Recharge houseplants outdoors while they fill in your landscape

hanging baskets of houseplants at Mischler's in Williamsville NY
In shades of purple, the wandering dude (formerly called wandering Jew), right, can add a pop of color to a shady area. Complement it with the variegated wandering dude, left. These are both at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses in Williamsville. (Note that a canopy shades these houseplants; don’t set houseplants in direct light.) Photo courtesy Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses
houseplants outside in Buffalo NY by Urban Roots Cooperative Market
These are just a few of the houseplants Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager of Urban Roots, displays outside in her home landscape. Clockwise, from left, are Pachira aquatica or money tree, mango tree (on ground next to the white stand), Rhaphidophora tetrasperma (on ground in front of the white stand), Nephrolepis exaltation or Boston fern (on white stand), Alocasia ‘Dragon Scale’ (on ground to right of white stand) and Dracena marginata (behind the alocasia). Climbing up the bamboo fence is a wild grape vine reaching over from the garden. Photo courtesy Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Market

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Several weeks ago, the folks at one garden center suggested I do an article about houseplants–in summer! That’s an odd topic for this time of year, I thought to myself.

Then another garden center suggested the same thing.

When a third garden center brought up houseplants, I knew I had to find out more.

Here are some reasons to pay attention to houseplants in summer:

  • Healthier houseplants

Your houseplants will grow better outside because they can get the bright, but indirect, light that most houseplants like, said Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager of Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Market, 428 Rhode Island St., Buffalo.

Tip: Make sure you don’t put your houseplants in direct light! (See more in the section on caring for houseplants below.)

  • Fill in your landscape

You can treat houseplants as annuals in your landscape, even mixing them with traditional garden annuals, said Jessica Limardi, who is on the staff of Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, 118 South Forest Rd., Williamsville.

  • Houseplants are trendy

Houseplants are popular now. So popular, in fact, that instead of being ignored when the garden starts flourishing, houseplants are still hot during summer, said Jen Weber, vice president and manager of Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca.

How houseplants became popular–even in summer

rubber plant at Mike Weber's Greenhouse in West Seneca NY
Here are two sizes of rubber plant (Ficus elastica) at Mike Weber Greenhouses in West Seneca. For Millennials and Gen Zs, houseplants are a status symbol, said Jen Weber, vice president and manager at Mike Weber’s. The bigger the plant is, the more unusual it is and the more expensive it is, the more young people want to share photos of it on Instagram. But if you like starting with a small specimen and nurturing it for awhile, Mike Weber’s has those, too. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Houseplants were on the verge of trending before the pandemic,” said Weber. “The pots became more modern to fit modern home decor. The varieties were becoming limitless. They were used in arrangements on a coffee table, or there was a large snake plant in the corner of the dining room, or an African violet on your windowsill.

“Then came Covid! People were stuck at home, with time on their hands and looking for something they could take of. Some people had babies or bought puppies. 

“But other people became plant parents.”

This was especially true of Millennials and Gen Zs, Weber said. For them, “The idea of houseplants brings the nostalgia of grandma’s garden into their apartments. They like the idea of lots of (garden) plants and how it made their moms and grandmas happy, but they don’t have the time or room. They want the plant happiness on a different level.” So they turn to houseplants.

“To them, the responsibility of their plants or plant shows the world they can take care of bigger responsibilities,” she said. Millennials and Gen Zs, who are on their screens more than any previous generation, show their pride by sharing their plant photos on social media.

Using houseplants in your landscape

pot with annuals and houseplants at Mischler's in Williamsville NY
This mixed container holds both annuals and houseplants. The tall, spikey plant in the middle is Dracaena marginata tricolor, a houseplant; trailing over the side is torenia, a traditional annual, and filling in the middle are a Sunpatiens with pink flowers, which is a traditional annual, and the green-and-white striped Hawaiian spider plant, a houseplant. Photo courtesy Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses

“Houseplants can be put outside in the shade or in dappled light to decorate a patio, porch, sitting area or even in the garden,” Weber said. “You might put a small plant stand in your garden bed and place the houseplants on top.”

“Houseplants can really brighten up a spot,” said Jablonski-Dopkin of Urban Roots. They can fill in trouble spots. For example, if you have dense tree roots where you can’t plant anything, set a pot of houseplants there.

