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How to Care for Indoor Tropical Plants

Depending on the type of plant you have and where it was originally cultivated, your plant will have some specific preferences that will help it to flourish in the environment you’ve placed it in.

Tropical plants, as the name would suggest, are native to warmer locations with hotter climates. If you’ve purchased your plant in a location where colder seasons aren’t really present, then your plant will likely be very comfortable. However, those who are buying a plant that has been transported to a colder climate will need some extra guidance to keep their tropical plants happy.

Tropical Plant Basics

What is a Tropical Plant?

As a basic definition, tropical plants are those which are native to warmer climates around the planet. The climates are generally more humid than others, with average temperatures almost always exceeding 64 degrees Celsius. Additionally, these plants rarely experience any frost days whatsoever.

The tropics of the Earth surround the equator, making them favorable for plants that need excessive heat. That being said, tropical plants are quite hardy, and many varieties can survive in colder climate regions.

Tropical Plants in Colder Climates

If you are in a colder region of the world but you want to grow a tropical oasis, you’re in luck. However, they won’t do well to stay outdoors during the fall and winter. These plants will need to be potted and taken inside during colder seasons and may be placed back outside when the frost is gone and the temperatures are sufficient.

In most cases, plant owners will purchase their tropical plants from commercial sellers who have already raised the plant to a certain age. For someone to purchase tropical plants and seedlings and try to grow them in their home proves difficult.

Commercial establishments raise tropical plants in very controlled environments like greenhouses that keep the space warm and humid for proper growth. Once the plant has reached a more mature stage, then it can be sold.

Hardiness Zone

It wasn’t always clear which plants would do well in what areas of the world. In order to get an idea of which types of plants a region could sustain, hardiness zones were designated to each area. This hardiness zone would define the climatic conditions of a region, thereby clarifying which plants it could cultivate.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed a widely used system that would eventually mark 13 different hardiness zones across the country. It was the hope that these zones would assist various gardeners in choosing the appropriate plants for landscaping and gardening.

The zones are defined by the area’s annual extreme minimum temperature. Some plants can only survive in one zone, while others will do fine in multiple zones.

Other countries, such as Canada and the UK, have applied their own zones to specific areas as well. For tropical plants to be available in a specific region, they need to have a hardiness level that can tolerate the region’s temperatures. Therefore, if you’re seeing tropical plants being offered in your area, there’s a good chance they can survive with the proper care.

If you’re not sure if a tropical plant you’re interested in will do well in your region, research whether the plant can be grown in your zone.

Conditions for Indoor Tropical Plants

Many people assume that tropical plants will require a great deal of sunshine each and every day; rather, the opposite is often true! Tropical plants are usually found growing along the floor of rainforests, which means they’re completely overshadowed by larger trees and growth.

That being said, most tropical plants actually prefer quite a bit of shade. This is one of the biggest reasons why tropical plants do quite well indoors since most homes don’t get that much natural light throughout the day.

What is really key for indoor tropical plants is for them to have a warm and humid environment.

Soil for Tropical Plants  

Tropical plants have a preference for moist soil. Keep in mind that this does not mean wet or soggy, but rather just wet enough to mimic the humid environment of a rainforest. Some of these plants will be able to survive if they’ve been underwatered, but being overwatered is usually the main cause of their death.

An easy trick to find out if your plants need to be watered is to stick your finger one or two inches down into the soil. If you can feel the wetness of the soil then you don’t need to do any watering.

Fortunately, there are a handful of watering tools you can use to ensure your tropical flowers get the water they need. A soil moisture gauge is one of these tools that will alert you to any watering needs.

Humidity for Tropical Plants

If you know that your home is prone to dryness, then it doesn’t hurt to add a little more humidity to the air. Some tropical plants can get used to lower humidity, but if you want to avoid killing your tropical plants, it’s always best to make some adjustments for them.

If you need to increase the humidity in the area, consider adding a humidifier near your tropical plants. Similarly, you might gather the plants so they’re closer in vicinity to one another. Doing this allows the plants to feed off of one another.

Additionally, you can place your plants on top of pebble trays. The tray is filled with water and helps to add some water to the atmosphere around the plant. A humidity monitor can also make it easy to recognize low humidity levels.

Lighting for Tropical Plants

Your tropical plants will be a little pickier when it comes to lighting, even though most will do just fine in a shady spot. Some plants prefer more sunlight than others, so be sure to research the specific plant you want to buy.

