Transform Your Home into a Tropical Oasis

by Greg on July 6, 2019

transform your house into a tropical oasis

How about bringing a little bit of Hawaii, the Caribbean or Bali into your home, and turning it into a tropical paradise. You may think it’s impossible, but thanks to the central heating we use to heat our houses, and a little imagination it’s not that difficult at all. You can have your urban jungle as soon as you step through the front door.

Some people take it all the way and put up tropical-themed wallpaper, along with furniture straight out of the Caribbean travel guides, as well as lots of tropical plants, but you don’t have to go that far to give your home an exotic feel. The easiest way is to use the plants to provide an awesome tropical vibe to your property, mainly if you use planters made from natural materials.

One of the simplest ways of creating a tropical environment in your home is to formulate a look using furniture made of rattan, and bamboo. This type of furniture is often cheaper than the hardwoods you find in homes in the tropical areas of South East Asia for example. This type of raw natural furniture was prevalent in the 1970s, so look out for unique pieces in thrift stores and charity shops; you never know what you might find.

However, to give your home a tropical feel it needs to be filled with plants; lots of them. Keeping the place warm enough shouldn’t be a problem with an excellent central heating system. What will always be more of an issue is keeping the plants in the humid environment they need to thrive, and giving them the right about of sunlight. Thankfully not all tropical plants need lots of direct sunlight; many prefer the shade of a forest canopy in the wild.

Forest Floor Plants

Most of the house plants we see in homes these days come from the floor of tropical rainforests. They grow where there are little direct sunlight and lots of moisture. These plants are likely to have broad leaves, so they can capture whatever light penetrates the treetop canopy. The leaves can also be used hold onto rainwater dripping from the trees above. Broad leafed plants such as Monstera, Musa, Pilea, and Calathea look great in a container or planter but need to be kept well watered to stop the leaves discolouring and turning brown.

Rainforest Canopy Plants

These are plants that do not need soil to grow, and you can find them in the wild high up in the treetops of the rainforest canopy. As such they make significant decorative planting, as they like to cling to other plants and grow with very little soil. The varieties that are often grown in the home include Aechmea, Ficus lyrata, Tillandsia, and Phalaenopsis. All of these plants need the same high humidity as the floor growing plants, along with lots of bright sunlight to survive.

Wetland Plants

If you have an area of your home that can sustain high humidity, then an alternative option is to plant wetland varieties in your planters. These plants are often underappreciated in the house, as they take more looking after than most since they need to be well watered regularly. There are lots of exotic plants to choose from including Osmunda, Sarracenia, Dionaea, and Syngonium. The popular Venus flytrap is one of them. This carnivorous plant can help reduce the fly and bug population during the summer months. To get the best out of these varieties, you need to keep them soaked in rainwater, or distilled water to create the high humidity levels the plants enjoy. Using treated tap water can sometimes have a detrimental effect on the plants so try not to use it regularly.

Desert Plants

If humidity is going to cause a problem in your home, then you can always go down the other route and keeping the temperature high, the light bright and turning your tropics into more of a desert. The issue we have with growing desert plants in our home is often getting them enough sunlight. Succulents and cacti need constant light, and the higher temperatures we find in the modern home. There are lots of plants that can work well indoors such as, Mammillaria, Pachyphytum, Aloe, Euphorbia, Opuntia, and Sedum. I guess this is the antidote to the wetland plants, which need a lot of caring for if you want to get the best from them. Desert plants such as cacti can be left to their own devices for weeks on end, and only need to be watered a few times a year, the perfect kind of Office Plant.

Ways to Improve Humidity for Houseplants

Your tropical houseplants benefit from a humidity level, that is not typically found in a typical home. It’s often worse in winter when doors and windows are shut, and the heating is on. However, there are some simple ways to make sure your plants have enough humidity, without turning your home into a tropical greenhouse.

