Moving Houseplants Outside
Master gardener Paul James discusses how to prepare houseplants for the outdoors and where to place your plants so that they not only survive, but thrive.
Knowing exactly when to make the move is a guessing game, but generally it's safe to move houseplants outdoors when nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s. "However, I usually wait two to three weeks beyond the safe date just to make sure," says James, "especially since the weather here can change very quickly and very dramatically." When the time is right, he grabs a giant dolly, loads up his houseplants and moves them outside.
• Consider holding off on watering heavy plants several days before the move just to lighten the load.
• Tidy up the plants by trimming away any foliage that appears to have suffered from time spent indoors. In the case of plants with brown leaf tips such as this raphia palm, James cuts the leaves on angles to recreate their natural shape.
• Add one or two inches of fresh potting mix to each container because that much tends to decompose in the container during the winter.
• Give the plants what they need and want the most--a thorough soaking from top to bottom, or, from foliage to root ball. In a home environment, plants rarely get the humidity they need for optimum growth, and very often houseplants don't receive adequate water or at least consistent watering. One of the quickest ways to revive thirsty plants is to shower the foliage with a gentle mist and soak the root ball not once, but twice. Thoroughly soaking the root ball helps remove accumulated salts, which are the by-product of synthetic houseplant fertilizers. Also, soaking the leaves not only provides them with much-needed humidity, it also helps cleanse the pores on leaf surfaces, which over time get clogged up with all kinds of airborne dust, debris and by-products of cooking. And spraying the leaves helps to get rid of certain insect pests, especially soft-bodied critters like aphids and whiteflies.
• Once the plants have been watered, it's time to douse them with a watering can of compost tea. James mixes in droppings provided by his daughter's rabbit, Buns. "Actually, this is something I do every two to three weeks," says James, "and thanks to Buns, I've got a never-ending supply of this nutrient-packed, nitrogen-rich stuff." In lieu of compost tea and droppings, you can add some granular fertilizer, in particular, a timed-release fertilizer designed specifically for houseplants. Mix the fertilizer into the top one or two inches of the potting mix.
Location, location, location
Selecting the right spot for your houseplants is important because not all of them can tolerate full sun. It's a common misconception that tropical houseplants enjoy a full sun location, but many actually thrive in the shade cast by tall trees. This Alpinia, which is a type of ginger, can handle a couple hours of morning sun, but after that, it needs nearly full shade.
The same is true of this staghorn fern (Platycerium), which did remarkably well indoors.
Other plants such as sago palms can take full sun, but it's a good idea to get them acclimated first by placing them in a semi-shady spot for a week or so before placing them in full sun. Realize that you may have to move some plants around until you find just the right mix of sun and shade, especially if you aren't sure what your plants prefer.
A final tip
If you put potted patio plants on saucers to prevent stains from forming on surfaces, keep in mind that the water that collects in those saucers creates the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, so get in the habit of draining them right after you water.
"And if you're wondering whether you should move all your houseplants outside," concludes James, "the answer is almost always 'yes', because they, like me, would much rather be outdoors than in."