Before you decide to move your plants outdoors for the summer, make it a gradual move, over a period of several days or weeks. Move them to a protected place, such as a porch or covered patio, for 2 hours the first day, 3 hours the next day, and so on, until they become accustomed to the new environment.

The sunlight outdoors may be as much as 10 times more intense than indoor light. Springtime temperatures fluctuate markedly. To the plants, the balmy breezes are really drying winds. Nigth temperatures should remain above 55 degrees F consistently before platns are put out to stay.

Plants on balconies and roof gardens are especially subject to heat reflection from walls and roofing and dehydrating winds. They will need special protection when first set out and perhaps throughout the summer.

Houseplants may be moved into light shade or filtered sunlight in the garden. Plunge the pots up to their rims in the soil and water them in. A layer of cinders, gravel or sand in the bottom of the planting hole will prevent invastion by pests through the drainage hole.

Speaking of pests, there will be some. There may possibly be air pollution damage as well. An extension entomologist (specialist in insects) of my acquaintance recommends keeping houseplants in the house, summer and winter. This practice, he says, does away with the "de-bugging" problems during the summer and the chore of getting the plants safely back into the house in the fall without freeloaders. In this repect hose who lack outdoor gardening space are compensated.

Mamie Cavell of Baltimore writes:

My corn plant, a dracaena, is about twenty inches tall, has all its leaves, and has now blossomed. Should I cut the flower after it dies? Will the plant continue to grow straight up or will it branch out?

The cornstalk plant, Dracaena fragrans - for its fragrant flowers, is usually unbranched as a young plant. In maturity it is tree-like, up to 20 feet, and branched. Yes, do remove the flower when it has passed its prime! Dracaena fragrans is sometimes forced into bloom by being chilled - which could easily have happened to your plant in recent months.

M.H. Katz of Norfolk writes:

The Schefflera which I have had for about 3 or 4 months has begun to lose many of the lower leaves while others have been turning yellow and then dropping off. It receives normal indirect sunlight. I water it when the soil is moderately dry. Can you offer any suggestions?

It sounds as if your Schefflera had been only partially acclimatized by the grower or nurseryman before it was put on the market. Acclimatization is the slowing down of the growth processes. The nurseryman gradually reduces the amount of light, water, and fertilizer to get the plant into condition for the environment in which the buyer will probably place it. Loss of leaves is a sign that the plant is still trying to adjust.

Mrs. H.J. von Kelesch of Quantico writes:

Even with a grow light directly above, the flowers on my African violet are not growing upright as they used to. The flowers are not symmetrical - very few petals on the top. Please help. My other violets are fine.

It may be that your plant is too close to the overhead light. If your light is a fluorescent tube fixture, the plant would be 12-14 inches from the light. If the plant is lighted only by fluorescent ligth, keep the light on 14 to 16 hours a day. Experiment with distances from the light as well as duration of lighting. Remember that plants under fluorescent lights are constantly growing so that your fertilizer schedule will need to be adjusted to more feedings. African violet show

From all indications, the African violet is still the most popular houseplant. It is especially good for growing under flourescent lights. It thrives in an east window or in a north window which get good reflected light from outside or from surrounding white walls.

It is the happy solution for many would-be indoor gardeners who are eager to have blooming plants - flowers of pink, blue, white, bicolor, singel and double.

For indoor gardeners who want to see some fine specimens of African violets or who want to learn more about growing them successfully, I recommend the African violet show of the Old Dominion African Violet Society at Tysons Corner Center.

The sgow is free and there will be a plant sale. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.