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How to overwinter tropical fruits and other tender plants

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Photo courtesy of Doreen Howard.

(Read caption) Not only do I sleep with bananas in the winter, but my beloved 'pets' like Farquar here do, too.

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I’ll admit it. I’ve been sleeping with bananas for the past 10 years.

They’re considerate roommates that conjure visions of warm breezes, fruity drinks with paper parasols, and white beaches – despite the lead-gray skies and endless ice and snow six months out of the year here in the upper Midwest.

Broad banana leaves curtain my bedroom window all winter and frame the snow fields beyond the glass. Every few weeks, another huge leaf unfurls and pushes the towering plant that much closer to fruiting. And, bananas don’t snore, unlike other bed partners.

These plants, normally found in along the white beaches of San Diego and near the sultry Gulf of Mexico – places where I spent much of my life – bear fruit and huge, striking flowers even in cold climates if carried over from year to year.

Who wouldn’t want stalks of red bananas, sweet-tart kumquats, and luscious figs on their patio? Their musky floral aromas and succulent fruits set the mood for gracious outdoor living.

I’ve learned from experience there are three ways to overwinter any tender plant.

Treat them as houseplants
•  Choose a south-, east-, or west-facing window. Citrus will flower in strong southern or western light and set fruit if you hand-pollinate their blossoms. Three to four hours of sun daily will sustain most plants.
•  Fertilize citrus monthly so that plants have a steady supply of nutrients. They’re still growing and forming leaves and/or fruit.
•  Make sure bananas are in a warm environment (above 65 degrees F. or 18 degrees C) and have at least eight hours of direct light daily. (If there isn't enough light available, see below for how to force them into dormancy.)
•  Do not repot plants brought indoors for the winter, as they will not add roots during the winter months. Extra soil in a bigger container will only encourage root rot.

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