Gardening Houseplants Palms Patio plants

Patio Plants Need “Shorts and Sandals” Weather

A novice gardener placed her palm outside for the summer
back in frosty April. Why is it not growing?

By Larry Hodgson

Question: Back in April, I bought a palm tree as a patio plant from a big box store nearby and put it on my deck. It hasn’t grown at all and the leaves are turning brown. Yet I watered carefully, only when the soil was dry, as the clerk explained. And gave it plenty of sun. Where did I go wrong?

Diana T.
Guelph, Ontario

Answer: You went wrong by placing it outdoors!

April is far too early for a tropical plant like a palm to be outdoors in a cold climate like yours. Your palm was probably a majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis), the most common patio palm these days. It’s from Madagascar and comes from a region where temperatures are warm to hot at all times. Don’t expose it to temperatures any lower than 50°F (15°C). In fact, it prefers temperatures no lower than 65°F (18°C). And it certainly won’t do well if you leave it out in the cold for days at a time, as was likely the case. There was probably even frost more than once over that time.

Shorts and Sandals Weather

As to why the store was selling a tropical palm as a patio plant in Ontario in April when frosty nights are practically a given, well. . .

Business is business, some might say. I’m not so forgiving. Especially when, apparently, the clerk took the time to explain how to water it and what its light needs are. You certainly would have appreciated a word of warning about the plant’s need for warmth . . . But then, you probably wouldn’t have bought it.

So, I can only assume the store’s policy is . . . if they don’t ask, we don’t tell. Unfortunately, that is apparently the kind of service you can expect in some stores these days.

Majesty palm indoors near radiator.
You should keep a majesty palm indoors until shorts and sandals weather outdoors. Photo: v

Ideally, you would have kept yours indoors in April and started acclimatizing it to full summer sun on warmer days in May. If you can wear shorts and sandals without goosebumps, your palm can be outdoors. By late May, you’ll probably have periods of several days in a row where you could leave it outdoors all night. But also a few nights when you still have to move it indoors. You really could only move it safely outdoors for the summer in June . . . and maybe not until mid-June if your summer starts out cool.

Your palm is dead by now. Buy another one. And in the future, think “shorts and sandals” when it comes to putting tropical plants outside for the summer.

3 comments on “Patio Plants Need “Shorts and Sandals” Weather

  1. Mark Timm

    Helpful easy-to-follow tip, thanks!

  2. Some of my best houseplants were landscape plants that I brought back from the Los Angeles region.

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