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Ask Martha

Helping your hibiscus through winter

Q. How do I care for my potted hibiscus in the winter?

A. Keeping a potted tropical plant alive through the cold months may feel like a chore, but come springtime, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a flush of blooms. Besides, according to Marc Hachadourian, manager of the Nolen Greenhouses and Exhibitions at the New York Botanical Garden, helping hibiscus survive over the winter requires no more care than a traditional houseplant.

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Like most tropical plants, the hibiscus needs direct sunlight. Bring it in before the chillier weather — under 50 degrees — and station it in the sunniest area of your house. If the air in your home tends to get dry in winter, consider running a humidifier to make the conditions more favorable for a tropical plant. (“Extra watering will not compensate for lack of humidity,” says Hachadourian.) Higher humidity will also help deter one of the most common winter pests for hibiscus: spider mites.

While a hibiscus is in its rest period, its leaves will turn brown and some of them, but not all, will fall off. This is normal. Clear away the leaves that have fallen naturally. And wait until you see new growth before you cut away any of the older foliage.

The plant may continue to flower, but by midwinter it probably won’t be looking its best. Again, this is normal, and it is important to resist the temptation to revive the plant by overwatering it; this only causes root rot and encourages leaves to drop. Instead, stick to a relaxed watering schedule that gives the plant time to soak up nutrients at its own place. Before you water, check the soil for dampness; if it seems wet, let it dry out before giving it more water. Potting the hibiscus in soil that drains well will make it easier to avoid excessive dampness.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
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