When temperatures rise and we spend more time outdoors, it's easy to focus on our plants around the yard. Growing a lush garden with blooming flowers, vegetables, and tropical plants can make a space feel perfectly fit for the season. But summer also brings changing levels of heat and humidity to our indoor plants: And different care routines are needed to help them flourish.
While winter may leave plants dormant, summer can actually be a more challenging time of year for their growth. We asked the experts to find out why the summer growing season requires different care, and how to keep our plants thriving.
Read on to learn the best ways to grow your houseplants in the summer and keep your home looking green.
Because of increased sunlight, some houseplants in south- and west-facing windows will grow better on the east side of your home during summer to keep light exposure consistent throughout the year.
Feed Your Houseplants
When was the last time you fed your indoor plants? If the answer isn't recent, it's probably time to bring out the fertilizer: “With longer days, plants are exposed to more sun, and require additional nutrients to stay healthy and create new growth,” says Madeline Sachs, Plant Care Specialist at Greenery Unlimited in Brooklyn, New York.
“I recommend a once-a-month, water-soluble, all-purpose fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer pellet that contains nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium,” Sachs says. Dilute your fertilizer to half of its recommended amount to avoid over-fertilizing.
During times of extreme heat, postpone fertilizing. “Plants can become stressed due to the heat, and may not be able to process the extra nutrients,” adds Peg Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Landscaping and Garden Shop in Manahawkin, New Jersey.
Up Your Plant’s Moisture Level
There’s no perfect rule of thumb on how often to water houseplants—it all depends on your plant's species and the size of the plant and pot. Add water when the soil starts to feel dry, which is typically once a week (and possibly more during summer).
While you can use gardening tools like moisture meters, simply feeling the top few inches of the soil is a great way to measure when your plant needs water. Check the soil around the container's perimeter: If it's adequately moist, the soil should touch the edge of the pot.
But Don’t Overwater
It may seem like your houseplants need water twice as often as they used to, but be careful not to overdo it. “When the soil becomes overly moist, it prevents the roots from getting oxygen, so they suffocate and start to break down,” Sachs says.
Look for signs of root rot to make sure your plant isn't getting too much water: Mold or fungus on the soil’s surface, young and old leaves falling off simultaneously, standing water in the saucer, leaves with brown rotten patches, and insects around the damp soil are all indicators that it's time to cut back on your watering schedule.
While every species has different watering needs, it’s important to hydrate your plants well and deeply.
“Make certain the water infiltrates the soil and drains out the bottom of the container," Reynolds says. "If the plant is very dry, water may have a tendency to drain down the sides of the container and not fully penetrate the soil." Reynolds recommends watering a second time to ensure the soil is moist, and watering at the soil surface to prevent mildew and other pathogens from developing.
Prevent Leaf Scorch
Windows can act like a magnifying glass, burning and drying out your plant's leaves. “To avoid reddish-brown sunburned splotches, keep plants a foot away from the window,” Sachs suggests, “especially when you’re dealing with south- and west-facing exposures.” Some exceptions like cacti, succulents, ficus trees, and tropical plants will thrive in direct sun.
Avoid AC Drafts
Since air conditioning can dry out the air around plants, it's a good idea to up the humidity level by placing them on a shallow saucer filled with pebbles and water. “The resulting micro-climate will increase the humidity around the plant,” Reynolds says, recommending moving plants further away from the air conditioner if you see brown edges, discoloration, or breakage on the leaves.
A simple way to increase humidity is by misting plants with a spray bottle each morning, allowing the foliage time to dry throughout the day.
Pick Up Leaf Droppings
Remove any leaves that have fallen onto the soil. Reynolds notes that this is an important sanitary practice: Harmful insects and pathogens can collect in the soil without prevention. It's also helpful to trim dead leaves before summer to ensure healthy stems absorb the nutrients.
Choose the Right Time to Repot and Prune
While spring is the best time to repot plants, it's okay to transfer them in the summer. Be sure to switch pots in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler. “It’s best to wait until the heavy heat of summer has passed before removing any discolored leaves or stems, as this can increase stress to plants,” Reynolds says.
Allow For Outside Plant Time
Move houseplants outside occasionally between May and September. “Check the safe temperature ranges for your plant, because they can vary. In general, temps should be above 65 degrees,” Sachs says. “Direct outdoor sun can be much stronger than indoor lighting. Because plants can get easily sunburned, move them to a shady area if you notice any signs of scorching.”
More insects enter your home when windows and doors are open. Inspect your plants to look for signs of pests like aphids and spider mites. “Yellow leaves, black spots, or a distorted texture can signal a problem. A shiny, sticky substance called honeydew is also a sign," Reynolds says, recommending rinsing plants with water or using insecticidal soap when infestations are severe.
Wipe Off Dust and Dirt
Pollen and dust can prevent your plant from absorbing light and making food through photosynthesis. “Cleaning the leaf surface will help keep plants healthy,” Reynolds says. Sachs recommends mixing dish soap or a bit of neem oil with warm water to remove dust and any crusty, white watermarks that are caused by hard water.
Locate a Plant Sitter
Hitting the road this summer? Reynolds recommends finding a plant sitter, or watering plants thoroughly and moving them to a cooler location before you leave.
Self-watering planters are another great way to let plants soak up water slowly while you're traveling. “They take a little time to initiate, so it’s best to set them up a month or two before you leave,” notes Sachs. Watering globes—glass orbs that slowly release water—can also help extend the length of time between waterings.