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BONNIE’S GARDEN – Moving Indoor Plants Outside for the Summer

By Bonnie Pega
Bonnie's Garden

It’s May—Finally! All danger of frost is past, right? Not exactly.

We did have a surprise frost last year in mid-May!!!  Normally, we’re pretty safe in considering ourselves out of the woods now.  And I’m proving it by moving my orchids, citrus, and other houseplants outside for the summer.  After last year, however, I’m going to move them all onto the shaded patio for the next couple of weeks so I can easily bring them back inside if necessary…

Don’t Sunburn Your Plants

In the 36 years I’ve been with the Great Big Greenhouse, do you know how many customers I’ve seen bring in leaves or pictures of leaves with bleached patches or brown patches on them in late May?  It’s sunscald or sunburn caused by putting indoor plants out into the direct sun.

Remember, even the plants in the sunny windows inside have had a ceiling overhead—so they have been getting NO direct overhead sunlight. Putting them out in the overhead sun, well, it’s a bit like going to the beach for a weekend in May—without sunscreen.  Even my sun-loving houseplants—like citrus and succulents—will go outside into mostly shade for a few days before I begin to inch them into more sun.  My medium light plants will go into the dappled shade under trees and STAY THERE.

Okay, My Plants are Outside. Now What?

So, with all your plants outside for the summer, you can forget about them, right?  Well—no!

Watering needs change now that they’re in better light, better air circulation, and fluctuating temperatures.  And plants respond to better light by actively growing, so feeding on occasion is a good idea.  Just be sure to use the right formulation for your plants.

Most blooming plants, except for orchids, can be fertilized with an African violet food (it is a blossom booster, after all).  Orchids, on the other hand, should be fed with 20-20-20 half-strength, half as often as the label says.

Succulents and cacti should be fertilized with half-strength even numbers like 10-10-10.  Palms, ficus, ferns, and other plants that are grown for the beauty of their foliage can be fed with regular strength even numbers.

Do You Need to Repot?

The beginning of the growing season is a good time to repot a plant—if necessary.  How do you know if you need to?

If you find a plant is drying out a lot faster than usual, it may be telling you there just isn’t enough soil to hold moisture for the plant.  At that point, you can go up ONE size (about an inch) if necessary.  If you’re able to get by with one good watering a week, however, you probably don’t need to repot.

Plants that grow sideways—like snake plants—should be repotted when the new shoots are touching the sides of the pot.  If they need to be divided, this would also be an ideal time.

You Might Need to Prune

Over the winter indoors, some of your higher light indoor trees (like ficus and scheffleras) might have gotten a little lean and leggy so now is a good time to do some pruning and shaping, if necessary. On plants like ficus, scheffleras, tropical hibiscus prune leggy stems to right above a leaf node (a node is where the leaf attaches to the stem).  New growth appears from the nodes.

For soft-stemmed plants (like philodendron or ivy) you can pinch them back to just above a node.

There are a few plants that should not be pruned.  Norfolk Island Pines do NOT branch, so if you cut them back they will begin growing SIDEWAYS.  Orchids should never be pruned except by someone experienced with orchids.

When in doubt, you can always call us or stop by. That’s what we’re here for.

To read more from Bonnie, visit our blog

8 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – Moving Indoor Plants Outside for the Summer

  1. Last year, I pruned my tropical hibiscus when I put them outside. One bloomed late in the summer a couple of blooms. The other plant never boomed. Both were feed same liquid fertilizer, same amount of sun, same water from rain barrel. Why would they not bloom? Plenty of foliage. I checked to be sure they were getting balanced food, not too high nitrogen.

  2. Tropical hibiscus, to bloom best, should be in FULL ALL DAY LONG sun–of course you’ll need to move them into it gradually so as to avoid sunscald. When you feed them, feed them an African violet food–it is a blossom booster. While you do want to prune them back a bit in the spring, you may want to prune a few weeks earlier–around the first to the middle of April.

  3. I have a lot of cactus and succulents. Grow lights in winter. Outside in summer.
    In proper lighting of course. With newer items coming out do you recommend a good fertilizer?

  4. My daughter gave me a large Peace Lily. Several leaves and flowers
    have turned brown and dried off. I am checking to make sure I am not over watering. The plant is not in direct sunlight but near a
    window so it receives light. I also gave it some fertilizer two weeks
    ago. What am I doing wrong? Thanks

  5. Hi Betty–Cacti and succulents do appreciate a little fertilizer on occasion. Feed with even numbers (20-20-20) half strength, half as often as as the label suggests. Succulents are not fast growers and are native to areas with relatively poor soil. For a cactus like a Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter cactus, you could feed with half-strength African violet food.

  6. Eva, the secret with peace lilies is to water correctly. Allow the soil to dry out several inches down however NEVER EVER allow the plant to wilt. When you do water, be sure to water so that water trickles out the drainage holes at the bottom, just don’t let them continue to sit in water.

    Even though they are sold as lower light plants, they will perform their best in “African violet” light–a couple of hours of early morning sun (before 11) or later afternoon sun (after 2:30).

    I would not fertilize anymore for a while. Feeding is what you do to a healthy actively growing plant–not one that’s under stress. It can stress it further.

    You can always bring it by here for us to look at and diagnose…

  7. my indoor plants I put outdoors before May. After I put outdoor, the leaves turned brown. Please tell me what should I do to make the leaves green again. Also I plant azeleas every year. They seem to die, (one year or less). I plant rodadendrams. The same thing happens. What can I do? Please tell me where are you located. Maybe I can drive there to meet and talk to you. I thank you for any suggestions.

  8. Hi Brenda–I’ll take a look at your pictures when I get them. In the meantime, I’m going to try to figure out what is going on with your azaleas–first–are you planting them in mostly shade? They don’t like hot afternoon sun. Second–they need acidic soil (so do rhododendrons) so have it checked to see if yours is. Any time you first plant a shrub, you’ll need to stay on top of the watering–a couple of good deep waterings a week–not a light sprinkle every day. When you buy a shrub and you begin to have problems with it, immediately take a sample of it to where you bought it from to see if they can identify a problem. A good reputable garden center will have a “warranty” on your plants so buy them at a good garden center–not Walmart or Lowes!

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