Growing Tropical Plants Indoors

If you have ever asked “Can I grow tropical plants indoors?”

The answer is YES.  You pretty much can grow any tropical plant indoors as long as you put some effort into it. The only limitation would be the size of the plants. Some palm trees can grow to 100’ and they can’t be trimmed.

The key to success is to try to reproduce the natural environment where the plants originate from. Not all the plants are the same, some can adapt to a wide range of conditions and others are not very flexible if the conditions are not right.

The term “indoor plants” is often used to describe certain plants that perform reasonably well indoors without the need of altering the indoor environment. Unfortunately, not many plants belong to that category and some adjustment to the environment may be in order for successful growing.

The basic elements for growing plants indoors are: light, air humidity, air circulation and temperature.

Light: Most of the light problems come from insufficient light and light coming from one direction only. Plants under insufficient light will stretch, become weak and will not bloom. They also have a tendency of growing in one direction only (towards the light).  Keep in mind that some plants prefer the shade and others need full sun in order to thrive (at least 4 – 5 hours of direct sun). Obviously shade plants will perform better indoors than plants requiring full sun. In any event, rooms with large windows and natural light are always preferable than rooms without windows. Many indoor gardener enthusiasts use artificial lights in order to supplement the natural light when necessary.

Air Humidity: Most houses in the US are either running the A/C during the summer or the heater during the winter. Both reduce the indoor humidity to insufficient levels for many plants, specially the heaters. Most of the symptoms of low humidity show up on leaves, beginning with browning of the edges progressing to shriveling and wilting and eventually dropping. The plant is pretty much desiccating. Some plants are adapted to dry environments (cactus and succulents are good examples of it), but for many tropical plants the air inside of houses is just too dry. You can increase the humidity surrounding your plants by grouping them together, misting the leaves a few times during the day and by using a “humidity tray”, which is basically a tray with some pebbles and water where the plants sit on top of the pebbles without touching the water. Humidifiers can also be used. A relative humidity of at least 50% is necessary for most tropical plants.

Air Circulation: This is pretty much a problem in every house because for a good part of the year it is either too hot or too cold outside and the windows and doors are shut. Problems caused by poor air circulation are normally diseases that can kill or damage many plants. A small oscillating fan around the plants should take care of the problem.

Temperature: I don’t find the temperatures inside of homes to be a cause of major problems because most tropical plants are happy with the same temperatures that make people comfortable. Most tropical plants will be happy with temperatures ranging from 60°F to 85°F. Many tropical plants will survive temperatures near freezing for short periods of time, but overall (depending on the species) temperatures below 50°F should be avoided.

Don’t expect to get everything right from the beginning. Indoor gardening is an activity like any other. You learn by trying different things and an occasional failure is part of the process. I know quite a few indoor gardeners with amazing plant collections inside of their houses; growing plants of better quality than the ones produced by many commercial growers.


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