Archives For houseplants

Time to Take Your Urban Houseplants Outside

Plant Parenthood

Erica Masini —  May 27, 2018 — 4 Comments

Hey, Chicago. It finally feels better outside. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief with me. Sigh. We made it.

Now that it’s officially patio season, it’s time to get out and enjoy the sun. Which has me wondering…should my houseplants join me outside? Can they?

Spider plant

The spider plant catching some rays.

The process of moving indoor plants outside, called “hardening off,” typically happens around when nighttime temperatures stay above 42 degrees Fahrenheit. By now, pots are popping up all along back wooden porches across the city. But if you have little to no outdoor space—like me—it can be a challenge to give your houseplants a much needed breath of fresh air.

I turned to Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, who lives in Chicago. She has an open lot next to her apartment, but also has some restrictions like me. Her lot gets 100 percent shade, so she can’t even grow vegetables. My apartment has an eastern exposure back stairwell, with mostly shade and some indirect morning light. 

Here’s what she says about putting my plants outside:

  • Be careful about sunburn. Sunburn isn’t a concern just for us humans. Plants can get scorched, too. Don’t put them in blazing sunlight. Porches with shade are prime locations for orchids and birds of paradise plants.
  • The outdoors makes your plants happy. A lot of plants really enjoy the strong swing in temperature that only the outdoors can provide, said Sherwood. If you have the space for it, and moderate sunlight, your indoor houseplants would love to feel the extended daylight.
  • Keep a watchful eye. You’ll need to water outdoor plants more often, said Sherwood. Plants dry out much quicker in the sun, so check them daily. Also be aware of the weather forecast; if it’s predicting wind and rain, you may want to bring your plant babies back inside until it blows over.

Of my plant collection, Sherwood said my spider plant would probably do best outside. She also recommended elephant ears as a new outdoor option. I don’t have room in my apartment for a large plant, but I’ll keep that idea in my back pocket.

I’m going to bring my spider plant outside and see how it fares over the next few weeks. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start a vegetable container. Stay tuned!

Plant Family Check-ups

Aloe (Aloe hybrid)

Aloe (Aloe hybrid)

I’m not sure whether it’s OK, because the tips of its leaves are a little brown and soggy. I don’t think it’s dead, though. I think. I hope.

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Seems to be doing all right, but I’m a little disappointed by its lack of movement. I bought the prayer plant partly because I wanted to see its leaves bend up and down. From what I can tell, it doesn’t move. It’s still pretty, though!

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Honestly, I forget it’s there half the time. Which is great! It’s my lowest maintenance plant, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

New growth! I spotted a few red blooms shooting up from the soil, and it’s made me so happy. This is my favorite plant. Shhh…don’t tell the others.

Mexican firecracker succulent (Echeveria setosa)

Mexican firecracker succulent (Echeveria setosa)

This one is the most worrisome of the crew. It hasn’t lost any more leaves, but it still doesn’t seem too happy. I moved it out of direct sunlight, and have been resisting watering it, but the leaves still feel a little soft and squishy. Keeping an eye on this one.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Loving its new home outside!


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Moving Houseplants Back Indoors

Tom Weaver —  September 23, 2017 — 3 Comments

In spite of the recent 90 degree temperatures, it’s time to start thinking about moving your houseplants inside.

The best time to do this is when temperatures outside are relatively close to the temperatures indoors, meaning mid- to late September. Before you move everything in, however, there are four quick steps you’ll want to take to help ensure a successful winter of windowsill gardening.

The same care tips also apply to overwintering tropical plants such as palms and bromeliads

The same care tips also apply to overwintering tropical plants, such as palms and bromeliads.

1. Clean up any dead or damaged growth.

Why bring any additional mess indoors when you don’t have to? Carefully remove any broken branches, sunburned leaves, or otherwise unsightly growth from your plants.

