View from the Garden: Indoors vs. Outdoors

Photo: Kiya/123rf

I haven’t always been a fan of houseplants. Their leaves become dusty, they rely on you for water. They can feel like a burden. But I had the use of a greenhouse a number of years ago and I fell in love with a few beauties I couldn’t live without. My heretofore plantless house is now inundated.

This past winter I snagged a calathea lancefolio, more commonly known as a rattlesnake plant. It has long leaves, the undersides of which are a deep purple color. I love plants with dramatic foliage. I also have a small collection of succulents.

As we trudge through this wet and rainy spring, it will soon be time to move some—but not all—of my treasures outside for the summer.

When the night temperatures are reliably averaging 50°, the journey outside can commence. I have too many plants to use the “hardening off” method whereby one incrementally increases the plants’ exposure to direct sunlight by moving them outside for a portion of the day. I place all of my plants in a shady spot and move them every few days into more sun. Most end up on a patio table under an umbrella where the sunlight changes slowly throughout the day, but is never too intense.

The plants’ final location depends on the amount of sun each one needs. Dappled sunlight is best for many of my plants, except for the succulents. Those babies I set up in a sunny, but not full-sun-all-day, spot.

The blue rabbit fern I have does best in the shade. I’d thought I wasn’t an orchid person until I saw the most enchanting cymbidium orchid that favors low sun. I also have a brassia variety that will keep the fern company.

Weather is a factor that must be considered when deciding which plants to expose to the elements. Too much wind can burn leaves and knock plants over, potentially crushing leaves and buds and break stems. Too much rain can break or damage leaves or drown roots. More delicate plants, like African violets, don’t respond well to these kinds of stresses. Ergo, leave them inside.

Indoor plants will need to be watered and fertilized more frequently when outside—beware of overdoing both. The nice thing about succulents is they can withstand getting dry between waterings. (Sometimes I can’t get to them as often as I should.)

Once you get your plants acclimated to the great outdoors, it’s an opportune time to transplant them into larger pots, if necessary. Use pots that are about 1” bigger than the current ones. I like to remove some old soil and loosen up the roots, if it looks like they’ve become root-bound. Be sure to use the correct soil for each plant. Potting soil is good for most houseplants but succulents and orchids need their own mixes.

I dream of having a greenhouse and of the plants I could grow and collect and keep there. It would have a door on each end that I could open to let the breeze blow through. But even when I had one to use, I took some plants outside anyway. Outside is their natural habitat, after all.

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