You probably use hanging baskets of annuals here or there in your garden to add a pop of color. Why not do the same with hanging baskets of houseplants? You can hang the baskets in sheltered spots, such as a gazebo or covered patio. Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses has hanging baskets planted with a single houseplant, such as a vibrant purple wandering dude. In other hanging baskets, several different varieties of houseplants are mixed.

Mischler’s has also prepared containers that mix houseplants with traditional annuals. You can bring the pot inside to see if you can keep the annuals healthy all winter long, or you could treat the entire pot as annuals and give them up at the end of the season.

Caring for houseplants outside

Spring and summer is when tropical houseplants have their growth spurt before going dormant in winter, said Jablonski-Dopkin of Urban Roots, so this is the time to give them the best conditions possible–the conditions they would have in their native environment.

They like bright light, but it has to be indirect light. Most tropical houseplants are understory plants, living under trees, she explained.

In your yard, set your houseplant under a tree or in a spot where it will get dappled light.

Houseplants like bright light, but it has to be indirect light.

Tip: Don’t do what I did. Thinking that tropical weather is hot and sunny, I decided to give my houseplant a real special treat and set it in the sunniest spot in my yard. Don’t do that! I recall that the leaves got crispy along the edges in just a day or two.

When you set your houseplant outside in dappled light, “Be prepared for a good amount of growth,” Jablonski-Dopkin said. Houseplants will grow better outside because they’ll be in conditions that are more like their natural habitat.

Dappled light outside is better than indoor light. And the temperature and humidity will be better outside, too. Whether you’re cooling your house in summer or heating it in winter, your house will be drier and cooler than the tropical plants like.

Watering your houseplants outside will be a bit different from watering them inside. Inside the house, you’re the only one who waters them, but when the plants are outside, Mother Nature waters them, too, Jablonski-Dopkin said. They may get watered even if they don’t need watering.

If you have good drainage in your pot (and you should), the extra water will “go out the bottom of the pot, taking nutrients with it,” she said. This means you should fertilize every other week or every two weeks. (This isn’t as much of a problem for plants in a garden bed because good soil in a garden bed can hold nutrients in place better.)

Because your plant may grow a lot during the summer, by August check to see if it needs to be repotted. If it does, repot it then; don’t wait.

Stop fertilizing in September as the plant prepares to go dormant.

“Bring your houseplants inside before it gets too cold out– you don’t want to shock them,” Jablonski-Dopkin said. “Tropical plants don’t really like the temperature to get below 52 degrees Fahrenheit. They won’t die, but they won’t be happy.”

Weber agrees: “The nights will be cooling off and the outside temperature is comparable to the house temperature. Plants can go into temperature shock if you wait too long to bring them in.” 

(One houseplant that you can keep outside a bit longer is Christmas cactus, Jablonski-Dopkin noted. They need cooler temperatures to help start the budding process. See more about Christmas cactus here.)

If you wait to repot your houseplant until it’s time to bring it inside, your plant is facing double shocks– from the temperature change and from being repotted. That’s why you want to repot by August.

When you introduce your houseplants to the outdoors at the beginning of summer, you want to do it gradually, Jablonski-Dopkin added. At the end of summer, you want to make the transition gradual as well.

“Then it can go into its quiet time,” she said.

Read more about houseplants here.


4 Comments on “Recharge houseplants outdoors while they fill in your landscape

  1. Hi Nancy, the brown marmorated stinkbugs probably don’t hitch a ride on houseplants that you have outside in the summer. The stinkbugs are quite large, so you would notice them on the plants. They tend to get in through cracks and gaps in your home. In the article here, see the section on “Dealing with brown marmorated stink bugs.”

    I haven’t written about brown marmorated stink bugs since 2020 because it seemed that the population might be decreasing–though John Farfaglia of Cornell Cooperative Extension said the forecast is for the population to increase. Where do you live that you had trouble last fall?

  2. How do I get Stink bugs in the house in fall? Do they come in with the plants I bring back in?
    I had a terrible few months last fall.

  3. Slugs are devouring the marigolds here in the hills! Any new solutions? I know about “Sluggo” and pans of beer. Then, there’s the dumb deer with voracious appetites for all the flower buds and hosta leaves!1 Any hints for discouraging them will be appreciated. Thank-you!

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