Even if it doesn’t feel like June in many parts of the country, the longest day of the year is just around the corner. In my patch of Rhode Island, chilly days are still not uncommon, yet the plants in my garden don’t seem to mind a bit.
In fact, the explosion of growth over the last few weeks is a reminder of just how much plants respond to increased light. You may have noticed that your houseplants are starting to respond to the lengthening days as well. Most begin a period of active growth during late spring.
In the garden, the cool temperatures of spring produce firm, compact growth and provide most plants with a greater tolerance for the sun’s increasing strength. Plants that will need shade in a couple of weeks can handle full sun conditions right now.
Just like people with fair skin, plants need to acclimate to strong sunlight to prevent burning. Garden plants do this by breaking dormancy early in the spring when temperatures are still cool and the sun is less intense.
Houseplants, on the other hand, should be acclimated slowly to the brighter conditions outdoors. Most houseplants love being outside and will respond favorably by putting out a lot of new growth. Just be careful not to make the transition from inside to outside too abrupt. All plants need a chance to adjust; even those that are used to being kept in a sun-filled window will need to acclimate to the sun’s intensity when moved outside.
Every year, when I move my houseplants out for the summer, I repot them. Refreshing the soil and providing a judicious pruning of both roots and branches allows me to keep most of them in the same pots from year to year. I have had some for over 20 years, and this yearly ritual maintains them in excellent health and keeps them looking good.
When you relocate your plants outdoors, start by placing them in a shaded spot out of direct sunlight for about a week. Gradually move those that require some sun into brighter locations.
Most foliage plants prefer to remain in the shade or, at the most, in filtered sun for the summer. An east or north location is best for them or under the shade of a large tree.
Flowering plants tend to require more light, and some, like potted hibiscus and dwarf citrus trees, will be happy with full sun all day once they get acclimated to being outdoors.
I avoid placing my plants directly on bare ground. I find that setting them on the ground can impede drainage and provide easy access to many unwanted pests. Instead, elevate your plants either by placing them on plant stands or positioning bricks under the pots. I place my larger pots on 24-inch by 24-inch pieces of patio stone that I bought at a construction yard.
In addition to the increased light they receive outdoors, your houseplants will also benefit from increased humidity and air movement. If you keep your plants on a patio, graveled area or other hard surface, hose the area down occasionally. It will help increase humidity. In between rainstorms, hosing off the foliage is another way to keep your plants happy.
It won’t take long before you notice the change in your plants. Mine begin their annual growth spurts a short time after being moved outside for the summer.
Once new growth begins, I make sure I pay attention to watering and fertilizing. Plants in active growth need regular feeding. Some of mine get a balanced water-soluble plant food regularly throughout the growing season. Others that grow more slowly get a top dressing of sterile compost that breaks down slowly over the course of the summer.