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May 26, 2023 6 min read

You know that feeling when you spend way too much time basking in the sun without taking proper precautions? The result? Burnt skin, maybe even heat stroke, and those unfortunate tan lines from funky sunglasses and strappy tops.

Plants go through a similar ordeal when exposed to direct sunlight and rising temperatures. The only difference is, they can't just up and move like we can! Even those plants that absolutely adore the sun need a little helping hand from us to ease them into a new environment gradually.

In this Guide to Greenery, we look at the importance of gradually acclimating our beloved houseplants to new light and temperature conditions, preventing those dreaded shocks and ensuring their long-term health.

By understanding the needs of our green companions and giving them a gentle introduction to their new homes, we can avoid the unfortunate fate of frying our foliage friends.

Understanding the Needs of Houseplants

At Hortology, we provide all the necessary information to care for your plants on our product pages through our Horty Hints and Care & Info Guides. However, it is essential to really understand the conditions the plant needs and avoid immediately placing the plant in full sun, assuming it can handle bright conditions.

Remember, your plant has been accustomed to lower light conditions during its journey to your doorstep and has been kept in a temperature-controlled environment throughout its whole life. It's been sheltered from all kinds of stress, so even if the species can tolerate extremes, it will need to be eased in rather than immediately exposed.

Houseplants can experience shock when exposed abruptly to new conditions. Rapid changes in light intensity, temperature, or humidity can stress the plants, resulting in wilting, leaf drop, or even plant death. By gradually acclimatising them, we help the plants adjust and adapt to their new surroundings, reducing the risk of shock and ensuring a successful transition.

When a new houseplant arrives in your home, it’s important to take the time to find the most suitable conditions for it to thrive. Before finding a permanent spot for your new houseplant, assess the lighting conditions and temperature in different areas of your home. Determine the appropriate light level for the specific plant species and identify areas with suitable temperature ranges. This assessment will help you select the most suitable location for your plant's long-term well-being.

Once you have chosen the placement for your houseplant, it's time to begin the acclimatisation process. This involves gradually exposing the plant to its new conditions of light and temperature over a period of time.

Light Adjustment

Introducing Sunlight & Preventing Light Shock

Different houseplant species have varying light intensity preferences. Some thrive in bright, direct sunlight, while others prefer filtered or low-light conditions. Understanding the specific light requirements of your plant is essential to prevent light shock. Research the optimal light intensity for your plant species and ensure it receives the appropriate amount of light for healthy growth.

Avoiding direct sunlight exposure

Direct sunlight is almost always too intense for houseplants, even the most sun-loving species have been acclimatised to typical household conditions and will typically suffer when placed in full sun. Exposing your houseplant to direct sunlight without acclimatisation can lead to sunburn, serious damage to the foliage and can prove fatal. Always avoid direct sunlight, instead place your plant in an area where it receives indirect or filtered sunlight, especially during the initial stages of acclimatisation.

Using sheer curtains, blinds, or relocating plants if necessary

If your houseplant needs more light than its current placement provides, you have a couple of options to create a suitable light environment. One option is to use sheer curtains or blinds to filter the sunlight, allowing just the right amount to reach the plant. Another option is to gradually relocate the plant to an area with better lighting conditions, moving it back to its previous home during the brightest part of the day. Whichever method you choose, make sure to monitor the plant's response closely to ensure it adjusts well to the new light levels.

Adjusting light exposure gradually over time

As your houseplant adjusts to its new surroundings, you can gradually increase its exposure to bright sunlight (still avoiding direct), but only if it's suitable for its species. Begin by exposing the plant to short periods of bright light, then gradually extend the duration over the course of days or weeks. This gradual adjustment enables the plant to strengthen and develop tolerance to higher light intensities.

Temperature Adjustment

Gradual Temperature Changes To Avoid Temperature Shock

If you tend to crank up the heating or open windows wide at night, you need to be mindful of the impact on your plants. Even the hardiest houseplants, capable of tolerating both cold and warmth, require a gradual adjustment to these conditions.