2. Lightly trim back plants as needed.

This step is a bit optional, and you really only need to do it if your plants have become large and overgrown. Never remove more than one-third of the growth at a time. Removing more can stress the plant and send it into shock, which can be hard to recover from indoors.

3. Check thoroughly for pests, and treat as needed.

One of the biggest ways to set yourself up for success is to start with clean plants. There are several pests that can cause problems indoors. The most common are mealybugs, spider mites, scale, and aphids. Insecticidal soap is a lower toxicity insecticide that is safe for most houseplants and will take care of nearly any pest problem you might have. As with any chemical, make sure to follow all package instructions. It is NOT recommended to use soapy water—this eats away at the cuticle (a protective waxy layer on the leaf), making it more vulnerable to disease problems in the future. For specific pest recommendations, contact our Plant Information Service.

Large-leaved plants are particularly susceptible to spider mites.

Large-leaved plants are particularly susceptible to spider mites.

Spider mites can also cause brown edges that mimic sunburn. Look for the telltale webbing to determine if you have mites.

Spider mites can also cause brown edges that mimic sunburn. Look for the telltale webbing to determine if you have mites.

Mealybug feeding on the stem of Dioscorea elephantipes

Mealybug feeding on the stem of Dioscorea elephantipes

Sunburn causes brown spots on leaves.

Sunburn causes brown spots on leaves. Trimming off damaged leaves helps keep plants looking good all winter.

4. Finally, resist the urge to repot unless necessary.

Sometimes plants have simply grown too large for their pots, in which case it’s OK to repot. But don’t repot if the plant doesn’t need it, as this will add unnecessary stress that could harm the plant in the long term. Always use soil specifically for containers (potting soil). Black dirt is too heavy and will encourage rot. When repotting, select a new pot that’s only 1 or 2 inches larger in diameter. Anything much larger than that will encourage rot because the soil will stay wet for a long time.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Creating Blooming Dish Gardens

Tim Pollak —  December 27, 2014 — 4 Comments

Create a miniature landscape in an open, shallow container: a dish garden! Gather small foliage and flowering plants together in a decorative container—like a basket or saucer—for a versatile display you can enjoy throughout the year. 

Dish gardens are easy to grow, very adaptable to most environments, and can be placed anywhere in the home. Even if you do not have a green thumb, you’ll find it difficult to kill a dish garden. They last much longer than fresh cut flower arrangements, although if you like, you can add fresh cut flowers—they will last up to a week or more. Once done blooming, the flowers can be easily removed or replaced, and the dish garden can be enjoyed for many more months.

Watch this video to learn more.

  • Choose the container: Your dish garden should be planted in a shallow container. The size depends only on how many plants you want to put into it. Almost anything can be used as a container—let your imagination be the judge. 
  • Provide drainage:  Adequate drainage is probably the most important rule to ensure the success of your dish garden. Be sure to remove excess water and avoid over-watering. Drainage holes on the bottom are best, but not mandatory. If drainage holes are not present, use a plastic liner or saucer in the container, or add a layer of gravel or pebbles on the bottom for drainage.
  • Choose the plants: Use small starter plants; 3-inch or 4-inch pots work best. Choose plants with the same general light and water requirements. Using seasonal flowering plants or interesting seasonal focal points—such as poinsettias for the holidays—and change them out throughout the year: replace your poinsettia with a flowering primrose or bulbs in the spring.
  • Dish garden themes: Be different! Try a cactus or desert garden, bulb garden, flowering annuals, African violets, or herb garden. Or try to spruce it up with special decorations for a holiday or event.
  • Planting and design: Always use a well-draining peat-based potting soil. Place the tallest plants in the center if the dish garden is to be viewed from several sides, or place them in the back of the container if viewed only from one side. Mix plants with contrasting foliage, colors, leaf sizes, and shapes. Top dress the soil with a layer of Spanish moss, gravel, or bark chips.
  • Care of your dish garden: Again, they are easy, needing only proper drainage, water, light, and an occasional dose of general fertilizer, and minor trimming if needed. They can last in the home for 1-2 years before repotting is needed.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Roses Are Red…

Adriana Reyneri —  February 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

A dozen red roses say, “I love you,” but horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden transcend tradition on Valentine’s Day. Read on for thoughtful, unusual, and homemade floral gift ideas.

