How to Grow Tropical Plants Indoors
You can grow tropical plants even if you don't live in the tropics. Use these tips to make sure you can give these beautiful plants a good home.
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No amount of water, fertilizer, love and nature's willingness to adapt makes up for the conditions that a particular plant needs. Take gardenias. They want bright light, including some direct sun, moderate to high humidity, and, to induce early budding, nighttime temperatures of no more than 65 degrees. On these points, they don’t equivocate.
But not all tropicals need the same high-intensity light and humidity, and they aren’t all difficult. Even if you have a dry home in winter (or summer), no sunroom or bay window, and days are often cloudy, you can grow some tropicals in your home -- without pain for you or the plant. The trick is to know what conditions you can provide and what your particular type of plant needs.
To estimate the amount of natural light you can offer a tropical, hold your hand about six inches above a sheet of white paper. If there’s a sharp, clearly defined shadow, you have bright light. If the shadow is quite distinct but fuzzy around the edges, you have medium light. If there’s only faint shadow or none at all, there’s not enough light for flowering.
Find out if there’s a society in your area that specializes in the plants you’d like to grow. You’ll get plenty of helpful advice on which varieties work best for your light and climate, which types might be best to start with, and specific culture techniques. And members usually enjoy sharing extras and propagations.
Here are growing tips for some common tropical plants:
Orchids are not only for the expert gardener with grow lights or a greenhouse. Among the 20,000-plus species and 700-plus genera, there are some varieties that will perform well on a windowsill for the first-time orchid grower.
Paphiopedilum, the so-called lady’s slipper orchids, and Phalaenopsis, the moth orchids, require a lot less light than many other orchids and actually burn under direct midday and afternoon sun. Give them an east-facing window where they’ll receive a few hours of early sun and reasonably bright indirect light the rest of the day.
All orchids -- especially epiphytes, which derive moisture from the air -- need high humidity. In a dry environment, misting won’t help for very long. Pebble trays and concentrated plant groupings are musts unless you already live in the subtropics.
Slipper orchids are mostly terrestrial and are usually grown in very well drained but moisture-retentive medium, often sphagnum moss. The moth orchids -- so named because their wide blooms resemble moths perched on a branch -- are mostly epiphytes and are usually grown in extremely coarse mixtures, often fir bark. For both types, drainage has to be excellent. Water well regularly, usually every five days or so.
One of the biggest mistakes that gardeners make is overpotting. Don’t repot an orchid as soon as you see exposed roots, and when you do, give it a pot only slightly bigger than the current one. Exposed roots are healthy, normal and desirable.
Check out these 8 tips for transporting plants across town or country.