Many plant owners assume that summer is a breeze in terms of plant care. After all, there’s plenty of sun, so there’s little to worry about in such prime conditions, right?
Wrong. Even if your plants are indoors, summertime brings particular risks to houseplants that even the most well-meaning plant owners might overlook.
“You have to be mindful of [summer] conditions,” says Casey Godlove, creative director at PlantShed in New York City. For instance, this season can bring changes in lighting and temperature that require an adjustment to winter routines of watering, pot placement, and more.
Not sure what you might be doing wrong? Here’s a look at some of the most common mistakes that could kill your houseplants this summer.
1. Moving plants outside
On warm, sunny days, you want to spend plenty of time outside, especially after being cooped up all winter. Plant owners may want the same for their plants—but moving indoor plants outside during the summer can be a shock for them.
“One of the most common issues that happens around this time of year is that people take their plants that have been inside all winter and, on the first warm day, they take them outside to get lots of sunshine,” says Will Creed of Horticultural Help, who offers virtual plant care advice and education.
Since the plant hasn’t been properly acclimated to the change in light and temperature, “typically, what happens is the plants burn up,” Creed says. Yikes!
“Leaf scorch,” as it’s called, isn’t a fire of course, but the leaves will turn brown, since they’re basking in full-on summer sun and the plant’s roots may not be able to deliver enough water to keep them cool.
So, if your plant’s doing fine indoors, don’t bother moving it. Or if you prefer to take your plants outside, acclimate them slowly. If it doesn’t get much light indoors, place it in a similar spot outdoors with indirect sunlight, and make sure the temperature never drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, since plants may not survive a sudden cold snap.
Outdoor plants also might attract insects, which could invade your home once you bring the plants back inside. Plants that live indoors most of the time usually attract few pests, but if you do see bugs lingering on your plants, spray the leaves and stems with a mild soap and water mixture to get rid of them.
2. Moving plants around
Moving plants around too much is another mistake plant owners make, Godlove says. Instead, research how much sunlight a plant needs and decide on the best place for it.
“Let’s be honest, we have all impulse-purchased a beautiful plant with no plan on where it will live,” he says. “It’s OK to move them around, but many of the signs of inappropriate lighting can take weeks or months to show up.”
Researching beforehand helps you pick the right spot without damaging the plant.
3. Not adjusting your watering routine
Watering may need adjusting during the summer because of the longer, warmer days, and fans or air conditioning can dry plants out.
“That could be a good thing if you’re heavy-handed in your watering,” Godlove says. “Just be sure to check on them more often during the summer.”
How much should you water your plants? While once a week is a good rule of thumb, you should feel the top few inches of soil to see if it’s dry. If so, the plant needs more water.
All that said, don’t overwater, either: Never let plants sit in water for too long because bacteria could grow, causing root rot and fungus gnats.
4. Repotting unnecessarily
Scroll through Instagram and Pinterest, and you’ll find many cute planters and pots. But know that repotting houseplants unnecessarily could harm them.
Double-potting by placing the plant’s plastic nursery container inside a decorative pot is the best approach, Creed says.
“The plant will be much happier if you leave the soil and the roots alone,” he says. A plant needs to be repotted only when the roots have expanded to the point where the plant needs to be watered three times a week.
“If you need to water the plant thoroughly more than twice a week, that means that the root-to-soil ratio indicates it’s ready for a pot one size larger,” Creed says. “But that’s more unusual than people think.”
If you need to repot, choose a pot just 2 inches larger, Godlove says.
“While jumping to a larger pot might seem logical, it often is harmful to the root system,” he says. “A pot too large will hold too much excess water that the plant doesn’t need, leading to root rot.”
Make sure to keep the roots and soil intact and undisturbed if you repot, Creed says, and add new soil.
5. Not setting up a plant-care plan when traveling
If you plan to be away for a few days this summer, you need a plan for your plants.
“If you’re going to be traveling, move [houseplants] a few feet away from the light source to prevent them from drying out,” Godlove says.
Leave the air conditioning running to keep the indoor temperature stable, Creed suggests.
Watering them before you head out of town may be enough. For plants that still need watering while you’re away, use a wick-watering system, a device that you fill with water and place in your plant’s soil. The plant will draw water from the reservoir once the soil dries out.
“If you can reduce the light and the temperature, then they’re not going to need as much water as they normally do,” Creed says.
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