PHOTO: Delphinium in bloom.

Delphinium (Delphinium elatum ‘Royal Aspirations’)

Spouses can evoke their wedding day by combining flowers from their ceremony and reception into a Valentine’s bouquet, said Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Garden. Tim would use sweet peas, freesias, and delphinium for a nostalgic, sweetly scented gift. Tropical flowers from spots such as Hawaii and Florida can conjure up memories of a romantic getaway.

Seeking a seasonal and local bouquet? Consider some of the dormant shrubs growing in your yard, said Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist. A little advance planning can produce beautiful flowering branches from early-spring flowering shrubs, such as forsythia. Prune 2- to-3-foot lengths, put them in a container filled with water, and place them in a sunny location. The bright yellow forsythia flowers will begin blooming in roughly a week, while other shrubs may take longer. Heather likes mixing the forsythia with silvery pussy willow. You can tie the bunch with a big red bow and attach a homemade card with a big “I Love You” on it.

PHOTO: Forsythia in bloom.

Forsythia (Forsythia ‘Northern Sun’)

Flowering plants such as kalanchoe, African violets, cyclamen, and azaleas can bloom for weeks and serve double duty in the summer garden. Tim Pollak likes giving indoor blooming plants to friends and family, because they serve as a lasting reminder.

Want to remember Mom on Valentine’s Day? Fragrant and long-lasting carnations can denote love for a mother, says Jill Selinger, manager of adult education. Delicate, blooming four-leaf clovers (Oxalis tetraphylla) can boost a friend who’s down on his or her luck. The clover leads into St. Patrick’s Day and can be transplanted outside in summer. Primroses, symbols of young love, can be put in the garden in spring and come back year after year.

PHOTO: Oxalis tetraphylla (four leaf clover).

A lucky gift: four-leaf clover (Oxalis tetraphylla)
Photo by © Alice Wiegand, CC BY-SA 3.0

Considering a recipient’s color preferences can create a Valentine’s bouquet that’s in harmony with their decor, said Jacob Burns, curator of herbaceous perennials. “Not that many people have red and pink rooms,” he said. “If I had to pick, I’d want a simple bouquet of ranunculus, anemones, or tulips.”

Presentation adds thought, meaning, and beauty to a floral gift, agrees Selinger. Gardenias, symbols of secret love, can be floated in a bowl, filling a room with their intoxicating scent for several weeks. How about placing a posy or small violet plant in a souvenir mug from a special date or trip? Remember, roses are red, violets are blue…

PHOTO: Orchid in bloom.

An unusual and stunning gift: this lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus)

Orchids can make an exotic, very feminine Valentine’s gift, and some varieties, such as Phalaenopsis, are very elegant and easy to grow, notes Sherwood. Plant biology graduate student (and our informal orchid spokesperson) Anne Nies recommends adding red and pink orchids—her favorite flower and research subject—into a mixed bouquet to add color, fragrance, and texture. “You can also make a bouquet or arrangement out of orchids alone; they have a wide variety of shapes and sizes,” said Nies. Among her recommendations are red Cattleya with their spicy scent, and mysterious-looking, blood-red Paphiopedilum, or lady slipper orchids. She also likes one of the stars of our upcoming Orchid Show: Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’, which smells like another Valentine’s favorite—chocolate!

Still can’t decide what flowers to give for Valentine’s Day? How about all these flowers throughout the whole year? A gift membership to the Garden affords free parking, discounts, and blooms in all four seasons. Loved ones receiving a tribute gift will get a beautiful notecard from the Garden acknowledging the donation made in their honor. How’s that for a very special Valentine’s card?

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org