because the temps have dropped outdoors. (My Cat, this morning.)

Your nose is sniffling because the cool air gives you the some fall allergies. (Me! Yes, this morning. Where’s the Kleenex tissues?)

Well, those are definitely 3 signs for me. I feel the cool air this morning. It is 45 degrees F right now as I type this. It is chilly out there, but it won’t freeze your plants (yet). Your tropical plants can take it and so could some of your succulents, BUT, if we got rain with this type of chilly temp drops, it makes all go chilly and damp.

Damp, chilly, cold, and especially wet soils in container gardens or patio pots this time of year in Connecticut usually leads to issues when you move the pots inside the home for the winter.

This is something I’ve been repeating, I think because to me it is intuitive, and difficult to describe in scientific terms. If my hands are cold right now, so are my plants outdoors on my deck. In fact, if you went outside right now, and touched the side of a patio pot, it would feel cold. If they are cold, they are ready to start being moved in soon. But there’s still time.

Yesterday, I spent most of my day packing up items to use at a client’s site later today. I will be starting to disassemble their container gardens and I would rather work in good conditions, which it will be today, and also before all gets cold, wet, and damp. It is way more messy to work on the projects when it is in that colder situation, even though I’d work on container gardening anytime, anywhere. I have worked in rain, cold, wind, you name it. But, hopefully today, I will bask in the sun while I work this afternoon on beautiful container gardens which are now ready for phase two – autumn installs.

Yesterday, I only did a few small things at home for myself, my plants, that is. I decided to move in a small plant of my Upright Alocasia. It is one of the off sets from the bulbs I planted last season of this plant. Called Alocasia macrorrhiza or Upright Jumbo elephant ear. These gorgeous elephant ear plants are a favorite on my list.

Upright Elephant Ear Plants

The bulbs for the upright elephant ears are spring planted bulbs and they are tropical. They can not be left in the container gardens or patio pots outdoors for the winters here because the upcoming freezing temperatures would kill them. They are considered “tender bulbs” of tropical plants.

This time of year, these plants may stay out in the containers or patio pots until they are hit by frost (usually mid to late October) around here. If hit by frost, the foliage will droop, turn black, and die back. But that is okay if you are storing the bulbs inside over the winter. Since the tops of the plants will be cut off and tossed.

I usually take my tropical plants down (cut the tops off and remove the bulbs from the soil) either slightly before or right after a frost hits in our area of Connecticut. I store the bulbs in my unheated basement in various boxes. The place you pick to store the bulbs should never freeze and stay dry. And the place you pick to do this is very important.

For years, I selected a spot right next to the basement door in a corner. I put a 5 tiered shelf there and placed the storage boxes on each shelf. It was just perfect. They always make it and stay dry enough and cool enough there.

However, last fall, I decided to move all the boxes along the foundation wall in the basement, and it was under a big bench. I lost some of my bulbs. The area is only a few feet away from the shelving system, but the boxes were placed on the floor. The condensation created too much moisture in the boxes and some of the bulbs rotted by springtime. This year, they will be placed back in my “safe” storage spot on the shelves.

However, this plant below, is in a smaller pot. I know the chilly air will hit on and off during the evenings this month, and I thought, you know, I can manage to move this one on my own. As noted before, sometimes I ask for the assistance of my husband to move bigger plants.

Using the hand-truck to move it indoors

I grabbed our handy dandy hand-truck to carefully rolled it to my greenhouse and put it in there for now. Usually, I dig these up and store the bulbs, but I am thinking maybe I will leave this one in this pot since the size is not super large like my other Alocasias for now anyhow. It is in a more protected location for the fall. I could work on it later if need be.

Moved into the greenhouse 2020

In my other two very large pots on my deck, I have more Upright Alocasias that are 6 feet tall right now. The leaves are gigantic (3 feet tall and wide). I will document my take down process and show it here for my followers when I take those bigger plants down from my container gardens. As noted, I can wait on those till mid October. By the way, these bulbs can not be left in the ground either through our winters. They would freeze and die.

I plant these types of tender bulbs in the spring in starter pots and place them in my greenhouse early to get them growing. They take a while to really kick in and get started. I plan to offer some next season. People have been asking, when they see how magnificent the plants have become with their tall upright growth, towering leaves of 3 feet in length and almost as wide, if I will have them for sale next season, and I think I will.

