Just like kids on school holidays, your houseplants may want to go outside to play. And like your children, don’t leave them in the blazing sun all day without sunscreen. Well… there’s no such thing as SPF 30 for houseplants, so you’ll need to make other adjustments.
If you haven’t brought out your houseplants yet, now is the time to start thinking about it. Plants have very different light needs and many indoor plants are popular because they can stand on a table in the living room without direct light. These thrive best on a covered porch in the summer, not a sunny patio.
But even plants that thrive outdoors in full sun need to be brought outdoors slowly. I have a pot fig tree that I bring inside every winter. It sheds its leaves and naps, so I keep it in a cold basement, which it seems to like. I water it once a month in the winter as the low humidity indoors would dry out its roots if I didn’t give it a little water. In March I bring the fig upstairs to a cool, bright room. Soon her buds will swell and she will produce leaves.
When all danger of frost has passed I take our fig outside and put it on the patio we have on the north side of the house which just gets morning sun. After a few weeks of morning sun I move it to the lower deck which gets more sun and it generally rewards me with some tasty figs before the frost. This year I put it in the afternoon sun too early and the leaves showed signs of sunburn. They yellowed and some got brown edges. It will recover, but it just reminds me how sensitive leaves are to strong sun. It can punish me this year without figs.
If you’re interested in growing figs, you should check out Lee Reich’s book, Growing Figs in Cold Climates. It covers cultivar selection, overwintering and pruning techniques, even how to tell when your figs are ripe. It is in paperback and illustrated with beautiful photos. Lee lives in upstate New York and was a gardening writer at the Associated Press until his recent retirement. Visit his website and blog at https://www.leereich.com.
My potted banana tree has been outdoors on my north-facing patio for several weeks, and I move them further into the sun from time to time. It’s a tropical plant and can take a lot of sun, but again, I’m careful not to shock it too soon with too much sun. Unlike my fig tree, I bought it knowing that the banana will never bear fruit. But I love its big, broad leaves and that it brings back memories of my time in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.
If you have your houseplants outdoors, be careful not to let Mother Nature overwater them. When we got an inch and a half of rain I walked around to look at my houseplants that were sitting in saucers draining excess water. Water in a saucer is sucked up into a pot by capillary action – or even greedy roots sneaking out through holes in the bottom of a pot. Most houseplants don’t need as much water as garden plants, and constantly wet roots tend to rot.
What about bugs that get on your houseplants if you leave them outside? Yes, you will likely get some aphids. But other insects like ladybugs will likely keep them at bay throughout the summer. You will need to hose down your plants vigorously at the end of summer to wash off any remaining aphids and/or their eggs. Or you can spray them with a diluted soap solution that will kill the aphids. Things like Safer brand insect killer soap are safe and legal for organic gardeners. It dissolves the fats in their outer shell, and they become dehydrated and die.
Scale insects are another pest your houseplants can encounter while enjoying life outside — although you can get them indoors too. Scale insects are a group of about 8,000 species of insects that suck sap from your plants and may excrete honeydew, which attracts black mold that you may notice first.
Most scale insects are small, less than half an inch, and have a single shell of wax that covers them as they suck the plant’s juices. The shell can be one of many different colors. But if you see them early, you can easily get rid of them by wiping them with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. I only got them once.
Can you take your houseplants out of their pots and plant them in the ground? You bet. But if you do, they will get bigger in the summer and may not fit in their pots, come out in the fall or not so easily. But if you don’t mind potting plants and want your geraniums, for example, to thrive, plant a few in the ground. Real earth and sun? This is what indoor plants dream of.