Send your houseplants outdoors

Have your houseplants lived up to your fondest hopes for them? Are they the big, lush specimens that we would all like to have?

If the answer is no, you're not alone. Many homes are just too dry for houseplants to do really well.

Here's a suggestion: A summer spent outdoors can do wonders for even the spindliest plants.

Choose a spot that doesn't get too much sun and can be kept moist.

Remember, most foliage plants are native to jungles. Along the east or north side of your house would be ideal, or perhaps you have a tree-shaded area where ordinary garden plants have done poorly for lack of sunlight. Planted there, vines, such as Wandering Jew or English ivy, will soon spread out, making a handsome effect all summer long.

Before setting out houseplants, however, take the time to prepare the soil, just as you would for any garden crop. Make sure it is a good, loose loam that will hold moisture and allow healthy root development. If the soil tends to be too sandy, or is of the hard-baked clay variety, work some peat moss into it.

Now drag out all of those straggly ivies, your rangy rubber plant, or whatever else is languishing about the house. Set the smaller plants directly into the ground, but larger ones should be put in, pot and all, so that their roots won't wander during a free summer.

Water well to firm and settle the soil around the roots. At the same time, give top growth a gentle shower to remove dust.

A 1- to 3-inch blanket of mulch will help keep moisture in and weeds out. Bark chips make an attractive mulch, but you also can use grass clippings, old leaves, pine needles, or whatever else you happen to have around.

Since the plants will be making active, vigorous growth, give them a light feeding of houseplant fertilizer every two weeks. Follow label directions for amounts and method of application, because brands vary quite a bit.

Be sure your plants get plenty of water. Jungles are pretty rainy places, you know. Give them a good watering at least once a week, or even oftener if the soil feels dry. That is a good time to give them a shower, too, spraying off dust and lurking pests.

Good grooming is as important for plants as it is for people.

Most foliage plants look best with closely spaced leaves. If branches grow too long, or leaves appear sparse, break off the unattractive sections. You can reroot them in water or damp sand and give them to a friend. Regularly pinch back plant tips, too. This encourages side-branching and gives plants that full, lush look.

Healthy, well-watered plants will probably have little trouble with pests; if pests do appear, however, identify them and select an appropriate spray material.

Most insects that attack houseplants can be controlled with house and garden sprays.

Systemic pesticides are available, too. They come as drenches, which are put on the soil and absorbed through the roots to destroy bugs as they munch on the plants.

Since houseplants don't like being chilly, plan to bring them back indoors before the nights grow cool. By then you should have big, healthy plants.

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