Risks & Rewards of Giving Your Houseplants an Outdoor Summer Vacation

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Aloe and other houseplants in protected location for summer; begonia in Fiskars planter

Living indoors can be rough on plants. It is not as though houseplants evolved to live indoors.

Rather, humans have chosen to bring the outdoors inside by potting up plants and scattering them through their indoor living spaces. If you have ever been fortunate enough to visit a tropical island like Hawai’i, you have probably seen many favorite indoor plants thriving in outdoor gardens. Although it is unlikely any of us would ever ship our plants off to vacation on a tropical island, it is quite possible we would set them outdoors during the warmer months of summer. But, is this always a good idea?

Most sold as “indoor” plants will survive in our homes, but nevertheless, thriving inside can be a challenge for them. They optimize whatever minimal sunlight our windows provide. They put up with accumulating dust, which no rain ever washes from their leaves. They persist despite attacks from pesky pets. They tolerate the dry air our indoor heating creates. They eek out a living in whatever small pot filled with ever-depleting soil we give them.  If they are lucky, they endure despite our over- or under-watering schedules. They struggle as fertilization salts build up in their tiny root-bound spaces. And, many are further assaulted by a multitude of pests and diseases that readily attack stressed plants.

With a life like that, what houseplant wouldn’t flourish outside in summer?

Setting plants outdoors for summer is often a great way to perk them up. Sometime in spring, most houseplants will benefit from repotting. Because pots create restrictive root zones for plants and because plants will deplete potting soil of nutrients and because added fertilizers can build up salts in potting soil, it’s a good idea to break up the roots and change out the soil about once a year. Doing this soil exchange outside helps keep your workspace clean and may make for the perfect opening to your houseplant outdoor holiday.

 

Begonia houseplant

 

Whether you repot your plants for the season or not, take care when transitioning any houseplants to an outdoor location. If temperatures are still getting chilly at night or in flux from day-to-day, hold off on moving your houseplants outside. One cold day or night can severely burn or even kill a tender plant acclimated to indoor living. 

When choosing the garden summer retreat spot for your indoor plants, choose areas that offer a bit of protection. Too much direct sunlight, a heavy rain or a big wind may inflict irreparable damage. Integrating houseplants onto a protected porch or deck or tucking their containers into spots under trees that will break rainfall, wind and dapple sunlight may be your best options.

As summer winds down, plan to bring your houseplants back indoors. Do not wait until a freeze or heavy rains damage your plants. Instead, bring them in while they still look fantastic. Before bringing them inside, inspect them carefully for unwanted insects, fungal infections or other blights. It is likely they’ll pick up a few of these unwelcome hitchhikers while away from home. Wash their leaves and stems thoroughly. Water them well, allowing the moisture to drain out, cut out any damaged or diseased portions, and compost any plants past revival. Give your containers a good scrubbing to brighten them up and remove crusty detritus. Then, bring them home where they will freshen the air and keep your home feeling green throughout the winter months ahead.