Photo of last year’s Upright Alocasias

Other types of tender bulbs are Canna Lily, Begonia, Caladiums, Gladiolus, etc. They are planted in containers in the spring and keep growing and showing off right up till our CT frost. This has always been one of the reasons I adore tender bulb plants! They put on a show right to the very end of our growing container season. When we start putting our pumpkins outdoors, they are still showy. In fact, if you have ever attended the Big E (a huge multi-state exposition) near our area (which is sadly cancelled this year due to COVID), you will notice there are tons of Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, and Begonias in the planters areas around the fair grounds. They are so showy in September. I always noticed that when we attended the Big E this time of year.

Later this week or month, I will post lots of photos of my Upright Jumbo elephant ears to show you the size. The plant can reach up to 6 feet (which mine has this year) or 8 feet (probably next year). They like light shade and develop dark green leaves. I noticed on the smaller plants (which were off sets from last year’s bulbs), are a darker green than the larger plants.

I usually let them get hit by frost or take them down right before frost, but for the ones in smaller pots, I may move some into the greenhouse and see how they do (for now). If they appear to be suffering at all, I will dig them out later when I have time for those moved into the greenhouse.

Mammoth Magenta Celosia

On another note, check out another big plant – my mammoth magenta Celosia, grown from seeds. The first thing I find fascinating about these plants is how tiny the seeds are. They are like a speck, for lack of better wording. Yet they grow to massive sizes from one tiny speck of a seed.

My mammoth Celosia is finally blooming. These are another type of plant, an annual here, which provides a great late season bloom. It is called Celosia argentea var. cristata and shows off deep magenta blooms with green and orange foliage. It grows up to 5 feet tall, and mine is a bit taller than the leaves on my giant Ensete (red banana plant) in the same pot where the Celosia is planted. The stalks of the Celosia are super thick and strong. I have to look up to see the intense magenta blooms right now. It is very pretty.

Ensete (red banana plant) is to the right

Ensetes (red banana plants – see the burgundy red foliage to the right) are another plant I store each winter. I don’t move them into the house or greenhouse in tact. They are far too large, towering up to 10-12 feet each year usually. I’ve documented my storing process several times of my Ensete plants. Here are some links to prior posts on that:

https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/

https://containercrazyct.com/2013/08/22/my-monster-cement-planter/

https://containercrazyct.com/2014/05/09/ensete-ventricosum-maurelii-a-big-red-banana-plant-revived-again/

My cousin asked me recently, how do you get that big red banana plant out of your huge cement planter? I responded with, “I climb up there into the planter (it is a huge cement planters) and dig it out with a shovel!” Yes, I do! LOL. Seems crazy but I love those plants so much, I use the little muscle power I have to get ‘er done.

Last year, I did a fast motion recording of my work on that particular large cement planter and removal of the Ensete plant and showed it to my followers. I may do that again. Will keep you posted.

Last year’s Pro photo of an Upright Alocasia

As for now, I am going to sign off but I will be back showing as much as possible my various storing methods of my container gardens for those interested.

I appreciate you visiting and sharing my blog.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Container Garden Designer
CT Location: Broad Brook in East Windsor
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com

Note: I will be making custom Succulent Topped Pumpkins this year and will have various “new” succulents available at the end of this month. If local and interested, please reach out (860-977-9473) or email me at containercathy@gmail.com. Photos will be posted as usual.

What Should I Do with My Container Gardens and Patio Pots right now?

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You – like me – probably thought you better move in some of your deck pots as a result of the gusty winds and cooler temperatures hitting us right now.

I decided to spontaneously text my brother and nephew yesterday –> “Want to make a quick $20 bucks? I need some help moving my big pots from the deck.”

He immediately responded with, “How about right now?”

Well, long story short – It was a blessing they happened to be free at that very moment for about 30-40 minutes. They came right over. I quickly got my garden gloves on and moved some debris from an ornamental grass I had left lying on the ground in the way.

As soon as they arrived, Ross and Joe started picking up some of the medium sized pots in their arms and walked them to an indoor location for me.

I was washed over with relief as I watched them walk down my deck stairs with the pots hovering over the shoulders and my big plants bobbin’ over their heads.

When Joe picked up the Agave in my urn, I kept repeating – “BE CAREFUL, it is a weapon and the spines on the tips could take your eyes out.”

When showing Ross one of my prized plants – I pointed out a stem while indicating it is easily damaged. “I really don’t want it to break,” I said. He was super careful.

