Acclimating Indoor Plants

acclimated dracaena leaves

Indoor plant acclimation is more popular with homeowners when a new houseplant is brought home.

Another time is when summer ends and houseplant lovers who carried their plants outdoors in the spring begin moving them indoors.

Recently, I was reminded again of acclimation, and how quick things can change. My daughter went with some friends to the beach. Not being acclimated to long periods of intense sun light, she arrived at home looking like a ‘red lobster’.

We seem to not have a problem understanding acclimation in moving from the inside out, but quickly forget the acclimating of outside in, especially with plants.

Nurseries try to minimize the acclimating process by – ‘pre-acclimating’ plants for the indoor environment. Some nursery growers may take offense to this but – NO PLANT can be fully acclimated until it reaches its final destination, indoors or outdoors.

Ficus benjamina tree acclimating

Pre Acclimation

Growers produce a variety of plants for use indoors in full sun or in shade house/greenhouses. As plants reach a salable size they move into areas of lower light levels.

Probably at least 2000 foot candles. These plants receive on average 10 to 20 times the amount of light they will receive when moved indoors. Indoors if they receive 300 foots candles indoors that would be considered high.

As plants begin to acclimate the primary concentration is focused upon outward appearance, mainly leaves or the loss of leaves. When in fact the plant is going through many areas of acclimating, roots, lighting, moisture, leaf reduction, and temperature to name a few.

Take the Ficus benjamina also known as the ‘weeping fig’. It is grown out in full sun. When it reaches the desired size for market, it moves into shadehouses where it undergoes the process of ‘grower acclimation’. This process may last from 4-6 weeks to 1 year depending on the size plant and future market.

Upon shipping, the plant is ready to again transition to its next phase of acclimating – its destination and final acclimation.

A fully acclimated plant is very much different than that of a nursery grown plant. For instance, sun grown Ficus benjamina leaves are smaller and thicker. The plant has more leaves, which are also closer together, and a lighter green color.

The acclimated plant will stretch for light and carry fewer, thinner and wider leaves.

Because of the great light intensity the cells in sun grown leaves stack up on top of each other. The shade grown leaves cells spread out making more efficient use of the available light (Readers Digest version).

Nursery grown Dracaena marginata leaves are very upright where the interior acclimated leaves lay down.

These are only a few instances of acclimation. But remember this when you purchase any plant for indoor or outdoor use:

  • Look for good value and not price
  • Be patient (some of our readers have reported of plants that they have had 10-20 years.)
  • Don’t overwater
  • Pick the right plant for the right area
  • The plant must acclimate to their new environment
  • Enjoy them

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