Transitioning your Houseplants Outdoors

Mary Fitch, Extension Master Gardener, Anoka County

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My fascination with houseplants began as a young girl on my family farm. Winter brought many gray days when we were house-bound and the green plants in my room always provided relief from the barren outdoors.

Through trial and error, I have learned that getting plants to thrive and survive is not really magic. One resource that has helped me is the U of M Extension website. Expert advice and information for outdoor gardening and houseplants is provided free of charge. By accessing this resource, you can limit the frustration of losing your houseplants.

March is the time of year when I start planning the annual migration of my houseplants and tropicals to the outdoors. Every spring my collection of assorted plants moves outdoors for the long awaited dose of fresh air and sunlight. The second migration takes place when I bring my plants back in the house in the fall. I find that the tropical plants grow at a much faster rate outside and when fall comes around, the adjustment time is slower than in the spring.

Success in the transition of plants to the outdoors lies in three important details; temperature, sunlight, and watering. First, the low temperatures the houseplants are exposed to outdoors are critical to the plant’s health. I manage the moves in the spring and fall based on the least hardy plants. If I protect the least hardy, I will have protected them all. The low temperature that I use to dictate a move is 45 degrees based on my plant mix. A good rule of thumb is to wait 2 to 4 weeks after the last frost.

Second, the amount of direct sunlight that plants are exposed to needs to be monitored. A key factor to the changeover to the outdoors is carefully acclimating the plants to sunlight. Over sunning too fast can lead to scorching. Carefully expose your plants to a few hours of sunlight and slowly lengthen the exposure time over a few weeks. It can be labor intensive, but in some cases you can take advantage of a shade tree by placing plants under it and moving the plants gradually, into more sunny areas.

Third, U of MN Extension research explains that the principle reason for houseplant fatality is improper watering. Indoor houseplants are often killed by overwatering, but when placed outdoors, they are often killed by underwatering due to more rapid evaporation. You will have to experiment to find the balance of that will work best for your plants.

There are a number of great resources available through the University of Minnesota Extension. One of my favorites is “Ask a Master Gardener” where Master Gardeners will answer your yard and garden questions by e-mail, in person or over the phone

Mark your calendar for our annual plant sale Tuesday, May 14 from 3:00-7:00PM and Wednesday, May 15th from 9:00AM-1:00PM at the Anoka County Fairgrounds, 3200 St. Francis Blvd. NW, Building 2, Anoka, MN, Please note change in address.