How to Create a Tropical Area Inside a House

Having an inside tropical garden area is a lot of fun but also a lot of maintenance - they are a labour of love. If well looked after they can be a great source of beauty and relaxation. Here's how.


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    Work out your layout. If you already have such a thing as an atrium, space for a greenhouse or an old, preferably large bathroom or kitchen that you don't use, then it's a lot easier. Its not essential if you want just the odd indoor plant. The more space you have, the better it can be.
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    Consider the shape of the room as to your purposes. Will you want to work in there, relax in there or just have it as a living enclosed space for display? Renovations may be required, or an enlargement.
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    Ensure there is access to water and drains in this room if you intend to make an indoor greenhouse. You will also have to install adequately lighting such as UV lamps and a heat regulator if required. Tropical plants in cold climates is an indulgent hobby as most don't like cold conditions.
    • If you have central heating already installed, then little additional work is needed as most tropical plants "survive" in the same cool conditions humans tolerate (around 15-25C - 59 to 77F) but many will not grow well or flower until minimum average temperatures offer at least 30C or 86F or more.
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    Aim to ensure that your space is attractive but also hygienic if you want to have many plants. In practice it should have "wet area" surfaces such as sealed tile, stone, metal or sealed plastic surfaces much like a kitchen, bathroom & toilet or laundry.
    • The reason is that densely planted indoor plants are infamous for pests and fungus problems as it offers ideal conditions. Regular hygiene such as mopping down the floors, scrubbing the walls and bench tops is recommended. Tiled surfaces makes this much easier.
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    Remove any existing benches made of woods (sealed & polished hardwoods are OK however) and laminates or anything that may possibly harbour fungus. Any exposed plaster or brick surface should be sealed with a waterproof sealer if inside.
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    If it has a window, this can be a large advantage, but it should have a double glazing to protect from temperature change. Likewise an extraction fan can be useful, providing you can close it off to prevent heat loss. There are some fans with petal-like blades that open when turned on and close when turned off.
    • Airflow is essential as still environments are perfect conditions for mildew and weak brittle stems. Plants need wind to grow stronger, but not too much to dry them out or blow them over. A pedestal fan can be useful for a few minutes per day, or if you are lucky to have warm, humid conditions, open the windows often when there is a breeze.
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    When the room is empty and is of a suitable well lit and warmed environment, consider on your space and style.
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    Choose rich colours, polished woods, fabrics and brass as other large decorative tropical-zone influenced things you may have. Areas with weak or "white" natural light could also add filters to the window to give a more golden colour if the electric lighting does not cover this need. White light can make the place feel a little "washed out" like a faded photograph.
    • The usual recommendation for conservative displays is benches around the wall space and if suitable space exist, a bench in the centre for prime displays, or potting and pruning area. This is suitable for orchids, bonsai, small cordylines and other small flowering plants and cacti.
    • If you appreciate small Palms, hibiscus or other large shrubs, then ideally these should be at the back or the middle of a round display and smaller plants can be placed at the front.
    • If you appreciate larger palms, tree ferns or cycads, these can take up a lot of space, so would require a space with a 1.5 meter (4.9 ft) diameter (for young cycads this is generous, for mature cycads, this is conservative. The same applies for tree ferns. It is usual that these types are in the centre of the room in order to set their fronds out evenly.
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    If you took over an unused bathroom, then it is useful to upgrade the sink into a smart looking basin for cleaning use as it won't detract from the rest of the room. It may also serve as a possible water feature with modifications.
    • If you want to keep a messy work area, then invest in a tall bamboo screen to hide it.
    • Also invest in a small area for quarantine needs. Although this does not have to be inside the house it still needs a warm environment. Large plastic storage boxes can be acquired cheaply and work well, or a large rack with a clear vinyl-plastic zip up cover. Remove and destroy all infected foliage, don't compost it in your garden outside.
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    Consider how the plants will live. Are you using a large trough or half-barrel style planter boxes or individual pots of small and large size?
    • Individual pots have the advantage that they can be turned for better access to light and can be changed to make a good display as your tastes dictate as well as easier to quarantine a plant. Other advantages is there is a wide range of styles of pots to choose from. The dis-advantage is that it can be expensive to have many pots and more maintenance watering each one.
    • Trough or planter boxes have the advantage that they are a large garden in one and that a large soil volume gives more freedom for plants to grow and store nutrients. However it can be harder to transplant out of these plants as the roots may weave with other plants, one infection means its likely the whole planter box is at risk (if not already exposed). They are better if you wanted to grow tropical herbs and vegetables however.
    • For watering, it is sometimes recommended to water just the root ball and avoid wetting the leaves on which mildew can grow. This can however make the leaves have unsightly dried edges. It is often easier to mist regularly or wipe gently with a moist clean sponge which also removes dust. Test the soil using your finger, if it feels moist, it does not require extra water.
    • Beware of salt buildup as fertilizer contain a lot of mineral salts. You may see a crystalline substance on the sides of pots where dissolved fertiliser has dried. If it is noticeable, then there is an excess. It might not be a large problem, simply cease adding fertilizers. If it is excessive so the plant suffers, replacing the soil, or soaking the pot and soil in several water changes to leach it out are good solutions.
    • Avoid splashing dirt onto the leaves or stem as this encourages the potential problems. A layer of mulch such as fine gravel can prevent this from happening, but will eventually mix into the soil if it is disturbed often.
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    Install your plants and potting arrangement, evaluate if it looks good and adjust to suit according to practical and good hygiene needs.
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    Now its just continued maintenance and enjoyment.


  • If done well, they can actually be low maintenance, the key lies in maintaining heat, adequate moisture and light.
  • Plants under a heater or air conditioner are prone to drying out quicker. You can buy a spray on product similar to white oil that reduces the evaporation from leaves (this does have its catches though - it can clog up the leaves if used in excess and they can't breathe) and use water retaining crystals in the soil.

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Categories: Home Decorating | Theme and Feature Gardens