We are going to talk about safely moving your houseplants outdoors for the summer. I won’t lie. I don’t take many outside because it would take too long as I have so many. But, I do overwinter a few tropicals and I take those back outside. Let’s talk about how to safely move them outside.

My Example

When I present programs to groups, I’m always asked about taking plants outside for the summer. We talk about slowly acclimating them and I explain that if you took my pasty, pale body outside after a long Michigan winter inside, and plopped me on the patio, I would burn to a crisp. Well, I have proof of that now. I have been sitting on the patio and reading while healing from back surgery. I thought, “It’s a May sun in Michigan. It’s not going to burn me.” Duh! Lesson learned. (P.S. I love Gold Bond medicated lotion and I put some on before bedtime the second day after using Solorcane Aloe, which did nothing long-term and it took the pain away overnight!) 

sunburned foot

Don’t look at my awful nails. I had back surgery and certainly can’t reach them right now.

Plants are the Same

The same goes for plants. After being in the house for the winter and here in Michigan that may be from September through at least May, they aren’t ready for the sun. If I were to plop them on the patio, they would also burn. That includes high light plants such as cacti and other succulents. They also need to become acclimated to the full sun they love.  Did you know your plants can get sunburned inside the house? So, by acclimating your plant you are giving it time to get used to the new outdoor climate. According to Merriam-Webster:

ac·​cli·​mate | \ ˈa-klə-ˌmāt  ; ə-ˈklī-mət-ˌmāt  \
acclimatedacclimating

Definition of acclimating

to adapt (someone) to a new temperature, altitude, climate, environment, or situation
I don’t remember why I set this anthurium out on the porch, but I did, and look what happened. I may have just brought it home, set it down, and forgot to bring it in. (Over age 50 problems.) Whatever happened, it was burned badly by the sun.

This crossandra came into our garden center and after being on a truck, I guess it didn’t like the sun.  

sunburned plant

Sunburned crossandra plant (Photo courtesy of Chelsea Steinkopf)

So, let’s talk about acclimating your plant so you don’t end up with your plant looking like either of the ones above.

How Do I Acclimate my Plant?

Temperature First

First, your plants should not be moved outside until nighttime temperatures are staying above 50 unless you are moving them back in at night, which is fine. Houseplants are subtropical and tropical plants and aren’t happy in temperatures below 50 and are definitely cranky below 40.

Light

Now, let’s discuss the light. They have been inside and so they have become accustomed to the light in our homes, or at least are attempting to. So, these plants need to be put outside in the shade for a couple of weeks. That means on the north side of your house, under an evergreen or already leafed out deciduous tree, or on a covered porch. Leave them there and they will become used to being in more light. Gradually move them into more light as time goes by. If your plant is normally a low light plant, don’t ever move it into a full sun situation. Some plants would prefer to be left under the evergreen or deciduous tree for the summer with a bit of shade.

Wind Is a Factor

Make sure you aren’t placing your plant in an area that is a wind tunnel because this will not only dry them out faster, it may knock them over. I learned that the hard way with a large beautiful standard hibiscus which blew over and broke the ceramic pot it was growing in. The plant survived, but the pot was in the trash. Plastic pots are much lighter and so will blow over more easily. 

Water

Now that your plant is outside getting more sun and wind, make sure you are checking it daily for watering needs. Just because you’ve moved it outside, don’t assume the rain will be sufficient to keep it moist. Also, check the root systems of your plants. If they are rootbound, up-pot them before taking them outside. That will help with not having to water as often. Also, make sure your pot has a drainage hole. There is nothing worse than finding your plant sitting in a pot of mud and drowning because the water could not get out of the pot. If you have a plant that doesn’t have a drainage hole, make sure it is under a covering of some sort. 

My Plants Moved Out

I moved my Canary Island or Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis) outside this week to my east-facing front porch and it will receive no direct sunlight on this wall.  I’m amazed it even made it through the winter because in the past this plant was a spider mite magnet that I could not grow inside. I made sure to keep it well-watered this winter and kept the spider mites at bay. This is where it hung all last summer, so back it goes.

Hedera canariensis

I moved my ivy back to the front porch this week.

I also moved my overwintered passion vine to the front porch and will eventually move it to the sun so it will flower. I also have to move a gardenia, a Meyeri asparagus fern, and a ‘Gryphon’ begonia. They are too heavy for me to lift so I’m waiting for help, so I’m waiting patiently.

passionflower vine

This passionflower is ready to get outside and start growing!

The ‘Gryphon’ Begonia below was outside on the front porch and was huge all last summer. I brought it inside and it started to slowly die. I cut it completely off at the soil line and forgot about it. It came back and it isn’t huge, but once it gets back outside, it will do fine.

'Griffon' Begonia

This ‘Griffon’ begonia is waiting to go outside.

Check Often for Pests

Make sure as the summer progresses you keep your eye out for pests. And I’m not just talking about the normal houseplant pests like aphids and mealybugs. At my house, it might be deer or bunnies or groundhogs chewing on my plants. So, if you think that may be a problem, make sure they are sprayed with a pest repellent or it would be best to keep them up where the bunnies or groundhogs, thought they do climb,  can’t get them. Hopefully, you don’t have the deer problem as we do here in SE Michigan. A good way to keep unwanted pests such as earthworms and roly-polys out of your pots is to place them on pot feet so there is space between the bottom of the pot and the ground.

Something to Consider

Something that needs to be considered before summering your houseplants outside, is the fact that yes, they will love it, but they may not be happy when they come back in for the fall and winter. They may drop leaves and sulk for a bit until they get acclimated to coming back into our low-light homes. It may be worth it for you. 

I hope your houseplant moving is successful, safe, and worry-free!

Have a nice week!

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