Published on 04/28/97

Treat Plants Like Skin, or They Will Burn

When the bright summer sun peeks through and sunbathers take to the beaches, skin gets burned. Plants are a bit like that, too.

When you first take outside the plants you stored indoors over the winter, or seedlings you've rooted inside, treat them like your own skin. Reintroduce them to the hot summer sun slowly, or they too will get burned.

"Don't put them in direct sunlight right away," said Paul Thomas, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "It will burn leaves not used to high light."

Thomas also advises keeping them moist because they will dry out faster outside.

"You need to protect the plants from strong winds until new growth is established," he said. "Most houseplants prefer dappled shade under trees."

When you move plants outside, the leaves aren't the only parts that need attention. Check the roots, too.

"Repot any root-bound plants when you move them outside," Thomas said, "usually to a pot two inches larger all around the roots."

After you put the plants into a bigger pot with fresh potting mix, fertilize them with one-quarter-strength fertilizer. Check for good drainage and water them thoroughly.

"Some plants will also need old leaves removed," Thomas said.

Thomas always recommends repotting into clay pots.

"They allow better air flow, better drainage and just look better," he said.

If you started your seeds inside and are ready to plant them in your flower bed or vegetable garden, break them in gently.

"Shade, shade, shade is the key," Thomas said. "Keep them shaded for a day or two until turgid (filled out), then give them dappled light and slowly move them into longer and longer sunlight."

Remember to water seedlings more as you give them more light.

"The whole process should take four to five days for vegetables and about two weeks for ornamentals," Thomas said.

If you managed to save ferns through the winter, they may be thickly thatched with straw.

"Cut all the straw out, leaving any green leaves," Thomas said. "New growth will flush after a week or two under dappled shade if you add a quarter fertilizer and water."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.