Houseplants can go outside, but there are risks - Albuquerque Journal

Houseplants can go outside, but there are risks

Tracey FitzgibbonQ. We recently had a new roofing system built over our patio. It’s not “solid” and some sunlight can wink through the slats, so it’s made a bright but yet not too hot outdoor space. We have several large houseplants that I think would look great out in this new space. Do you think they’d be OK? – D.D., Albuquerque

A. I think they would be OK, but there are risks involved, so here are my concerns for your large house plants.

First, I want to ask if you have an emotional attachment to these plants. Have they graced your indoor environment for several years offering color, oxygen, a certain amount of wonder and ease? If the answer is yes, then I’d be very hesitant to move these household members into the great outdoors.

Think about the weight and size of the containers the houseplants are in. Can they be moved easily or will it take three men and a boy to move them?

Next, you’ll want to remember that they have been living in a controlled environment for a long time. All of a sudden, they’ll be exposed to everything Mother Nature can throw at them. Stiff breezes can and will suck the moisture out of them, so you’ll need to be very aware of their new watering needs.

You say there will be a certain amount of direct sun at times, which could easily scald relatively tender leaf surfaces. If you notice big yellowing spots or freckles, then the sunlight is too much.

Finally comes, in my opinion, the biggest of concerns. These plants, having lived a sheltered life will be all of a sudden exposed to all manner of pests. You’ll want to be vigilant watching for any bugs that might be attracted to these fairly easy marks.

Will you want to bring the plants back indoors come autumn? If so, that opens up yet another big can of worms. You’d want to do a preventative treatment to remove any pests before bringing them back inside, place them in a quarantine type of space until you are confident that there were no congregations of interloping pests that might hitchhike their way indoors. By bringing in an “outdoor” plant, you run a very real risk of infecting any other houseplants you might have.

So if you can deal with the work involved and perhaps loss of these plants, then as long as you plan to be watchful and not at all negligent, you could move them to grace your new outdoor living space.

Personally, I’d buy something new and keep my treasured household members safe living indoors where they’ve been.

Q. My two large pine trees (that are about 9 years old) in northwest Albuquerque have a small pest of unknown origin. The trees’ needles seem to be thinner than two years ago and appear stressed with browning needles. The bugs are similar to gnats when tapped onto a white piece of paper. Are you able to identify and recommend treatment? – S.McC., Albuquerque

A. You say the trees looked stressed. Has there been any landscaping close to the trees that changed where they live? Rockscaping with plastic underneath? A planting bed created which raised the soil level surrounding the trees’ trunks? Severed roots from creating a patio or wall? Parking underneath the trees lately? Any project like that could have impacted the trees?

If not, has there been a change in the watering program? I would suggest a good, slow soak at the tree drip line every 10 days to two weeks to be sure these pines are getting enough water. Remember, we’ve had a drier than usual winter, so offering enough water could be part of the treatment.

Pines do drop 3-year-old needles because they aren’t needed any more. As a visual, you’ll have this year’s growth, then “behind” it there is last year’s needle growth. Lastly, there will be the needles that are three seasons old. Since they are the most “internal,” they aren’t used nearly as much for the photosynthesis process, so the tree naturally sheds them. That might be part of the explanation of the needle loss.

As to the pests that look gnat-like, I suggest you collect a sampling and take it to either a nursery, the Albuquerque Garden Center or your county agriculture agent for identification.

Notice I did not suggest a big box garden center. The chances that you’d find an employee there that could identify your pest is slim to none. Also, when you collect your sample in a plastic bag, get it to the nursery as soon as possible. What you’re seeing could be an infestation of black aphids, since it sounds like they are winged creatures. The easiest form of treatment for them will be to spray the trees with the hardest stream of water you can possible apply. This will knock off and disturb the congregations enough to challenge the collection.

The next treatment would be an application of horticultural oil applied with a sprayer. I will ask that you check for nesting birds before any spraying and consider waiting until the chicks have fledged before any sprayings, water or the oil. It sounds like something in their world changed, so it’s up to you to determine what’s up and to the best of your ability fix it.

Hope this helps and Happy Diggin’ In.

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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