4 Genius Ways to Use Houseplants in Your Outdoor Garden

Give your indoor plants a summer vacation while livening up your flower beds and porch pots.

Houseplants have a way of adding life, vitality, and calm into our inside spaces. But during the warmer seasons, there's no rule that says our favorite houseplants can't join us in the great outdoors. I adore the lush tropical look my indoor plants add to my Virginia patio and garden in summer—they're so versatile and vigorous that they even inspired me to write a book to help others use their favorite houseplants the same way, called Tropical Plants and How To Love Them!. Here are four easy ways to use your indoor plants to dress up your garden and outdoor planters. Plus, find tips for growing your houseplants outside successfully and bringing them inside again.

schefflera in container garden
Marianne Willburn

1. Anchor Seating Areas with Larger Houseplants

Got a hard-working schefflera or ficus sitting in the corner of a room? These and other large architectural indoor plants such as strelitzia, monstera, dracaena, and many palm species look equally impressive on decks, balconies, and patios. They effortlessly complement your seating or dining areas and create a sense of enclosure and privacy. For even more atmosphere, I like to drape copper-wire LED string lights on a timer throughout the branches of indoor trees and larger houseplants.

sanseviera in beds
Marianne Willburn

2. Add Excitement to Garden Beds

Houseplants are an easy way to take predictable garden beds to a new level. For example, in my fern-filled shade garden, I add an unexpected element with a few strong, spiky indoor plants such as snake plants, bromeliad species, and dracaena. You can plant your houseplants directly in the ground for the season (once soil temperatures have warmed up). However, you can save yourself a little work and spare your plant some stress if you don't. Instead, give a houseplant an annual re-potting at the beginning of the season, then submerge its entire pot into the garden where you want to use it.

If neighboring garden plants will hide the edges, you can just nestle the pot into a shallow hole instead of completely burying it. Don't forget to water your houseplant along with your other container plants during the season. When it's time for your houseplant to come indoors again, just lift the whole pot out of the ground. Clean off the outside of the container, trim protruding roots, then place the plant back in your home.

combining houseplants
Marianne Willburn

3. Spotlight Colorful Foliage in Creative Combos

Houseplants with pretty patterns and colors on their leaves are fun to mix and match together in a pot. I particularly like combining my smaller plants with similar growing needs into one outdoor planter so they won't dry out as fast. For example, this wide but shallow planter holds a mix of dieffenbachia, pothos, trailing philodendron, and hot-pink-tinged aglaonema.

To create your own combos, choose houseplants with similar watering and light needs. And follow the tried-and-true container garden mantra of 'thriller, filler, spiller' for an arrangement that's much more than the sum of its parts. This means using a taller focal point plant, a shorter plant or two to fill in around it, and then a few trailing plants to spill over the side.

Ceramic glazed pots or self-watering synthetic containers work best for collections like this, both for retaining moisture and adding a strong color accent to your favorite houseplants. Chances are, you'll love the combination so much, you'll bring your container garden indoors to brighten up winter days.

sanseviera container
Marianne Willburn

4. Create a Strong Focal Point in Containers

Container gardens look more dynamic when anchored around a taller, upright plant (your thiller). If you're uninspired by the usual fare of vertical accents available at your local nursery, why not try one of your favorite mid-size houseplants? Bromeliads, snake plants, and dracaena are my favorite choices because they provide unmatched structure, which you can set off nicely with more conventional container garden plants such as verbena, calibrachoa, impatiens, and carex. Plus, these plants can handle an end-of-season repotting well and tolerate full sun.

Tips for Moving Indoor Plants Outside

Most houseplants will thrive in the brighter light and increased air movement they'll get outside during the growing season outdoors. And with consistent watering and occasional doses of fertilizer, your plants will come back into the house in autumn looking refreshed and lush. However, it's best to slowly transition any indoor plant to outside conditions. Start moving your houseplants outside once night time temperatures reliably stay above 50°F. Use shady spaces as holding areas while your houseplants adapt to higher light levels. Adjust your feeding and watering habits as you would for any other container plants you have outdoors.

Use houseplants outdoors in garden beds, as accents in baskets, or stand-alone specimens in planters to create a sense of privacy on decks or patios. Then, before temperatures drop significantly in autumn, check your plants carefully for pests, treat them as necessary, and bring them back in again to brighten your interior spaces and your winter moods.

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