Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Summer vacation

Break outside results in growth for houseplants

March 30, 2003


As you make plans for your summer vacation, don't forget your houseplants. They will be happy with a vacation a few feet away, outside the back door.

Houseplants thrive outdoors in the summer because of their tropical origins. Heat and humidity are very much to their liking. They respond by putting out new growth at a much faster rate than indoors. Some of this has to do with summer being a time of growth, compared to winter, but much of the rebound to robust growth is a result of better light, more humidity and warmer temperatures.

Brighter light is another consideration but with a few exceptions, blazing sun is not healthy for houseplants because it dries out leaves. Hibiscus and bougainvillea are notable exceptions, as both like direct and hot sun and respond with lots of leaf and flower growth.

A summer outdoors usually means these things will happen to a houseplant:

l Robust growth, so much so that it will likely need re-potting at summer's end.

l Insects likely will find the plant and need to be monitored and dealt with throughout the summer and especially before bringing the plant indoors again.

l Because the plant is growing quickly and is exposed to a lot of air movement, the soil will dry quickly and water may be needed every third day or so. Houseplants are usually situated outdoors in a sheltered place where rainfall does not reach. This means you become the principal source of water.

l Tall plants are susceptible to being blown over by even slight breezes; keeping them in a sheltered place helps but some anchoring is usually advisable. This is especially true for tall plants such as Schefflera, Norfolk, Island pine, Dracaena and Ficus.

While you can be on vacation as soon as the destination is reached, a houseplant isn't quite that nimble. It's quite a transition from indoors to outdoors and most people err by pushing the plant out of the house too quickly. The better course is to first choose a good place for the plant and move it first for a week or so to a spot that gets less light and air than the chosen spot. Watch for any browning or scorching of the leaves that would suggest the plant is getting too much direct sun.

Pay attention to how quickly the soil dries. Remember that the plant is exposed to much more air movement than when it was inside. Plants in clay pots will dry out much more quickly because moisture moves more freely and quickly through clay than plastic.

While these tips may sound daunting, the task of taking a plant outdoors where it can thrive all summer long is really easy. It is just that you have to be careful in not taking it out too soon and watching for signs of too much sun, too little water, insects and so on.

Probably the biggest part of the exercise is bringing the plant back indoors for the winter. In many parts of the country, a killing frost occurs before the plant needs to be back inside full time. Houseplants must be protected from frosty temperatures and the best way to do this is to take them inside or put them in the garage, then back out the next morning after the air has warmed. This is worth doing as typically you'll be able to give the plant another two or three weeks outside.

Be prepared to put the plant in a bigger pot. Most houseplants prefer their roots snug in a pot and this suggests moving to a pot only one size larger than the original one. Use commercial houseplant soil and not potting soil or soil from the garden. Soil blended for houseplants is light in weight and has the right blend of ingredients to provide a rooting mix that keeps oxygen, nutrients and moisture present where roots can use them. Regular potting soils and especially garden soils are much too heavy for houseplants.

Check the plant carefully for any insects that may have taken up residence. While there are usually some, their presence is seldom a problem. There may be so few they can be picked off, or the whole plant treated with an insecticide labeled for the particular plant. Read and follow instructions on the label to be sure the product is safe for the plant and will eradicate the insects in question.

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