Don’t Ignore Your Indoor Plants in Summer

Fine Gardening – Issue 199
Plants on windowsill
Photo: Sagar Simkhada/

You’re used to readying your garden for the arrival of warmer months, but what about your indoor plants? As days grow longer and temperatures rise, even indoor plants need a little prep work to get them ready for the summer ahead. With a little planning and effort, you can ensure that your houseplants are on track to thrive when winter finally loosens its grip.

If warm weather has caught you off guard or you’ve just been too busy getting the garden ready, fear not—houseplants are much more tolerant of the effects of seasonal changes than outdoor plants can be, and they’ll be fine inside for a little while longer. Tend to them when you can, and you’ll be rewarded with fresh growth and healthier, happier-looking plants. Here are some ways to help your indoor plants.

1. Get ready for growth

  • Get ready for growth
    Photo: Steve Aitken

    Many plants kept indoors don’t always get the memo that they shouldn’t grow as much during winter, but shorter days can mean growth has gotten leggy, so prepare them for better growing conditions ahead by pruning back or pinching off any leggy growth.

  • If plants have been showing steady growth for more than a month, it’s also time to begin fertilizing again. And remember that just as you’ll be watering your outside plants more often, indoor plants will need more water as days get longer and warmer. Check plants more frequently, and water all plants deeply. The frequency will vary from plant to plant, but all houseplants will do best when evenly watered with their soil fully saturated—as long as you have proper drainage.
  • Begin checking frequently for new growth on plants that have gone fully dormant over winter, such as caladium (Caladium spp. and cvs., Zones 9–11) and elephant’s ear (Alocasia spp. and cvs., Zones 9–11). As soon as you see green popping up through the soil, move the pot to a location with bright filtered light and begin watering again, but go easy. Once the new growth has taken off, you can water as usual.

2. Plants need spring cleaning too

  • Plants need spring cleaning too
    Photo: Steve Aitken

    Heating systems and many months with closed windows can lead to a lot of dust buildup on leaves. Give all plants, especially broad-leaved ones, a good cleaning by wiping all leaves with a soft, damp towel. For extra-delicate or fuzzy-leaved plants like African violets (Streptocarpus spp., Zone 11), a soft paintbrush makes a great duster.

  • Remove all dead leaves from the plant and from the surface of the soil. Decaying leaves can attract pests such as fungus gnats and springtails, so clearing them from soil and pots will help keep pests at bay.
  • Don’t be afraid to fully cut back any plant that didn’t survive the winter well. Sometimes the best way to restart growth is to chop it all off and start fresh.
  • Rearrange plants as the light inside begins to shift. Some windows that didn’t see much light over the winter may be looking brighter now, and plants that had been crowded into the only good spots in the house can be spread out a bit more.
  • Once the days really start heating up, make sure that delicate foliage isn’t touching window glass, which can get hot enough to wilt or scorch sensitive leaves.

3. Start the transition for plants moving outdoors

  • Indoor plants can be moved outdoors for the warmer months—just be sure to wait at least two to four weeks after the last frost before doing so.
  • Houseplants will scorch quickly in direct sun. If you don’t have natural shade outdoors, create some with shade cloth or a shade structure.
  • Once it’s time to start the transition, ease the plants into life outside by placing them in full shade during the day and bringing them back indoors at night for the first two weeks. Then you can progressively give them more sun (for any plants that are direct-sun/full-sun plants) and leave them outside full-time.

Danae Horst is the author of Houseplants for All and the owner of Folia Collective, a plant boutique in Pasadena, California.

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