Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This article was originally published in Canadian Garden News in 1988.
As days grow longer and warmer, we start to think more and more about our outdoor gardens and less and less about our houseplants. The poor things become increasingly neglected and, by the time summer is really here and we’re spending all our spare time in the garden, they’re often in real trouble. Dried up. sunburnt and untrimmed, a lot of them look like they’ll never make it through the summer… and, given the stuffy and excessively hot conditions that prevail in our homes during that season, some of them won’t! That’s why it’s often a better idea to put them outdoors and to include them in our regular gardening routine. That way, we tend to take care of them along with the garden plants. Mother Nature will even lend a helping hand from time to time and water them for us!
Which Plants Can Be Put Outdoors?
Just about any of them. Some, such as african violets, gloxinias and rex begonias, have very fragile, easily damaged leaves or flowers and should be completely sheltered from the elements, including strong rain. If they can’t be placed under an overhang, underneath a picnic table or in some other protected spot, leave them inside.
Remember too, that few houseplants can take full sun outdoors. Half shade is plenty for most and a lot will do just fine in full shade on the north side of the house or under bushes or shrubs. Even there, just like the annuals you started indoors, they need hardening off for a few weeks before they can take the outdoor elements. Starting in mid-May put them outdoors in full shade for a few hours each day and gradually increase both the light they receive and the length of time they spend outdoors until they are ready for a permanent site by mid-June. Apartment dwellers using balconies can harden them off by placing them under the shade of lawn chairs until they can take more sun. Even sun-loving cactus need hardening off before they can take the elements.
You can Incorporate your houseplants directly into your garden if you like. Sink the pots into the soil up to their rims when you plant them among annuals, perennials or around shrubs and cover up the soil with bark chips or other decorative mulches to slow down evaporation. On the balcony, try sinking them into flower pots or large planters.
You’ll find that cactus and succulents look just great in the rock garden. Give these pots a twist every few weeks to break off any roots that grow through the drainage holes into the soil around them: otherwise, they will be difficult to dig up later. You can even take some houseplants right out of their pots and plant them directly in the garden if you don’t intend to bring them back inside in the fall.
If you have decorative pots, though, why not show them off? Group the plants together in loose, irregular clusters on the balcony or the patio for the best effect. Often, and especially on a windy balcony, you will find that you have to weigh the pots down with bricks, stones or other weights. Long stems may need staking. Small plants can be placed on picnic tables or garden furniture for a decorative look.
Hanging plants can be suspended from overhangs or from tree branches. Sinking a hook into the branch won’t hurt the tree but do not suspend plants from tree limbs by tying a cord around it as this can permanently mar its form. You’ll have to choose a protected site for this, though, as hanging plants are easily damaged by buffeting winds. Give orchids, bromeliads. rainforest cacti and other epiphytic plants the impression that they are back in their native homelands by tacking their pots to tree trunks or privacy fences. They’ll really appreciate the excellent air circulation they’re getting and may show it with extra flowers.
Potted plants dry out at a rapid rate outdoors, especially those that aren’t mulched, and need regular waterings. In order not to forget them, you may want to place them” near beds of shallow rooted vegetables, such as lettuce, which also require frequent watering. Plants in flowerboxes and hanging pots may need daily watering. You can’t ignore fertilizing either, because the plants’ growth will really take off under the ideal conditions of the summer garden! Regular applications of fertilizer will be necessary. Always apply them at the rates indicated on the package. Insects are much more prevalent on houseplants placed outdoors although the actual damage done is often less because of natural controls. Aphids, thrips and other smaller pests are common on leaves stems and flowers. Earwigs, sowbugs and slugs just love hiding under pots and will come out at night to chomp on your plants.
All good things come to an end and so it is with the summer. Unless it is exceptionally warm, start bringing your plants indoors at the beginning of September before the furnace begins to heat. Spray the leaves with the insecticide soap beforehand in order to kill any insects hiding out on the leaves or stems. By immersing the whole rootball in a solution of warm water with insecticidal soap for 24 hours, you’ll also get rid of soil pests. The plants will have grown so much that they’ll probably need repotting into larger pots and trimming before coming back inside.
Returning to the gloom and dry air of our homes can be quite a shock for our plants and many will react rapidly by dropping their leaves. To combat this, place them in clear plastic bags in a very bright spot for a week or so before gradually moving them to their permanent quarters. Remove the plastic bag just as slowly to give the plants the time to readjust to the drier air indoors. Cactus and succulents often appreciate the cooler fall days and, if the weather is relatively dry, you can leave them outside until frost threatens.
They need no special treatment when brought back indoors.
So take a holiday from your “house”pIants this summer. Grow them outdoors!