Ilene Sternberg is a multiple-award-winning freelance garden writer and co-author of Best Garden Plants for Pennsylvania and Perennials for Pennsylvania.

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Send Your Houseplants to Summer Camp
by Ilene Sternberg    

Your houseplants might benefit from summering outdoors, but they are sensitive to abrupt environmental changes. Here is the proper way to move your indoor plants into the garden.

Just as you have to “harden off” annuals, or any plants moved from a greenhouse, you should move your houseplants to colder temperatures gradually — for instance, a week on an unheated porch or sunroom would work.

Group your houseplant containers by watering needs, and put similar containers together to read as one unified grouping.

Most indoor plants are simply émigrés from warmer climes. When the weather gets close to conditions similar to their native habitats, they can benefit from summering outdoors while significantly enhancing your garden display. But you can’t simply haul them out and shock their little petioles by moving them from their customary accommodations to the chilly, windy, sunny vicissitudes of outdoor living. Just as you have to “harden off” annuals, or, for that matter, any plants moved from a greenhouse, you should move your houseplants to colder temperatures gradually — a week on an unheated porch would be fine. 

As sensitive as they are to temperature changes, they’re equally stunned if moved into full sun too quickly. Without sunblock cream, they’re subject to leaf scorch. (Shade-lovers, of course, should spend the entire summer waving their leafy fingers to us from under a tree or canopy of some sort.)

Try putting them in a wheelbarrow at first so they can be gradually moved to sunnier garden locations. A baby carriage is good, too, since it has that nice hood to protect your more infantile plants. If you go the carriage route, occasionally stick your head inside the pram, and coo — or, better still, sing a lullaby — while you’re wheeling them around. (This has absolutely no effect on the plants, but will really freak out your neighbors.)

Add your houseplants, in their original pots, to your tropical container gardens.

When acclimated, decide where they’ll fit best in your garden scheme. You can unpot them and plunk them into your borders, or sink them pot-and-all into the ground. Or, incorporate them into your container gardens and planters, grouping them with annuals on your terrace or deck. Stage them at varying heights, using pedestals, inverted flowerpots, tables, benches, shelving, tree stumps and such to get the desired effect, being mindful of color, shape, texture and other aesthetics in your arrangement. And, of course, it’s best to keep those with similar cultural requirements together.  

Be creative with containers, too. You can use hollowed-out tree stumps, drainage tiles, kitchenware, buckets, magazine racks, seats of old chairs, wood crates, old shoes and boots (remember to remove old feet before potting), candle holders, baskets, teacups, bowls of all kinds, colanders, carts, wheelbarrows and baby carriages, children’s toys, tin cans (with or without labels), sinks, old cabinets with drawers, hats, helmets, an old charcoal grill, a grand piano — well, you get the picture — almost anything that might hold plants.

After summer winds down, and before temperatures fall below 50 F, get plants ready to move back indoors. If you wait till temperatures get too low, expect lots of leaf drop when pots come home to roost. Repot plants, if necessary, checking roots for worms and other hangers-on. Foliage should be washed and inspected carefully for any hitchhiking pests. (Nothing’s worse than finding an uninvited deer or something clinging to the underside of a leaf when you’ve brought the plant inside.) If necessary, or just as a precaution, spray with Safer® Brand Insect Killing Soap, or a neem- or canola-oil-based product to combat insects. (Fuzzy-leafed plants, however, do not appreciate oil sprays.)

And do listen attentively if your invigorated charges want to regale you with adventures about how they spent their summer vacation.

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2013. Photos by Ilene Sternberg.


Posted: 05/29/13   RSS | Print


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