by Jake Farley
It's time to get those dusty houseplants outdoors for our East Coast tropical summer ahead. By this time, most indoor plants need every element that nature offers, especially rain to cleanse, and fresh air and humidity to revitalize.
But remember, these tamed tropicals and sub-tropicals developed sensitive skins over the sunless, but desert-like indoors in winter. So, be gentle. Be kind. Acclimate with patience and attention.
Here's How To Do The Job
1. The search. Closely inspect each plant but don't touch! See any white cottony stuff on the young leaves of your Chinese evergreen or just about any plant you have? How about drips of wax on your favorite ficus with or without small, dark scaly bumps? Or how about pale, dusty looking leaves, spotted and discolored, and webs in the leaf axils or other areas?
If no, place the plant outside under a tree.
If yes, your plant has bugs.
2. Be honest. Is the plant worth spraying with pesticides and worth the risk of transmitting bugs to your other plants in the process?
If no, put on plastic gloves and toss the plant into garbage bag before bringing it through the house on its way to the garbage.
If yes, do the same except deposit it in the shade and hose it down.
3. New do. Pruning gets rid of many bugs and allows for new, healthier growth over the season (even if it has no bugs). If the plant is a ficus or a fern, shake it like crazy before you give it a haircut, even if it drops every leaf.
4. De-bugging. Use pesticide and follow the label directions for the particular type of bug. (Bring a leaf or two to a nursery in a baggie if you're not sure.) Spray as often as the label says.
Tip: Lay a floor plant down and spray it as you turn it, as if it were on a rotisserie. Then stand it up and spray the top. Cover every spot.
5. Dinner. Fertilize only after you get rid of the bugs.
6. New Shoes. Repot as needed, but know thyself. Do you like to fuss with the watering can? Or do you forget to water?
Fussers, plant in porous terra cotta.
Busy bees, either plant in plastic nursery pots to be placed inside a jardinaire, or plant directly into porcelain or pottery with a drainage hole.
Always repot ferns as soon as you buy them. Give those roots some room to grow.
7. Tanning. Gradually move sun-loving plants out of the shade and into the sun over a two week period.
Enjoy your housemates outdoors this summer. Decorate a walkway, deck, porch or patio or pool with your plants.
Group sun lovers together and shade plants together. Put floor plants like palms and ficus in extra big decorative pots (cement, clay or even plastic) and place hanging baskets of annuals or ferns around the base of the tree, inside the outer pot. Palms prefer shade; ficus love sun.
Intermix a few table-top plants with annuals in wide terra cotta or porcelain bowls to create a tropical garden effect. In the Caribbean, a mix of blooming and foliage plants in decorative planters are everywhere.
Subtropical asparagus ferns and jasmines do well in the sun, and can be grouped with tall hibiscus trees for a balmy summertime effect. Try putting the individual pots together in an over-sized planter.
And don't forget to water. Never count on rain to water your plants. Always check. Rain bounces and runs off plant leaves. It comes down at an angle and may not even land in your pot, and if it does, you never know how much.
Leave tiny houseplants indoors, for summer heat will surely fry them.
OK! You've done your job. Hear those sighs of relief? They're not only yours.
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published May 31, 2003