Moving On, Moving Out: Taking the Indoor Garden Outdoors
Growing indoors is a popular option for many green thumbs, especially those who are living in regions where the growing season is relatively short, but wanting to continue growing fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers year-round. But what should be done with an indoor garden when the seasons change and the outdoor growing season has started again? Shannon McKee shares her advice.
There are several benefits to moving your crops outside in the warmer months, including maximizing the space you have indoors for growing, and helping you save on electrical costs.
First you’ll need to evaluate what needs to be done to determine if it is worthwhile to move crops outdoors. This includes determining the amount of electricity you consume on a monthly basis using grow lights, heaters, watering systems and other indoor gardening equipment; and weighing the pros and cons of moving plants outdoors, such as the time and effort involved, and what environmental factors may stand in your way. Are the energy savings of moving outdoors going to be worth it?
- Once you’ve decided to move plants outdoors, you can either transplant them into the ground or keep them in containers that can be easily moved back inside once the weather turns nasty.
- Transplanting can be a delicate process, but doing so correctly can result in healthy plants that have larger roots and more space to allow for more air and sunshine to get to the plant. The downside is it will not be as easy to move transplants back indoors after the outdoor growing season.
- Using containers does not allow roots to expand as they would when transplanted into the ground, but containers make it much easier to bring these crops back inside. This method allows you to take advantage of the nicer weather without worrying about what to do with your crops when fall and winter return. One problem with bringing containers back inside is the potential of also bringing pests inside.
Before moving plants outdoors, make sure you have a game plan for placement. Sunny spaces without crowding plants too close together are the best places to use in your outdoor spaces. If using containers, it is important to find areas that can support the weight of the containers. Some smaller porches and railings may have weight limits, so check things out before loading up too many containers outside.
Whether or not you are transplanting into the ground, or taking the whole container outside, crops should be hardened off before being placed outdoors 24/7. This helps reduce the amount of shock plants go through from being sheltered indoors to being suddenly moved into the elements outdoors. The hardening off process involves exposing your crops to the outdoors for short periods of time at first and then working your way up to overnight stays. During the first few days of hardening off, place plants in a sheltered area to protect them from wind.
Handling With Care
When transplanting, it is important to handle plants with care to limit the amount of damage that occurs to roots, stems and leaves. Prepare the hole by digging it about 2-in. wider and deeper than the plant’s current container. Take the plant gently from the container, unless it is in a peat pot or other biodegradable substance that can be put right into the soil, and add fertilizer and soil to the hole around the transplant. After transplanting all of your crops, water thoroughly right away.
Choosing the Right Timing
Timing is another aspect you need to consider when moving plants outdoors. Some plants can be moved outdoors in early spring, whereas others may do much better if they are left growing under grow lights indoors until closer to summer. Cool-weather crops include lettuce, peas, spinach, greens, beets, onions, turnips, cabbage, carrots, radishes, broccoli and more.
These are great crops to move outdoors in early spring, freeing up space indoors for starting more warm-weather crops to be ready to transplant in late spring and early summer. Warm-weather crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, melons, corn, eggplants and more. A second planting of cool-weather crops indoors around July and August creates a second crop to move outdoors for the fall season.
Minding the Elements
There are some outdoor elements that need to be considered when moving your crops outdoors. Wind is a new factor that wasn’t present in your indoor garden, and some of your plants that did not require staking indoors will require some type of system outdoors. Water is another factor that will need to be monitored. Indoor systems make life a little easier when it comes to watering because you know exactly how much water has been added to your crops. After all, you are the only one putting it there! Outdoors, you will need to constantly monitor how wet or dry your soil is.
Transplanted crops may also be exposed to diseases in the soil, and using plants resistant to diseases known to occur in your area can help with this issue. If you find that some of your transplanted crops are showing signs of disease, remove them right away to help protect healthy plants, and keep them out of your compost. Also, be sure to rotate your crops in future years, or for smaller gardens, to skip a year. Fortunately, many soil problems can be treated.
Pests are another outdoor issue that will require attention. As with soil diseases, try to identify the pests that are attacking your crops and treat as necessary. When bringing crops back indoors at the end of the outdoor growing season, it is important to inspect your crops for pests to ensure you are not bringing in any unwelcome guests. Treat any plants before moving indoors, or if it is not possible to wait because of the weather, try to keep infected plants in quarantine during treatment.
Moving your crops outdoors can be a daunting but worthwhile task. It offers the benefit of saving money on energy bills and makes more room for additional crops indoors. But, there are other things to consider, such as whether to transplant or use containers, along with the negatives that can come from outdoor growing, such as pests and a lack of rain. Determining if the benefits outweigh the negatives of moving to outdoor growing is a matter of personal preference. Let us know how it goes!