Why is it that a houseplant living indoors is so sensitive to humidity, water hardness, watering schedule, sunlight… when the same plant has grown outdoors in wild conditions and thrives there?

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Why is it that a houseplant living indoors is so sensitive to humidity, water hardness, watering schedule, sunlight… when the same plant has grown outdoors in wild conditions and thrives there?

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If you drop a rat that was born, raised, and fed in controlled lab conditions outside, would you expect it to live very long?

Controlled conditions are in fact what a lot of growers and gardeners do when raising seedlings for sale in greenhouses. In order to prevent them from dying from temperature shock, the seedlings have to be hardened off, which means exposing them to cooler temps.

SLOWLY.

As in, when I harden a batch of tomato seedlings, I put them outside, in the sun, for maybe an hour at a time with a cold frame over them to keep them warm. Those same tomato plants might be fine six months later in the same temps, but at first, they will die a horrible death if I don’t slowly transition them to outdoor living.

Dying from exposure usually means that any given organism suffers a shock from temperature difference and their body cannot regulate temps, so they suffer cold/heat shock. It happens to people, plants, and animals, insects and birds, fish and other sea life.

So yes. I could in theory take my lime tree that has lived indoors its entire lifecycle outside, because it’s a tree and it lives outdoors in the wild…

…but not in my Koppen climate zone.

When you’re growing a plant indoors you often have a *minuscule* quantity of soil compared to what it has access to in the great outdoors. The small soil volume makes it very hard to maintain stable moisture levels, temperature, nutrients and so on because the parameters in your average houseplant pot aren’t being stabilized by the hundreds of cubic feet of soil in the nearby vicinity of something you put in the ground outside.

You’d think weather would impact the soil more, but there’s so much of it that even with a couple weeks of no rain you can normally dig down a few inches to get soil with moisture that the plant roots can easily get at, and similarly with lots of rain (barring extreme events) sloped or drained soils won’t get waterlogged.

In contrast unless you’re using large pots your soil parameters are going to see saw wildly unless you’re very very careful about schedules, and this is hard for a plant to grow and adapt to.

Plants growing in nature are adapted to live there. When you bring it indoors, you are removing all of the conditions that it required to thrive and that makes you now the provider of all of its needs. The biggest problem is you removed it from its soil and everything it interacted with beyond the pot size is now gone. Think how easy it is to live on earth (growing out in nature) vs how easy it is to live on Mars (growing in a pot in doors). We take it for granted that we have air to breathe water to drink and food to eat.
Likely you are only feeding the house plant a general chemical fertilizer meant for house plants. This is a serious problem. Your plant now needs that chemical food and for it to not accumulate in the small amount of soil that is in your pot or else it leads to a nutrient lockout. You will need to periodically flush the soil with plain water to attempt to reset the nutrient balance in the dirt. I now call it dirt because it is likely dead. What happens in nature is a whole microscopic world of fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, micro anthropods and then your earthworms and all the small critters in the soil that you can see perform a function called ‘nutrient cycling’. The bacteria and fungi eat raw mineral material from rock or what have you, the bacteria get eaten by the protozoa and nematodes, which get eaten by other and larger protozoa and nematodes, which get eaten by micro anthropods which get eaten by small little critters in the soil and then that continues all the way up the food chain to us. But what happens when bacteria get eaten by a predator, is most of the nutrients get expelled and that is what becomes ‘plant available nutrients’. This whole ‘soil food web’ is what feeds all plants in nature and why giant forests don’t need to be ‘fertilized’. Further more, plants create a relationship with the soil food web. Depending upon their nutrient requirements, from moment to moment, they will produce something called root exudates. Which is a type of sugar it gives to the soil which (through evolution) attracts the type of bacterial predator that will release the required nutrient within root reach of the plant. In essence the plant baits in what it needs. When you feed a plant chemical fertilizers, you short cut the need for the plant to produce these exudates and the plant will stop producing them, which collapses the soil food web. This is how soils turns to dirt. You no longer have a food providing system. This isn’t just a house plant problem. This is the most serious problem our society is facing. All industrial farms apply more, and more chemical fertilizers to try to keep taking care of the plants, but what is happening is the soil is getting more and more destroyed. It has been predicted that at our rate there is maybe 50 more years of soil left. The solution is to stop tilling (which collpses soil structure and leads to compaction), stop applying the chemical fertilizers and bring life back to the soil in the form of organic matter (compost) and compost tea (concentrated dose of bacteria and fungal predators. It takes time, but year after year, soil will improve with less and less interventions.

Sorry got off track and ended on a soap box

Plants growing in nature are adapted to live there. When you bring it indoors, you are removing all of the conditions that it required to thrive and that makes you now the provider of all of its needs. The biggest problem is you removed it from its soil and everything it interacted with beyond the pot size is now gone. Think how easy it is to live on earth (growing out in nature) vs how easy it is to live on Mars (growing in a pot in doors). We take it for granted that we have air to breathe water to drink and food to eat.
Likely you are only feeding the house plant a general chemical fertilizer meant for house plants. This is a serious problem. Your plant now needs that chemical food and for it to not accumulate in the small amount of soil that is in your pot or else it leads to a nutrient lockout. You will need to periodically flush the soil with plain water to attempt to reset the nutrient balance in the dirt. I now call it dirt because it is likely dead. What happens in nature is a whole microscopic world of fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, micro anthropods and then your earthworms and all the small critters in the soil that you can see perform a function called ‘nutrient cycling’. The bacteria and fungi eat raw mineral material from rock or what have you, the bacteria get eaten by the protozoa and nematodes, which get eaten by other and larger protozoa and nematodes, which get eaten by micro anthropods which get eaten by small little critters in the soil and then that continues all the way up the food chain to us. But what happens when bacteria get eaten by a predator, is most of the nutrients get expelled and that is what becomes ‘plant available nutrients’. This whole ‘soil food web’ is what feeds all plants in nature and why giant forests don’t need to be ‘fertilized’. Further more, plants create a relationship with the soil food web. Depending upon their nutrient requirements, from moment to moment, they will produce something called root exudates. Which is a type of sugar it gives to the soil which (through evolution) attracts the type of bacterial predator that will release the required nutrient within root reach of the plant. In essence the plant baits in what it needs. When you feed a plant chemical fertilizers, you short cut the need for the plant to produce these exudates and the plant will stop producing them, which collapses the soil food web. This is how soils turns to dirt. You no longer have a food providing system. This isn’t just a house plant problem. This is the most serious problem our society is facing. All industrial farms apply more, and more chemical fertilizers to try to keep taking care of the plants, but what is happening is the soil is getting more and more destroyed. It has been predicted that at our rate there is maybe 50 more years of soil left. The solution is to stop tilling (which collpses soil structure and leads to compaction), stop applying the chemical fertilizers and bring life back to the soil in the form of organic matter (compost) and compost tea (concentrated dose of bacteria and fungal predators. It takes time, but year after year, soil will improve with less and less interventions.

Sorry got off track and ended on a soap box

1. Plants in nature aren’t constraied from growing bigger, which helps them stay healthy.

2. No one cares if a particular wild plant died because growing conditions were imperfect.