How to care for big house plant on balcony in winter?

organic_amosDecember 1, 2012

Ok, I got a couple of these big plants on my balcony; about yay high (yay = 3-4'). They're like trees, ya see them everywhere. I was thinkin' "pine tree", but no, those have cones n' stuff. So I took a photo of it with this "Leafsnap" app I just got for the iPhone. It identified the plant as a "cedar", but no... not quite. The plant it showed wasn't quite it. However, being close enough, I'm pretty darn sure I've got a couple of "evergreens" on my hands. Now the tall one is half brown, half green. I can't quite remember, but I think it was all green when I bought it?

I haven't watered them for a week or two. It got to -13c recently. If i had watered them, it would prob'ly turn to ice anyway. So what do I do now? Do I bring them inside? If so, do I water them when they're inside? Is the brown gonna turn green again if I do?

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Can you post a photo of the tree here? Someone here will be able to identify it and then we can give you much more useful advice.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 7:46PM
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Try looking up Norfolk Island Pine and see if this is your plant, if it is, it should be brought indoors immediately as it cannot take that cold of a temperature.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 11:54PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

You're right about the water turning to ice. Won't do anything for cold roots except help them rot if/when there is a thaw. After such a cold experience, bringing inside wouldn't help if it's not a plant that can take freezing cold, it would be dead already. If it is tolerant of such temps, it's better off outside. About all you can do at this point is wait to see if they come back to life in the spring.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 8:15AM
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pine trees have cones. they also have needles.

cedars have scale like foliage, clinging to the stem much more so then protruding from it. however, saying cedar is like saying your pet is a dog. there are lots of different kinds.

some could winter just fine in the balcony and not need a moment's thought the whole winter. some might want some bags of leaves around the pot, and some might be already dead. ya kinda need to know whatcha got to know anything else.

if i were to geuss, and this would be as accurate as my spelling, you have a cold hardy plant in a pot on your balcony. some kind of insulation around the pot (bags of leaves) would be all you need to do. but then again...yeah...gotta know what ya got.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 8:34AM
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Definitely try to identify it but, evergreens should be in the ground and by how you describe the damaage I'd say it needs planting today.

Find a place where the soil is still workable...look behind a foundation plant...near the wall, it should provide sufficient warmth that the soil is not frozen.
If the plant is in a pot--and it drains well, plant pot and all into a hole you dig behind the shrubbery. Otherwise, remove from the pot, spread the roots and plant it; maybe with the addition of some fresh potting soil.
Wind is the enemy...the shrubbery will give winter protection from the drying winds.
When you plant it, water it in well.....very well.
Mulch the surface around the plant, bring boughs of evergreens around the plant; this will give added protection from the freeze/thaw cycles that occur every winter. The next protection could be in the form of a good winter with lots of snow.

Next spring, find a suitable place to plant it OUTDOORS....
Give a little evergreen food--30/x/x or superphosphate to aid development of the roots, then admire it after it comes back to its former self.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:04AM
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I too wonder if your plants are Norfolk Island Pines/Araucaria.

If temps don't dip much more than 13C, there shouldn't be any problem, assuming your two plants are Araucarias.

Once needles brown, they will not revert to green. This applies to any conifer.

A pic would be nice... Toni

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:09AM
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That was -13C, about 9F. I would have thought these plants would die at that temp, or at least on their way to being compost.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:17AM
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Thanks for the responses, y'all. I see there was some doubt my assessment of the species. I got a pic from the net to show... it's basically what you see in the photo.... a species called "potted evergreen":

I brought the plants in yesterday night. I really need the balcony space free in the winter anyway, and I don't have any garden soil I can plant them in. I did not give them water, because I could not stick the water meter into the soil (too hard!). I imagine the ice has probably melted today, and they can be watered. Should they? A friend told me this plant doesn't require watering in the winter. But I don't know if that applies only to when it is outside?

The small evergreen is in a pot with no drainage (but it's the one that's doing reasonably well, mostly green!). The large evergreen is in a pot, that is in a larger pot that is resting on rocks, so I believe it is for draining. The backside of this one was all brown from top to bottom, so I removed the brown parts by scraping. It's a lot scrawnier than it used to be, but it's still in not too too bad condition! Ok, so the "needles" won't magically turn green again... but will they grown back?!

Here is a link that might be useful:

This post was edited by organic_amos on Sun, Dec 2, 12 at 13:15

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 1:08PM
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Jeff, oh my goodness...Thanks for correcting me. If you hadn't noticed, Amos trees would be icicles. Thanks.

Amos, I apoligize. Didn't see '-/minus'. A horse of a different color. No way would NIP survive in -13C/9F.

Amos, sorry to say, needles will not grow back.

The person who told you not to water, 'all winter,' is wrong. If soil dries too much more needles will brown and drop to the floor.
But, NIP's do not like wet feet either..Therefore, the plant in a pot without drainage will need repotting. Can you drill holes in the pot so water can escape?