As a general rule of thumb, watch for the way your plant behaves. If it’s beginning to look leggy and stretched out, it may be reaching towards windows to get more light. Move them closer to the sunshine if this is the case.

Alternatively, if your leaves are starting to look burned or they’re losing some of their color, the sunlight might be injuring them. You’ll need to move these plants to a shadier spot.

Potting Soil for Tropical Plants

General-purpose potting soil is often an acceptable option for tropical plants.

If you are prone to overwatering your plants, toss some pumice into the soil to help the plant drain out faster. Alternatively, if you often forget to water, you can add peat moss to the soil to help it keep in moisture for longer.

A few different exotic plants like orchids need a soil that is combined specifically for their species, and you’ll want to take that seriously. The soil for an orchid is generally made from larger minerals for proper drainage, and it’s a good idea to ask your local nursery about the exotic plant soils they have.

Fertilizer for Tropical Plants

If you’re going to be keeping your tropical plants indoors during the spring and summer, then fertilizer is key. In the winter months, most tropical plants will go into a dormant stage, and fertilizer is not necessary. A few specific plants will need fertilizer year-round.

Organic fertilizer is suggested for tropical plants since general fertilizers tend to be filled with chemicals that burn these types of plants. Tropical plant fertilizer is a good option, as well as a general, organic fertilizer for indoor plants.

Houseplant Bugs and Tropical Plants

A healthy tropical plant will not struggle with houseplant bugs, but it is inevitable that these pesky creatures will appear eventually. If you notice that your plant has bugs arriving, you’ll want to act immediately.

Avoid the use of chemical pesticides, which won’t stop these bugs, and which will only add chemicals to your own environment.

Organic neem oil seems to be the best solution; it is a natural pesticide. Additionally, insecticidal soap is another organic approach to killing these bugs. If you’ve got flying houseplant bugs, sticky stakes can help to capture these pests without chemical use as well.

Tips for Tropical Plant Care Indoors

If you’re concerned about the well-being of your plants, refer to the solutions to these following symptoms:

  • Brown or yellow leaves: This is usually a sign of two things: improper humidity levels or poor watering. Refer to the humidity and water sections for tropical plants to figure out if you’re providing proper care.
  • Leggy growth: Plants that need more sunlight tend to manipulate their bodies to get closer to sunlight. If your plant is leaning a specific way or stretching out with fewer leaves, then you need to get it closer to the sunlight.
  • Drooping leaves: Drooping is a sign of too much or not enough water. Feel the soil with your finger and figure out if the roots are too wet or too dry. Proper drainage is key with tropical plants; always make sure to pot these plants in something that has a drainage hole at the bottom.

If you are following all of the directions for your tropical plant, then your issue might actually lie with house plant bugs. Inspect your plant as thoroughly as you can, looking at the underside of leaves, the roots, and stirring up the soil.

If you have this issue, you can use the eco-friendly suggestions to get rid of your pest problem without harming the actual plant.  

Tropical Plants to Grow Indoors

You’re sure to experience a flourishing, tropical oasis in your home with the following list of plants. These varieties are exceptionally hardy and will perform best.

Bamboo

Bamboo can be grown in USDA zones 5-9, making it one of the more flexible tropical plants for indoor growth.

Bamboo can be grown in soil, but it is also common for the plant to be grown in water. In fact, it is referred to as a hydroponic plant, and it generally prefers a water base over soil. Water should always be two to three inches above the root level, and it can be watered weekly. In terms of water quality, try to avoid water that is high in fluoride or chlorine. Utilizing a water purifying would be best.

Bamboo doesn’t like direct sunlight and would prefer a shady corner. As long as the sun is coming in and keeping the room warm, the bamboo will be happy. Too much sunlight will turn your bamboo yellow.

To avoid rotting of the roots in a soil mixture, go with a loose combination of clay and soil.

Tip: After you purchase bamboo from the nursery, it may go yellow for a few days. This is often a sign that the nursery used fertilizers to make the plant even more attractive to buyers. Don’t give up on your plant—instead, feed it diluted plant food every couple of months.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus is a very popular tropical plant that people love to grow indoors or give as gifts. It is the flowering aspect that is most attractive to buyers, but it’s good to know that this plant is as hardy as it is beautiful!

There are more than 200 hibiscus varieties available, including perennials and annuals, trees and shrubs. The hardiness of some versions can be grown as far north as zones 3 and 4.

The soil of a hibiscus plant should be fertile and well-drained; the plant should never sit in wet soil or rotting roots can occur. In contrast to bamboo, hibiscus likes to have full sun, as well as a warm environment.

