How and When to Move Houseplants Outdoors, According to a Pro
Midwesterners aren't the only ones who welcome warm weather and sunnier days. Our houseplants love it too. Raffaele Di Lallo, a houseplant care expert from Cleveland, knows from his 30 years' experience. Each spring, he moves dozens of his houseplants outdoors for the season.
"The absolute best thing that you could do for your houseplants is to move them outside for the summer," he says, explaining the "vacation" outdoors improves plants' health and appearance.
We talked with him about many questions he gets from his popular Ohio Tropics blog and Instagram account, including how and when to transition houseplants outside.
Is it OK to Move Houseplants Outdoors?
Yes, and there are many advantages to moving houseplants outside. "Nature does a better job than people ever could," says Raffaele. Indoor houseplants thrive outdoors with the added humidity, air circulation and warmer temperatures. Plus, rainwater offers perks that tap water simply can't. Rainwater is free of toxic chlorine, fluoride and other additives found in tap water. And as a bonus, it contains nitrogen in a form that plants can use to make them lusher. Besides, a nice rainfall also washes dust off plants' leaves and in turn boosts their capacity to photosynthesize (convert sunlight and water to food).
Raffaele's Alocosia and moth orchids are two illustrations. His large alocasia often struggles indoors through the winter then once moved outdoors for the summer, it "goes bonkers." His moth orchids also flourish when moved outdoors; the cool evening temperatures signal the plants to rebloom.
When is the Best Time to Move Houseplants Outside?
For tropical houseplants, a general rule of thumb is to wait until minimum nighttime temperatures are 50-55 degrees before placing them outside. Typically, that's May in the Midwest, but the temperatures can vary. So, it's important to watch for temperature drops and temporarily move houseplants back in the house or garage if necessary.
How Do I Transition My Houseplants Outdoors?
In a word: Slowly. Indoor light is much milder than outdoor light, so houseplants will fare better when gradually exposed to the elements as the season progresses. If plants are moved straight to full sunlight, they can burn—just like skin on a winter or spring beach vacation.
Start by placing houseplants in complete shade outdoors (under a tree or on a covered porch) for a few days, then move them to more sun. "The slower the better," Raffaele says. "This even goes for tomato and pepper seedlings, or they will roast."
One of Raffaele's readers had good intentions in moving a string of pearls outside in early spring for a dose of sunshine and fresh air and unintentionally damaged the plant. "People don't realize how quickly plants can burn in just a few hours," says Raffaele about the periled string of pearls. "Once scorched, those parts of the plants won't green up again so they must be pruned and allowed to regrow."
Should Houseplants be Repotted in Spring?
Spring can be a good time to repot and divide plants as you move them outdoors for the season. Raffaele says most plants benefit from repotting to a larger pot every two to three years, especially if their roots have outgrown the container. Just be extra gentle in transitioning these newly repotted plants to the outdoors; place them in the shade to recover from transplant shock as well as acclimate to the outdoor light.
Tip: To repot, Raffaele rolls his wheelbarrow to the patio to use as a makeshift potting bench to contain the mess.
How to Care for Houseplants Outdoors
Indoors, different types of houseplants have varying light and water needs. When moving indoor houseplants outside, the elements must also be considered. For instance, houseplants can dry out faster in the heat and wind; they'll also require a revised watering schedule.
"Don't use your calendar to dictate when to water," Raffaele underscores. Instead, monitor plants, check soil moisture and water as needed. Hotter days require more frequent watering while cooler days will need less. Also, pay attention to water temperature if watering with a hose. He says plants won't respond well to chilly water.
Stormy weather can cause challenges too. Pots can easily be blown over if placed on a wall or table, so be sure to secure them by clustering them together or placing other heavy objects (bricks and stones) around them.
After heavy rains, be sure to empty excess water from saucers and decorative pots without drainage holes (often used to hold houseplants in plastic liner pots). Many plants will rot if they sit in water.
When Should Houseplants Move Back Indoors?
Before nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees in fall, it's time to move tropical houseplants indoors. Raffaele says it's best to anticipate the move, so it's not a last-minute rush.