My connection is messed up so I can't open your picture..I'll retry in a few. Toni

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 1:52PM
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That's some kind of cedar tree/shrub. Never grew one indoors, so I have no info for you. Sorry! :(

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 2:15PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

All plants grown in containers need watering, even in the winter. Your tree looks more like a Leyland Cypress, to me.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 4:23PM
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Ok, I see there's still a lot of confusion about what plant I have.... I'm quite sure it's an evergreen, and even more sure it's not a Northern Pine! So I'm including photos of the actual leaves and the actual plants (no cheating)...

So, once we've established what it is, I'd still like to know....

Can I leave it inside during the winter? (No room on the balcony outside!)
Do I need to water it?
Will it eventually grow new needles to replace all those that have turned brown!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 7:16PM
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I don't know what it is, but by looking at this pic on here, it looks ALOT like alot of trees/bushes I see around here in my area...Those braches look exactly like the trees I just helped my father trim around his property, which do put up with the cold weather here, and I live in zone 6 whch has freezing and snowing weather...but I could be very wrong...I've never seen these sold as houseplants but as trees for outside. It could be dying cause it's meant for putting in the ground and not in containers...


    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 9:18PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I agree with rhizo _1. It looks like Cupressus x leylandii ie Leyland Cypress. It is not a houseplant. In my climate they are totally hardy but you'd need to look up care for your particular climate. In pots they will be more vulnerable than in the ground so might need more protection. They are susceptible to wind burn, especially if they dry out.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 5:09AM
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Hi what you have are Arborvitaes they are shrubs that are usually planted are building in landscape designs...
and when they turn brown that part of the scrub has died...they need lots of water, should never dry out...going into winter they need lots of water and the scrub should be wrapped so the their greenery does not dry out or get sun burned and turn brown. in the northern states with lots of snow cover on very sunny days the sun reflects off the snow and burns theses scrubs, that is why they need to be wrapped in burlap....good luck with your plants...linda

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 9:51AM
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I looked it up, and I'm in Zone 5. And "Arborvitae" seems to be it, or close enough. (A picture of a "thuja" leaf in Wikipedia looked just like that of my evergreen, but they said they were trees starting from 10 ft. As you can see in the pic, mine are 3-4 ft.). All's I know is, I bought the plants at Canadian Tire (a chain of home / hardware stores), they came in pots. They grew fine on the balcony all summer long. Indeed, they needed *lots* of water when on my balcony in the summer. But now that they are inside and during the winter, I'm still unsure of what their watering schedule should be?

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:20PM
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I think you have what most people call 'cedar'; perhaps Emerald cedar (Thuja occidentalis). They are often sold in pots in CT, HD, and many other stores. I believe they are hardy to zone 3.

I would not grow it inside.
I have many in pots, and they survive winter without any fussing. I just leave them where they get enough snow, so they don't dry out.

Why do you want to keep them inside?
Is the balcony too windy?
Brown part is most likely dead - you will see in spring.
You can always prune dead branches - obviously, depends where they are on the tree. How tall do you want them to be?
(photo from net)


    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 8:06PM
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"Why do you want to keep them inside?"

Because sometimes the snow piles up higher than the plant itself. Now that may not be a problem for the plant, but its a problem for me when I have to shovel all the snow off the balcony. I don't want to have to be moving a 50+lb plant off the balcony in the winter (it hurt my back moving it recently, and that was with no snow on it). Why does it have to winter outside, if it always lived and thrived in a pot?

As long as its alive and relatively green, it doesn't really matter to me how tall the plants are.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 5:35PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Yes, its an arborvitae.
No, it will not like being inside. If the low humidity doesn't kill it, the spidermites that like low humidity may and, although I'm not certain, arbs may need a cold thermal period to trigger growth next year.
No, it will not like not having good drainage.

"...but they said they were trees starting from 10 ft..."

They have to be 3 feet before they get to be 10 feet. ;-)


    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 6:56PM
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Agree with what tj is saying...
Just because the plant is in container it does not mean it will grow well inside.

The reason I asked about the size is that you could keep it pruned to size fitting/'in scale with' the space you have on balcony. It would be more manageable too.
And you may be able to prune off-out the brown branches.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 9:48PM
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So the consensus appears to be that my potted evergreens will die indoors during the winter, even if watered, and that I'm to leave them outside on the balcony throughout this period.... does this mean don't water it at all during the winter? (As the water will turn to ice).

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 5:15PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

If it's warm enough to be thawed and has dried out, definitely water it. All I meant above is that if you pour water on a frozen rootball the water will freeze as well, not that a potted plant in winter would never need to be watered. Sorry for the confusion.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 5:43PM
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Hi.....I have to kinda snicker at the statement about it being in a pot....just about every plant or tree you buy comes in a pot or root ball that doesn't mean it can stay that way...
as far as pruning or trimming a arborvitae it isn't going to work as you think, once you prune or trim, it never goes anything back where you cut....
this is a scrub/tree depends on the variety you grown outside...but I have seen some grown as bonsai...
good luck with your plants......

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 8:46PM
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