  • Plant Grouping: You probably never realised it but plants sort of ‘sweat’. They lose water through tiny pores in their leaves called stomata. The process is known as transpiration, and the water vapour expelled from the plants creates a humid environment around it. This increased local humidity is an excellent help to tropical plants. By grouping the plants in an indoor planter the level of transpiration will increase, and thus the local humidity levels will increase also. It’s the same effect you get when you walk into your local garden centre. Walking through the door, the increased humidity can hit you, and it’s all due to this natural phenomenon of transpiration. The only drawback is you need a lot of plants together to get the best out of transpiration. If you can fit 20 or more specimens in a planter or container around the home, that would be enough to create a micro-climate to keep them happily humid.
  • Misting: It’s probably the first people think about when caring for indoor plants, and that is to shower them with a beautiful water spray. A cheap spray bottle filled with water, and a gentle misting of the houseplants regularly should keep them nicely humid. The problem with this method of increasing humidity around your tropical plants as the levels last no more than a few hours. The water with vapourising directly and whatever lands on the leaves of the plant will slowly evaporate over time. The advantage, of course, is that this is quick and easy, the disadvantage is that its effect is short-lived. Water left on the leaves can also increase the risk of bacterial and fungal diseases in susceptible plants. If you mist in the morning, it gives the plants time to get rid of the excess moisture by evaporating during the day, minimizing the risk of disease.
  • Humidifier: Electric humidifiers are an easy option to increase humidity around the home. They can be discreetly placed around planters and containers and set to maintain a particular level of moisture. They can also be programmed on a timer, to only operate at certain times of the day. During the winter humidifiers have the bonus of helping to combat the dry air that comes with central heating. If you get dry skin and hair due using a humidifier can have an added advantage.
  • The Bathroom: The most humid room in the house is usually the bathroom, so it makes sense to put your tropical plants in there. The higher than normal humidity levels are great for Orchids, Bromeliads, and Ferns. The environment of baths, showers and sinks, and the drying of wet towels adds significant amounts of moisture to the air, allowing tropical plants to thrive.
  • Pebble Tray: Rather than having plants in large planters around the home, you may want them in smaller containers, if so standing them in a drip tray full of pebbles and water will increase the local humidity significantly. The tray needs to be at least an inch deep, and about twice the diameter of the plant pot. The base of the container needs to stand out of the water, which prevents the soil from soaking up too much water allowing the plant’s roots to become waterlogged. The main drawback to this method is the standing water around your houseplants, which can increase the risk of bacterial or fungal disease in your plants. The water can also attract pests such as mosquitoes.
  • Showering: Depending upon how portable your tropical plants are you could move small planters or containers to the bathroom and give them a regular shower. This cleans the leaves of any disease or fungal growth and leads to increased evaporation and humidity around the plant for a few days.
  • Terrarium: A terrarium is a way of creating a micro-climate for selected tropical houseplants. There are two types, closed and open. I’ve seen terrariums made of glass or plastic and all different shapes and sizes. A closed terrarium creates very high humidity levels inside, which is ideal for growing rainforest plants. The sealed environment inside can cause a micro-climate to establish itself, which can lead to condensation. An open terrarium has an opening allowing air from outside to enter, giving circulation. Even so, inside the terrarium will have a markedly increased humidity level than its surroundings.
  • Two Pots: For a single plant the two pot method is a discrete way of increasing humidity. The pot containing your houseplant should be placed in another about 1-2 inches larger in diameter. The space between the two is filled with sphagnum moss and soaked in water. The moss will retain the water and as it slowly dries out the moisture will increase the humidity around the plant for a few days. Try not to allow water to build up in the bottom of the pots as this could cause the roots to rot or get waterlogged.
  • Clothes Drying: Most people have a struggle to find somewhere to dry their clothes on laundry day. Wet clothes are a simple source of water vapour, and by putting your drying rack close to your tropical plants, you can help them along with the increased humidity from the drying process.
  • Plastic Covers: This method is useful during the winter when central heating can make a home particularly arid. If you have plants that are susceptible to dry conditions, cover them with a plastic bag to seal in any moisture. It may not be an attractive option, but it can save a particular plant from drying out. You’re creating a little greenhouse allowing any moisture the plant gives off to be returned through condensation on the inside of the plastic

How Do You Know Your Plants Need More Humidity?

As most indoor plants come from tropical regions and grow well in the high temperature and high humidity levels found in the rainforests. When plants are taken out of their natural environment, such as into the home, which is generally drier, they can show signs of stress.

1. Brown leaf edges and tips. Plants lose most of their moisture through the leaves. When the environment is dry, they lose more through evaporation and transpiration. The most sensitive part of the plant is the leaf edges, and these can quickly turn brown when the humidity level is low.

2. Leaf yellowing. When a plant’s leaves turn yellow, it’s a danger sign and shows it’s under stress. It could be that the plant needs feeding, watering, or the humidity increased around it.

3. Dry leaves. When the humidity level gets to critically low levels, the leaves on a plant will naturally dry out. It can no longer remain sufficiently hydrated, and quick action is needed to water and increase the humidity around the plant.

4. Buds dropping. If tropical plants bud but never flower, and the buds drop before opening, this is a sure sign of low humidity. The buds are susceptible to reduced humidity. When they appear it’s always a good idea to increase watering and the moisture around the plant to ensure they reach flowering successfully.

5. Bud development failure. One of the reasons we like to have tropical plants around our home is for exquisite flowers that come with the tropical greenery. When flower buds fail to develop on plants, it’s a sure sign of stress, often caused by low humidity.

6. Wilting flowers and foliage. When a flower blooms, the surface area of the plant open to the atmosphere rises exponentially, and so does the evaporation and transpiration. If the flowers wilt as soon as they bloom it’s a visible sign the plant needs a more humid environment. The same can happen to the foliage of the plant.

7. Heavy watering. If you are regularly watering your plants, you know the humidity level in their immediate environment is too low. Consider putting in a humidifier, or using one of the other methods we’ve talked about to match the transpiration rate to the available moisture to keep your plant in good health.

Getting the Humidity Level Right

Tropical houseplants thrive in humidity levels over 50%. Most will be alright with levels up to 60%, and some specialised plants require even higher levels. If you don’t want your home to always feel like the jungle, then a humidity level of 50-60% is quite acceptable for you and your plants. Controlling the humidity is essential, as the higher the level, the more a plant is susceptible to disease and fungal infections. Bacteria and fungus spores will proliferate in a warm and damp environment, mainly if there is poor ventilation. You can check the humidity in your home and around your plants with a hygrometer and thermometer. The cheap electronic devices display both the current temperature and the level of moisture in your home. You can use the tool to locate the more humid spots around the house, which will be the best place to put your planter or container full of tropical plants.

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