Released April 1, 2008
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Nature never created a houseplant. The plants we call houseplants are native to various, generally tropical, areas of the world, and in all cases their natural habitat is outdoors. It’s not surprising, then, that houseplants moved outside during the warm summer months grow better and more vigorously than those kept inside.
For this reason, we often provide some R&R for our houseplants by moving them outside this time of the year. Houseplants may be moved to outside locations and left there until the weather begins to get cold in fall or just for a few months’ vacation.
Plants form an important part of our indoor environment, so you may not want to move them all outside. Houseplants that have not been doing well, those that you want to encourage to grow or bloom better or those that need rejuvenation will particularly benefit from some time outside.
A light touch
Moving houseplants outside can be a little tricky. The plants become accustomed to lower light conditions while indoors. Initially, move houseplants outside to shady locations where they receive no direct sunlight. Plants that like low-light conditions will stay in those locations all summer. Others that prefer more light can gradually be introduced to some direct sun over the next couple of weeks.
Eventually, sun-loving houseplants – like bougainvillea, hibiscus, plumeria, tibouchina, cactuses and some orchids – can be placed in locations that get about 6 hours of direct sun. Be careful – even sun-loving houseplants may burn if put in a sunny location as soon as they come out of the house.
Once outside, most houseplants would enjoy a good rinsing off with the garden hose. You can clean away months of indoor dust by doing this.
Now is also a good time to begin to look at which plants might need to be repotted. If you need new pots, check out local nurseries and pick out what you need. Don’t forget the principle of hand-me-downs. I always had to wear my older brother’s clothes when he outgrew them – and you can do same thing with houseplants. As you shift one plant into a larger container, you can repot another houseplant into the now-available smaller pot. So you might not need a new pot for every plant you intend to repot. And don’t forget to stock up on potting soil
How do you tell if a plant needs to be repotted? Look for a solid mass of roots on the soil surface and/or roots coming out of the drainage hole. You can also lay the pot on its side and gently pull out the plant and its root ball to check the roots.
If you see a solid mass of roots, it’s time to repot, but you don’t necessarily have to. A root-bound condition tends to slow down a plant’s the growth. While sounds bad, it may be an advantage if the plant is already about as big as you want it to be. Being root-bound means you have to water more often and fertilize occasionally, but if the plant is healthy and looks good, repotting is optional.
Houseplants that are moved outside will likely need to be watered more frequently than when they were indoors. Air movement, brighter light and faster growth all contribute to faster water use by plants in containers. Feel the soil often and monitor the soil moisture carefully until you establish a watering schedule. As the temperatures rise, you may need to water even more often. Daily watering is not unusual, especially for plants in smaller containers.
Plants moved outside for the summer generally grow vigorously, so if you want to encourage that growth, it’s a good idea to fertilize them. Fertilization is especially important to plants that are growing in soilless potting mixes, are root-bound, or seem pale and lack vigor. It’s generally optional to fertilize plants that appear healthy and vigorous and are already as large as you want them to be.
You don’t need a bunch of different fertilizers for your houseplants. One general-purpose houseplant food will generally do the trick. One option is to use your favorite soluble fertilizer that’s dissolved in water when it’s applied. (One with a 20-20-20 analysis is good for just about everything.) These are generally applied every two weeks through the growing season. Slow-release and houseplant-spike formulations, on the other hand, feed slowly over a long period and don’t have to be applied constantly like the solubles. Solubles are great for gardeners who like to fuss; slow releases are for those who would rather not have to remember to fertilize every two weeks.
If you have houseplants that have been languishing indoors, try giving them some time outside this summer. You often will be amazed as nature transforms your houseplants into the happy, vigorous plants they were meant to be.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.
Contact: Dan Gill, (225) 578-2222, firstname.lastname@example.org
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