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Plants

Should you soak your houseplants in the rain? We asked L.A. experts

An illustration of rain clouds with photos of plants.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

We understandably get excited about much-needed rainfall in Los Angeles. So much so that when a “storm of the season” hits, plant parents might wonder if it’s a good idea to take their dusty fiddle-leaf figs and Monstera deliciosa outside for a soak in the rain.

With more rain expected this week, we reached out to some Los Angeles houseplant experts for advice, and they all agreed that it’s probably not a good idea in the winter months.

One reason, said Danae Horst, author of “Houseplants for All” and owner of Folia Collective in Eagle Rock, is that houseplants that are acclimated to the indoors will get stressed more quickly when you take them outdoors.

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“In the temperate months, as long as you can put them in the shade and don’t leave the plants outside too long (ideally one to two hours max), it’s probably fine,” Horst said. “In hot months, you’d only want to do this in the early morning when it’s still cooler. Keep plants in the shade and bring them in quickly. If temps are close to or below 50 degrees, I’d say skip it — the colder air plus colder rainwater may cause the roots to get too stressed.”

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Drainage is another important consideration, especially when faced with heavy rainfall.

“If plants are in pots without drainage or with small holes, you’ll want to monitor how much water is filling them very closely to avoid soggy potting mix,” Horst said. “Other minor risks include pests and that kind of fine black dust that covers everything whenever it rains for the first time in a while and all the particles in the air get pulled down with the rain.”

L.A. County master gardener Julie Strnad encourages plant lovers to be sensitive about cold temperatures even in a city like Los Angeles, which has experienced record-high temperatures this year. “If you’re thinking of taking a houseplant outside in the rain just to give it a bath and thoroughly soak the roots, it would be better to do that in the kitchen sink or a lukewarm shower,” she said. “Taking it outside when it’s so cold would be a very shocking experience for a plant. Personally I would not do it at this time of year.”

While these gardens are beautiful and inviting spaces, don’t mistake them for parks. They are more like living museums.

Although a light rain can be nice for houseplants, Annette Gutierrez of Potted warns that harsh conditions can damage your plant. And the sudden change in temperature, such as the cold temperatures caused by high desert winds in Southern California, “can freak a plant out” Gutierrez said.

It’s also easy for the most well-meaning of home botanists to forget their houseplants are outdoors. “I’ve seen so many people forget that they left their plants outside and then discover they’ve been fried once the sun comes back out,” Horst said.

“They think they’ll be OK for a day or two,” added Gutierrez, “and then the next day the plant will be completely fried.”

Both agreed that a better practice might be to collect rainwater in a bucket and use the water to feed houseplants.

“I can easily understand how someone would think it’s a quick, easy solution to cleaning up your houseplants by letting Mother Nature do the work,” Strnad said. “A spring or summer rain is a good time to do that.”


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