Maintaining consistent temperatures

Maintaining a stable and consistent temperature environment is vital to minimise temperature shock and prevent stress on your houseplants. Avoid subjecting them to drastic temperature fluctuations. Ensure that the room or area where your plants reside maintains a relatively stable temperature, free from drafts or extreme variations in hot or cold.

Gradually transitioning plants to new temperature conditions

If you would like to move your houseplants to an area with different temperature conditions, it's important to do so gradually. Gradually transition the plants by moving them to a slightly cooler or warmer location over several days or weeks, allowing them to adjust to the new temperatures without sudden shock.

Spring and Autumn are when you need to be particularly mindful of the changing temperatures and monitor your houseplants particularly closely.

Moving plants in extreme conditions

During periods of extreme weather, such as heatwaves or cold snaps, it's advisable to take extra precautions to protect your houseplants. Just because they're inside doesn't mean they're safe. Close to a window, radiator or draught the temperature can fluctuate significantly enough to cause serious harm.

If you suspect that conditions are either too warm or too cold for your plants, it's advisable to relocate them to a spot where the temperature is more consistent, typically closer to the middle of your home. While this might involve moving them away from sources of natural light, it's important to prioritise the plant's well-being and, as extreme temperature variations pose a more immediate risk, it's better to make the move sooner rather than later to ensure the health of your plants.

Monitoring and Adjusting

Observing plant behaviour and signs of stress

During the acclimatisation process of your houseplants, it is crucial to closely monitor their progress. Pay close attention to any changes in leaf colour, wilting, or stunted growth, as these may indicate stress or insufficient acclimatisation. Regularly examine the foliage, stems, and overall appearance of the plant to detect any signs of distress. Patience is key. Slow things down to plant pace and acclimatise over weeks and months.

Recognising symptoms of light and temperature shock

Familiarise yourself with the common symptoms of light and temperature shock in houseplants. Light shock may manifest as scorched or bleached leaves, while temperature shock can result in wilting, leaf drop, or slowed growth. Being able to recognize these symptoms early on enables you to take prompt action and adjust the conditions accordingly.

Taking corrective actions when needed

If you observe signs of stress or shock in your houseplants, it's important to take corrective action. This may involve adjusting the light intensity, relocating the plant to a more suitable spot, or modifying the temperature conditions.

Again be mindful of doing things slowly and steadily. A knee-jerk reaction to whisk your plant to somewhere too cold and dark or too light and bright could push your plant over the edge at a time when it's already weakened.

The importance of patience and adaptability

Acclimatisation is a gradual process that requires patience and adaptability. Each plant is unique, and the time required for successful acclimatisation may vary. Be prepared to make adjustments and modifications along the way, tailoring the conditions to meet the specific needs of your houseplants. With patience and adaptability, you can ensure the best chances of a successful transition.

Moving Plants Outdoors

There are a handful of houseplants that can cope with outdoor conditions but, even more than for houseplants kept indoors, the aclimatisation process is vital to ensure success. A Phoenix palm unboxed or taken from a chilly room indoors and thrown into the sun is incredibly unlikely to survive.

To properly harden off your plant for outdoors, follow the aforementioned steps: bringing it back inside during the brightest and hotest parts of the day and again at night, gradually lengthening exposure times. Generally, placing it in a relatively shady area of your garden is preferable. Additionally, remember to bring your plants inside during the autumn and winter.

The main thing to remember throughout the acclimatisation process is to take things slow. Your houseplant has lived a very comfortable life. It's been raised in a light, temperature and moisture-controlled environment, shielded from the unpredictable conditions of the big wild world. Even the most resilient species will require time and patience to adapt to anything less than an ideal setting. So, approach with a gentle touch, be patient, and understanding. In return, your houseplant will flourish with healthy and sustainable growth, rewarding your efforts with a happy and long life.