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Moving Houseplants Outdoors for a Summer Vacation

Linda Stein, Dakota County Master Gardener

You have been enjoying your indoor plants during our long, cold winter. But soon it will be time to think about transitioning some of those plants outdoors. March might seem a bit early to think about moving your indoor plants to the outdoors but plants do require a transition time and warm weather will be here sooner than you think. There are many reasons that you might move your houseplants outdoors for the summer. But there are several things to consider to ensure that your plants flourish as a result of this move.

Moving Houseplants Outdoors for a Summer Vacation

As we plan our outdoor gardens, we consider which plants can survive in the different environments in our yards, taking into account the amount of sun and the type of soil.  When we obtain plants for inside our homes, we are selecting plants that can survive in the environment inside our homes.  These plants do not require full sun.  But they can definitely benefit from a visit outdoors.

Why would you want to bring your houseplants outdoors?

  1. Sun

First of all, the plants can benefit from the stronger sun rays.  The strength of the sun’s rays is significantly stronger outdoors even than the sun a plant receives when placed by a south-facing window.  

Easter Cactus moved outdoors bloomed for the first time

  1. Rain

Secondly, the plants can benefit from rainfall.  Slightly acidic ph is better for overall soil health and makes nutrients more available.  Rain water generally has a ph between 5.0 and 5.5. (The acidity scale runs from 0 to 14 with lower levels indicating high acid levels and higher levels more alkaline.)  The acidity of tap water varies among communities but generally has a ph between 6 and 8.5.  So, the acidity level of rain can strengthen plants.  Rainwater also contains nutrients that can benefit the plants themselves.  In addition, rain can wash the dust and other particles that have been collected on your houseplants.

  1. They’re Pretty!

Finally, houseplants can be used to beautify your deck or patio and eliminate or reduce the need to purchase plants that you will discard at the end of summer.  The plants can also be incorporated into your garden, either directly in the ground or by placing the potted plant among your outdoor plants.

Things to Think About

Temperature: The move outdoors shouldn’t begin until the temperature is above 50 or 60 degrees.

Phases: Make the move in phases.  First move all your plants to a shady area, even those plants that can benefit from stronger sunlight. Keep plants that prefer shade (those plants that weren’t kept near a south-facing window), in this location.  Other plants should be moved to a sunny location over the course of a week or 10 days.

Water: Plants do require a difference in care outdoors than indoors.  First of all, plants grow more quickly during the summer months and this growth spurt will generally be intensified when plants are placed outdoors. Therefore, plants will require more water and more fertilizer.  The amount of water and the frequency of watering will depend on the type of plant, the type of pot (clay pots are porous and therefore moisture will escape through the pots while water in plastic pots can only be absorbed in the soil and can only escape through drainage holes), and other factors such as the amount of rain and humidity.  Water your plants on their schedule, not yours. Check to see if your plant needs watering by sticking a finger about ½ inch into the soil. If the soil is dry, water. 

Fertilizer: House plants should not be fertilized during the winter months.  During those months when there is reduced light and temperature, they experience reduced growth.  However, they will benefit from fertilizer during the summer months.  This is particularly true if the plants have been moved outdoors.  Be sure to use fertilizer that is labeled for indoor plants and follow the instructions on the package regarding the amount and frequency of application.  Too much fertilizer can result in a buildup of salts and excessive, leggy growth.

Repotting: When outside you might want to repot those plants that have become root-bound so you won’t create a mess indoors.  Some signs that your plant may need repotting include, roots growing through the drainage holes, the plant becoming top-heavy, or the plant growing slower than in the past.  When transplanting to another pot, the new pot should only be 1-2 inches larger than the original pot.

The Negatives

Keep in mind things that might negatively impact your plants.  Large rainfalls and heavy winds might have adverse effects on plants.  Remember to consider the amount of rainfall the plants experienced when deciding when your plants need watering.  Watch for heavy winds that might cause large or top-heavy plants to fall over.  Watch for signs that your plants are sun-scorched.  Indications of sun scorch are leaves that become brittle and turn yellow or brown.  Generally, if caught early, you can remove the impacted leaves and move the plants to a shadier location.

Watch for pests that might set up household on your plants or the pots holding your plants.  Many of these pests don’t harm your plants, but you will want to eliminate them before moving your plants back indoors.

Photo Credit: Carol Fuerstneau (1), Linda Stein (2, 3), Steve Greenstein (4)

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