Summer is the season when most houseplants are in their element, rewarding us with lush foliage and exotic blooms. Many come from the tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America - this might lead us to believe they need minimal care when the weather hots up, which is just when they need us the most.
Indoors we control the amount of warmth, water and light plants receive. Good houseplant care can make the difference between a happy, healthy houseplant and a hot, dry and scorched one. By taking a few easy steps and using the right products we can create the perfect summer environment for the plants in our homes, ensuring they bring us pleasure for many seasons to come.
1. Move sensitive plants away from direct sunlight
Large, dark green leaves packed with chlorophyll are a sure sign that a plant has adapted to survive at low light levels, perhaps beneath a forest canopy or on a sunless slope. If it's positioned in too much sun the leaves may become dull or scorch and turn brown. The same goes for foliage with areas of variegation, particularly white and cream patches - this un-pigmented tissue behaves very much like untanned skin in bright sunshine. Move light-sensitive plants away from south and west-facing windows or pull the blinds down during the heat of the day.
2. Water more regularly
Plants are just like us - when it's hot, dry and sunny, they drink more and quickly become dehydrated if their thirst is not quenched. When the weather is warm, check them every other day and water whenever the surface of the compost feels dry or the pot feels unusually light. Moving plants away from sunny windows will help reduce the need to water, especially if you are going away for a few days.
3. Keep humidity levels high
In the tropics, the air is often saturated with water. The atmosphere in our homes is typically much drier. Misting regularly, in the morning or during the day, will refresh plants and help keep them cool. Use a pump action plant mister filled with rainwater if you have it. (Tap water is fine for most plants but it can leave chalky deposits on the leaf surface over time).
Another way to increase humidity is to stand plant pots on trays or saucers of moist pebbles. The water will slowly evaporate, creating a humid microclimate around the plant. Make sure the plant tray is not permeable if you're placing it on a polished surface.
Succulents and cacti do not require misting but will definitely appreciate more regular watering during the summer months. If you cease watering them during hot weather they may stop growing and become dormant as they would in their natural habitat.
4. Give plants a holiday
When daytime temperatures rise above 18ºC and nighttime temperatures don't dip below 10ºC many houseplants will be happy taking a break in the garden. Citrus trees, succulents such as aeoniums, bananas, gingers, aspidistras and bird of paradise flowers will all enjoy a spell outside. Position them somewhere sheltered, out of direct sunlight and try not to forget about them while they are there. Bring them back indoors in September or whenever cool, wet or windy weather is forecast.
What houseplants detest most, alongside overwatering, is a big change in temperature. It's best to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions slowly. Avoid taking a plant from a cool shady room into a bright, sunny garden in one swift action. Do it step by step, over a few days, increasing the time the plant has outdoors and it will soon adapt to its new conditions.
5. Feed regularly
Feeding is not an exact science - how often to feed depends on the compost the plant is growing in, the type of plant and the fertiliser you are using. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and you'll be fine, but do remember to feed as this will improve the health and disease resistance of your plants as well as help them to look more beautiful. I like to use a combination of dilute liquid feed and a spray tonic.
6. Check for pests and diseases
The same fine weather that encourages plants to grow also encourages pests to multiply and diseases to spread. Keep an eye on plants for infestations of aphid, scale insect and red spider mite. Use a natural, organic insecticide promptly to keep pests under control. Hot, dry plants may also develop a whitish bloom on the leaves known as powdery mildew - regular watering and misting should keep this annoying affliction at bay.
7. Make arrangements for going away
Most of us will take a holiday over the summer. If you can, ask a friend or neighbour to pop in and water your plants whilst you're away. If that's not an option, water generously before you leave and move plants away from windows to a cool, shaded spot. Stand plants in shallow trays of water if you're away for more than a week, or use a self-watering planter. Make it a priority to check on your plants as soon as you return home.