Is this your first rodeo with a philodendron or calathea? Never fear, The ZEN Succulent is here to help be the best plant parent you can be.
As their name implies, tropical houseplants come from tropical environments. The word "tropical" comes from the root word tropic, which means the region of the Earth that surrounds the Equator. Because the Equator runs around the mid-section of our planet perpendicular (come on freshman year geometry) to the Earth's axis, the temperatures of this region are typically consistent and warm. This is why many plants from the tropics make great houseplants - the consistent above 60 degree F temperature mimics that of their native homeland.
For you, the plant parent, that means keeping your house above 60 degrees F in the summer and winter. Easy enough for most of us. Keep them away from drafts, such as near a frequently used door, in the winter and away from AC vents in the summer.
Moving your babies outside for "summer camp" on the porch or patio is a great idea. However, tropical houseplants are NOT frost tolerant, so you must bring them inside before the first frost in the fall and after the last frost in the spring.
Perhaps the most well-known tropical ecosystem is the lush and dense rainforest. Trees here grow extremely tall and have lots of foliage to soak up as much sun as possible to feed themselves. That means many of the plants below the forest canopy (nerd word that refers to the forest roof, usually created by leaves and limbs), don't get direct sunlight.
As a general rule, you don't ever want to put your tropical houseplants in direct sunlight. For a more detailed explanation of indirect and direct light, click here. If you don't have any other place to put your tropical houseplant, a spot with direct morning sun from the East is typically harmless for most species.
It's easy to think that tropical houseplants want to be watered a lot. It does rain in the rainforest after all. But remember, the canopy in the rainforest is quite thick, so not all of the rain that falls makes it all the way down to the forest floor.
Tropical houseplants like to have moist soil, but never ever like it to be soggy. If you notice yellowing on young leaves, back off on watering. Most tropicals like a good drink (about 1 cup per 4 inch pot) once a week. We promise, that's it.
Humidity is arguably as important as water and light for tropical houseplants. In the rainforest, the canopy traps a lot of the moisture in the air from the rain, as well as heat form the Earth. This creates a perfect steam room for the plants who inhabit the understory (nerd word for part of the forest beneath the canopy).
It's a myth that misting your houseplants will raise the humidity level. It may for a minute or two, but the if the water vapor (like steamy humid air, half water, half air) has nothing to keep it close to the plant, it dissipates rather quickly. You can however, make your own humidity tray or group your tropicals around a humidifier. We like to use a diffuser and add some essential oils. It's an easy way to make your home more ZEN.
What are your favorite tropical houseplants?