By Linda Cornish Blank, Extension Master Gardener
At the end of a long winter indoors, houseplants often become spindly and tired-looking. You can renew your plants by moving them outdoors for the summer. Finding the right spot for their “summer vacation” is key.
Moving houseplants outdoors requires the plants to acclimate to their new environment. Be patient, as initially upon moving, houseplants may become droopy and experience minor defoliation. This should subside within ten to twelve days as plants adjust to their new location. Keep in mind that each time you move plants they will experience an acclimatization period. Properly acclimating plants to a new environment is important for health and growth.
Temperature, light, and wind are major factors in how houseplants adjust to the outdoors.
When to Move:
Moving houseplants outdoors is best done between mid-May and mid-June with nighttime temperatures consistently above 50°F. In the fall, you should move the plants back indoors between mid-October and early November, before the nighttime temperatures are consistently below 50°F.
Where to Move:
To acclimate plants to the outdoors for summer, place them in a shaded spot or one with dappled sunlight. Sheltered porches and patios, spots adjacent to fences, or areas under shrubbery or leafy trees are good locations. The plants should not t initially be exposed to direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can easily burn plants, even if that light is for a short time each day, and can cause severe damage.
Houseplants requiring lower light levels can remain in a shaded or dappled spot for the summer months. Sun-loving houseplants can be moved, over a two to three week period, to a sunnier location. An area with two to four hours of morning sun is a good choice for many houseplants.
If the sunny spot you select is one with afternoon sun, you will need to monitor the length of time the plants are in direct sunlight. Ideally, the area would alternate between periods of sun and partial shade throughout the afternoon. Most houseplants could not tolerate an entire afternoon of direct summer sun. Their leaves would burn and the soil, particularly in smaller pots, would quickly dry out.
Summer flowering houseplants will need adequate sunlight. Without enough light, flowering will be reduced. The same applies to fruit-bearing plants like potted lemon trees. A location with morning sun or one with limited afternoon sun as described above are good choices.
Avoid placing houseplants in exposed windy areas, which make acclimation to the outdoors more difficult. Containers are more likely to blow over, leaves can be easily torn, and plants in windy locations typically need more frequent watering. Protecting plants from wind is another reason why the sheltered locations mentioned above are good choices.
While not an environmental factor, houseplants can be strategically placed to enhance and beautify an outdoor area. Consider the overall landscape setting, where time is spent outdoors in the summer, and views from indoors. Put your plants where they can be both enjoyed and monitored for growth and health.
Finally, be sure to choose an area that is free from debris. Check to ensure no insect nests or ant mounds are present. Placing houseplants near an unseen anthill could result in ants invading the container in search of food and water.
Fertilizing and Watering
Houseplants moved outdoors require fertilizing and watering more often than when they are indoors. With increased outdoor light levels, plants are actively growing. Fertilize plants regularly as they grow. Be sure to read and follow fertilizer label instructions. Be careful not to over fertilize. Remember that long, drenching rains may wash a lot of nutrients out of your soil.
Soil in containers outdoors can dry out quickly especially during hot spells. Check the pots regularly for moisture levels. Every other day is probably a good starting point. In deciding when you should water, feel the soil by pushing a finger an inch or so below the surface. If the soil is still moist, no further water is needed.
Summer rains can often provide needed water. However, if there are extended periods of rain or heavy downpours, container soil can become saturated even with proper drainage holes in the pot. Check the moisture level. You may need to move containers to a spot sheltered from rain.
Be aware that you will contend with pests on your houseplants when they are outdoors. Putting fine netting on the bottom of a container will keep slugs and larger insects from entering the container. Inspect your plants regularly; remove pests.
Condition and Appearance
Summer is a good time to evaluate the condition and appearance of your houseplants. Keep your plants well groomed; remove spent flower heads and dead leaves, repot, divide or propagate, and prune as needed.
Spindly plants that were repotted or propagated the previous autumn can be pruned and cuttings propagated or composted. Plants that are pot-bound, that is having extensive root growth out of the pot’s drainage holes, will need to be repotted. Other signs that plants may be pot-bound are the need for too frequent watering and poor growth. Use a container approximately 1” larger in size for repotting or divide the plant into several smaller plants and pot in individual containers. Use a good quality potting mix.
Before creating new houseplants through propagation or division, consider the number of plants you can accommodate in your home. Plants growing outdoors over the summer will need more space once back in your home due to their larger size. Houseplants make nice gifts to share with family and friends, so this may be an option for your newly created plants.
Take advantage of the warm summer months to renew your houseplants by moving them outdoors. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort.
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. “Indoor Plants – Moving Plants Indoors & Outdoors.” Factsheet HGIC 1454. September 21, 1999.
- Colorado State University Extension. Plant Talk Colorado. “1332-Moving Houseplants Outdoors.” Accessed April 2021.
- University of Georgia Extension. Growing Indoor Plants with Success. Bulletin 1318. Published with Full Review May 27, 2020.
- University of Maryland Extension. Selection and Care of Indoor Plants. Moving Indoor Plants Outside. “Renewing houseplants with a summer outdoors.” January 15, 2021.