As a pickier plant, it’s ideal to try to maintain a soil pH level between 6.5-7.0, and organic compost will often yield healthier flowers. If you’re bringing your hibiscus in from the outdoors for winter, it’s ideal to lay down a top layer of mulch to keep the roots warm.

Light, consistent watering is best with good drainage. Additionally, try to find a spot in your home that gets lots of sunlight, but which is not near windowsills. Your hibiscus will not appreciate the cold drafts in these areas.

Banana Plant

Banana plants can grow quite large, which is why many people choose to plant them as shade providers in their yards. However, you can grow these interesting plants inside, so long as you’ve got the room. If not, consider growing a dwarf version instead.

Similar to its outdoor family members, an indoor banana plant will need rich, thick soil that has lots of space for good drainage.

The indoor version will require more water than outdoor versions, but they will also die if their soil is wet or soggy. Moist soil is the goal here, so use your finger to gauge if the plant ever needs more water.

In addition, the banana plant will do best in your brightest room, with sunlight pouring in for as many hours as possible. So long as the plant isn’t getting too hot (it can be scorched), it will be happy with full-day sunlight. Have the plant located in your warmest room, without putting it too close to registers and airflow.

Keeping a banana plant inside will require feeding often. Feed this plant soluble fertilizer each month and make sure it is mixed well into the pot.

Philodendron

Philodendron is typically known as a tropical plant that is low-maintenance and ideal for various locations around the house. Its large leaves make it ideal as a decorative plant, and giving it space to spread out allows it to show off its unique beauty.

One additional benefit to growing philodendron in your space is that it can help to improve air quality. The plant has the ability to isolate air pollutants such as formaldehyde into the roots and leaves and later releases it as clean oxygen.

In terms of sunlight, the philodendron prefers a shadier area that isn’t in direct sunlight. It will do well in a space where it can stretch out and climb, so consider a space where it can hang or some lattice for growing up the wall.

This tropical plant prefers soil that is lightweight and permeable. This is a plant that likes to be watered more frequently, and you’ll know as soon as the leaves begin to sag. Going with a higher quality soil rich with compost will hold water longer and keep the plant happy.

When watering this tropical plant, lukewarm temperature is ideal. Avoid using water that is cold and straight out of the tap. Water that has been sitting for a few days in a watering can is most preferable.

Do not let the soil dry out, and mist the leaves as often as you’d like. If you’re in the warmer months of the year, you can mist as often as every day. Fertilizer should be applied every two weeks when the warmer months roll around and once a month at the most during the colder months.

Ferns

Growing ferns indoors will reward you with lush, full plants that make you feel like you’re living in an indoor rainforest. The things you need to avoid most with these plants include extreme temperatures and dry air.

If you can provide a fern with a humid atmosphere and controlled temperatures, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy indoor fern.

There are tropical ferns, but there are also those varieties that are native to colder locations. These ferns will do fine in colder parts of your home and will actually want to avoid warmer rooms. If you have a house that is prone to lower temperatures in the winter, you’ll want to go with this option.

Ferns will do best in humid locations, so consider incorporating a humidifier or a plant tray filled with pebbles and water.

In terms of soil, ferns like something rich like compost. The soil needs to be free-draining since its delicate roots can be waterlogged very fast. In terms of sunlight, place your fern near a sunny window, but keep it out of direct light.

Ferns will do well with a liquid fertilizer, which can be given to them every few weeks in warmer months. You’ll want to avoid feeding during the winter, which is when ferns tend to rest.

Other hardy plants that will do well indoors include the yucca, Japanese Silver Grass, and Ficus.

Success with Indoor Tropical Plants

Like all other types of plants, tropical plants need a few basic things to flourish. The key is to provide them with these main keys to survival, and they will repay you with beautiful, vivacious views that make your home that much more colorful.

Invest in the right soil and fertilizer for your tropical flowers, and make sure they can drain properly. If you don’t have the means to provide these things, then you might consider a plant that is easier to care for and which requires less attention.

There’s nothing worse than bringing home a bright, healthy tropical plant, only to see if whither within a couple of days. If you bring your plant home and it immediately begins to die, consider getting in touch with the nursery you bought it from for help.

Some nurseries will be able to guide you through the first few weeks of care, to ensure that your plant gets what it needs. As always, the best plant care starts with research. Know what plants you want to get, and do some thorough research. It’s a little extra work, but it’s well worth it when your tropical plants begin to fill your home with rich, rainforest smells and impressive colors.

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