“Don’t drop the pots hard when you put them down – This can cause the pot to crack especially for pots that are thinner resin pots.” Another statement I was saying quickly because these two young guys were moving fast.

Ross asked several questions along the way. “Wow, what is this purple plant?” he asked.

“That is Persian Shield, and it is called, Strobilanthes,” I replied.

Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) is a purple plant - the color is fading due to cooler temps.

Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) is a purple plant – the color is fading due to cooler temps.

Ross then started taking photos with his phone before he picked up the next pot.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

After all was moved into an enclosed growing space or onto my driveway for ease of taking them apart later, the guys wanted to pose by my big red banana plant in the backyard. This plant will be part of my overwintering demo in two weeks (and may be published in a catalog. More on that later.).

What To Do with Your Pots Right Now

Some of your tropical plants in container gardens and patio pots (banana plants, Canna, elephant ears) are still safe out there however. The temperatures are in the 40’s to 50’s degree range, and with the 30-35 mile hour winds, it will feel like we are hovering in the mid to lower 50’s. It will feel cold but we are not getting frost.

The gusty winds will tear leaves of big banana plants probably and the cooler temps will make some of the leaves start to turn yellow. Plus, all the cold rain will cause dampness around your plants. This will make your pots heavier as the soil gets soaked.

Some of your tall pots may fall over from the winds. My tall red pots with towering Canna plants already did – so if you are concerned with breakage of pots or plants, move those to a sheltered location.

Even though, I am offering a session on October 17th to demonstrate how I store the root bases of red banana plants, and how to store Canna rhizomes and elephant ear corms (bulbs), I’m shooting off some tips right now quickly.

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Tip # 1:

Get help – if possible. The best part of my 3 amigo’s spontaneously helping me yesterday is they refused payment when they were done. I almost cried. I suggested some cocktail treats – and they responded with, “Yah, let’s go to Broad Brook Brewery soon.” If you can’t get help, use a handtruck to move heavy pots – and take your time. Try not to rush, bend those knees, etc. If a friend is helping you, please remind them to be careful to not rush – this results in hurting your back or straining something when moving heavy pots.

Coleus 'Dipt in Wine' is stunning still, taking cuttings of the tips with stem and leaves will save them.

Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ is stunning still, taking cuttings of the tips with stem and leaves will save them if you don’t have a growing location inside.

Tip #2:

Coleus – If you have some in pots, take some tip cuttings and put in water in a cup or vase. This is a way to save a bit of the plant. It will root eventually and you may pot it up in a small house plant pot to keep over the winter.

Agave in Urn - Watch those spines by your head, Joe!!

Agave in Urn – Watch those spines by your head, Joe!!

Tip #3:

For succulents – as I have said in the past, move them inside the house. They will get wet now for sure – and it can rot the tender foliage because the temperatures have dropped down. Get them inside the warmth by a window and let the soil dry out.

By garage, will be taken apart this month at my session.

By garage, will be taken apart this month at my session.

Tip #4:

Move your big pots into a garage if you don’t have time to tend to them right now. They won’t get totally soaked by the rain if you plan to dissemble them later this month.

Alocasia was moved inside, see the leaves turning color - they want to stay warm.

Alocasia was moved inside, see the leaves turning color – they want to stay warm.

Tip #5:

Leave the pots right where they are outside. It is colder out but not a frost situation yet. The plants will change color and look a bit off, but if you are planning to chop the foliage down to remove the underground parts from the soil for storing over the winter, then it is okay if the foliage gets a bit of cold damage. However, if you want to take it in as a house plant, I say do it now.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Reminder: I’m primarily speaking about Canna, Banana plants, and Elephant Ears for this post for those in container gardens in my CT Zone (Broad Brook/East Windsor). The cold temps will signal the plants that dormancy time is coming. If you want to keep any of these as inside house plants – moving them in now is a good time to do so because the foliage will get damaged a bit from the cold and winds. We may see warmer days again, but the plants won’t get as stressed if moved inside. If you want to store the root bases, storage organs, corms, bulbs, or rhizomes, it is okay if the plants get hit by frost later this month. (Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) plants should not be hit by frost.)

The big red banana plant (Ensete) to be part of demo day.

The big red banana plant (Ensete) to be part of demo day.

That’s all for now. If I think of anything else later, I will add it on. If you have questions about a specific plant, just fill out this contact form below.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete genus)

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete)