If your leafy housemates look a little droopy after a winter indoors (hey, don’t we all?), give them a boost of sunlight, fresh air, and rainwater by moving your indoor plants outside for summer. Before you carry them straight out the back door to soak up some rays, though, take a pause: Indoor plants need to be acclimated to warm weather. In the same way that a sunny spring break can leave you hot, tired, and possibly sunburned after months of hibernation, plants also face the risk of leaf scorch and shock if they go from indoors to out without proper planning.
The good news is, it’s a relatively straightforward process that, when done correctly, will have your indoor plants looking better than ever.
Time It Right
While it might be tempting to ship indoor plants outside at the first sign of spring, it’s best to wait until nighttime temperatures stay at or above 60°F, and after any threat of frost has passed. If you’re planning ahead, use the average last frost date for your area as your guide. Then, once the time has come, pay attention to the weather forecast. If a late-season cold snap approaches, bring the gang back indoors—just keep them isolated from any plants that stay inside permanently, in case any outdoor pests have come along for the ride.
Take It Slow
Indoor plants need a gradual introduction to the great outdoors. Begin by placing them outside for a few hours per day, then work your way up to an entire 24-hour period. Place your plants in a spot that protects them from all of the elements they’re not used to: strong winds, heavy rain, and tons of direct sun (more on that below).
Throw Some Shade
A mere hour of direct outdoor light is enough to scorch the leaves of an indoor plant that’s been moved outside but isn’t acclimated to its new surroundings yet, and recovery can take months. Spare your plants this unpleasant fate by starting them in heavy shade, such as against your house or under a tree with northern or eastern exposure, for several days. Next, move them into dappled shade for a few more days, then ultimately place them in their preferred lighting.
Feed and Water
Once your indoor plants are acclimated to life outside, support their active summer growth by feeding them nutrient-rich Miracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food (following all label directions). And remember, with the windy, hot weather outdoors, potted plants will likely need to be watered more often than they do back inside—perhaps even daily during the dog days of summer. Check your plants frequently and water as needed depending on the types of plants you have. For example, succulents may relish the hot, dry weather while your peace lily feels parched. Cater to your plants’ individual needs and you’ll finish the season with a lot of happy campers.
Repot if Needed
Your potted plants are likely to see a growth spurt during their time outdoors, which means they may need a late-summer repotting sesh. Look for signs your plants have outgrown their current containers—like visible roots above the soil or coming out the drainage holes—and then find the perfect replacement pot based on your plants’ sizes and needs. Know though, that most plants should only move into a container that’s 1 to 3 inches larger in diameter than what they’re currently dwelling in.
Tips for Moving Plants Outdoors by Type
While the general process for moving your indoor plants outside is the same for all types (every plant needs to be acclimated slowly), there are some differences. Some plants are like that friend who can slap on sunscreen and dive right into summer, while others need the equivalent of a beach umbrella no matter how far into the season we are.
Many houseplants hail from tropical locales, which means they’ll ultimately love being backyard dwellers all summer. However, their tender foliage is highly susceptible to scorch, so keep an eye out for bleached or brown-striped leaves. In their natural habitat, most houseplants are accustomed to balmy weather. While your living room might have provided enough humidity to keep them satisfied, your patio might not. If it’s a particularly dry summer or you live in an arid region, you may need to mist your houseplants on a daily basis or give them long drinks more often (stick your finger in the soil to make sure the top inch is dry before you do).
Some flowering plants, such as fuchsia, oxalis, and angel’s trumpets, go dormant for the winter. This often means they spend the cooler months in a basement storage room or garage where temps get cool but not freezing. To bring them out of their winter hibernation, move them to a windowsill in early spring and start watering normally again. Once the risk of frost has passed, follow the same process for all other plants—a slow and steady exposure to the elements over a couple of weeks will have them looking like winter never happened.
Before you lug your hefty potted fruit tree indoors and out until it fully acclimates, consider putting it on a plant stand with casters so you can make the trips easier on your back—and your plant. With the help of a roomie or friend, you should be able to nudge it over the lip of a sliding glass door without having to pick the whole thing up. Know that despite your best efforts, some leaf drop is likely. Don’t worry! That cute little fruit tree is going to come back stronger than ever.
The process of moving seedlings outside to be transplanted in your garden is known as hardening off. Like with other indoor plants, the goal is to minimize shock and damage by gradually exposing them to the elements for one to two weeks before transplanting. In the meantime, you can dream of the harvest ahead.
Be Ready to Bring Them Back In
Once the days shorten and chillier temps inevitably return, it’s time to bring your plants back inside for winter. This step applies to houseplants, potted trees, and anything else you didn’t plant in the ground. At this point, you’re essentially reversing the process you did in the spring, with the addition of checking for pests. Don’t let any bugs catch a ride inside!
A trip outside for the season is the restoring boost most indoor plants need to look and perform their best. And now, you have all the info you need to take them from the comfort of home to the good life outdoors without injury. It’s time to send those indoor plants packing!