Ask a local master gardener: Can I bring house plants outside?

  • Various green house plants beside the window Sagar Simkhada—Getty Images/iStockphoto

For the Gazette
Published: 6/13/2019 4:38:58 PM
Modified: 6/13/2019 4:38:48 PM

Q: I bought some indoor plants over the winter. Now that it’s warmed up outside, can I bring them onto my porch? —N.B. Leeds

 

A: I love that you want to bring the inside out, N. B.  We often forget that nature never made a houseplant — we humans did. What we use for indoor plants here in New England are actually plants that live outdoors elsewhere in the world, often in tropical places.  

So, yes, bring them outside! Most houseplants can be brought outside between now and September. Keep in mind, your indoor environment is quite different from your outdoor environment so they will need time to adapt. I would only move your indoor plants outside if there is an appropriate place where they will be happy.  Here are a few points to consider:

Light

The intensity of sunlight is significantly greater outdoors than indoors. Porches have a roof over them which will help your plants transition well. Most indoor plants like bright indirect light and putting them in direct sunlight, such as on a deck, will likely burn their leaves — no sunscreen for them!  

Acclimation

Aside from light, outdoor temperatures range much more than in our homes. Our home interiors are typically between 65-72 degree F. Outdoors, daytime temps here in the Valley are now in the 70s and 80s, higher than indoors, and our nighttime temps remain in the 50s, much cooler than inside our homes. Plants need to adapt to this large temperature range. 

To help transition your plants to both new lighting and new temperatures, bring your indoor plants outside to shade during the day and bring them in at night for 1 – 2 weeks. After that, shade-loving indoor plants can stay in the shade and bright light plants (no direct sun) can be brought to similar light levels outdoors, such as at the edges of your porch.

Location

Have air plants? You can have fun hanging Air plants (Tillandsia) from a tree branch to keep it in the shade. For most others, a covered porch is ideal. If your plants like bright indirect light, make sure your porch is not on the shady North side surrounded by shrubs. I find I often need to rotate plants I put in the middle of my porch as they lean toward the light at the edges, even if they are shade-loving plants.

Maintenance

Indoor plants still need you to water them outside, probably more so as more air is circulating and wicking away moisture. Check on them regularly. Also, check them for pests such as aphids and slugs.

A great place to go if you would like to learn more about the origins of many of our houseplants is the Smith College Botanic Garden. If you check out their Warm Temperate Room, you will get to experience a bit of their natural habitat and read the tags to learn their origin.  

Hope this helps, N.B.  Thanks for asking a (local) master gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at AskAMasterGardener@wmmga.org. One question will be answered per week. wmmga.org




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