All of my indoor plants go out for the summer. They thrive in the extra humidity. light and air movement of the great outdoors. As I am happily overwhelmed with spring gardening chores, I find my deck full of smaller potted plants from the house. Meanwhile, large pots beckon, calling for special plants and placement as garden highlights. Filling my planters with newly purchased greenware would be great fun... and a bit costly. I make the most of my tender plants to fill up those pots and at the same time, those tropicals enjoy the great outdoors in comfort and style.
Sink a showy tropical into a large pot, then surround with complimentary accents.
Individual potted plants can become a maintenance issue. Combining them in larger plantings gives you fewer individuals to remember and gives each one the benefit of a larger environment for resources. Play with your potted plants and see if you can make some complementary combinations. How does that angelwing begonia look with spider plant underneath? The asparagus fern might be a pretty green froth around a base of purple heart plant. If this method fails, you have the option of buying just what suits your existing plants. At least part of the final combo is "free," having come from your own supply.
For the photo above I worked around a Clivia. This recently gifted Clivia struck me as a fine choice in place of a Dracaena spike. It called for something "rounded." I pictured a plant with round leaves, and some flowers, as the Clivia can't be expected to bloom again this season. Miss Clivia probably wants shade for the summer, so I paired her with purchased ($1.29) white Impatiens. Their snowy blooms will sparkle in the shade and really light up the dark green Clivia leaves.
Nest an indoor potted plant in a larger pot for summer.
The Clivia above stayed in its "nursery" grade thin plastic pot, and was sunk into the soil of the planter. That allows me to water the Clivia seperately from the impatiens if need be. In fall, I can pull the Clivia pot from this planter and set it in a suitable decorative pot for the winter. You may have a potted tropical that you'd like to display on its own. That's the case with my currently leafless desert rose (Adenium). It's not sick, it just doesn't enjoy winter and would rather go into dormancy (plant hibernation) and drop its leaves. However it will need a summer growth cycle in which it will bloom (gloriously I hope!) and rebuild its energy. This fall the cycle will repeat. I'll want to bring in a minimal size pot with the base of the plant and some core root mass. This desert rose is planted in a smallish plastic pot, which is then sunk into a larger pot. The area around the Adenium is filled with a fine bark mulch. It can root into the mulch if it likes, the mulch provides a buffer between the actual pot and the hot terracotta in full sun. Once the Adenium leafs out, it wil be in proportion to the pot.
Winter-weary tropicals yield cuttings
Sitting on a winter windowsill doesn't always sit well with our potted plants. By spring, some have declined in response to low light, dry indoor air, or erratic watering. They may lose leaves at the base but continue to grow at the tips. A move outdoors might give one of these a burst of energy and new growth from buds along their stems. Spider plant, begonias, Swedish ivy and pothos (and more) all root readily in spring. You may find it just as easy to take cuttings, stick them into your large containers, and use them as the filler plants with a larger accent. I think a run of the mill, inexpensive green geranium would become a standout if surrounded by baby variegated spider plants. As a bonus, by fall you'll have new young plants ready for next winter's indoor display.
Tips for success
Plants which spent winter inside need to acclimate to outside. Move them first to a sheltered spot and beware of sneaky late spring frosts. Start them in shade. My mantra which helps with both concerns is "Move plants outside into the shade of trees." Since my trees don't fully leaf out until late April, most of my houseplants are safe.
Tropicals may not like your full sun, even given a transition phase. Some of our favorite indoor plants are easy to grow because they can live in, and LIKE, the dimmer light of our houses. Unless your research finds otherwise, assume that common indoor tropicals need at least some refuge from full summer sun. Morning sun is gentler than late afternoon sun.
When plants move outside they also have to contend with wind. Acclimation will help strengthen their stems. Take care with top-heavy, leafy plants which may catch the wind and be blown over.
In the fall, be sure to check all "vacationing" tropicals for insects, on leaves or in the root ball, before bringing them back in the house.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 20, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)