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Chapter 8. The Interior Use of Plants. Evidence of the use of potted plants is found in ancient Chinese artifacts, on the walls of tombs of the Egyptian pharaoh, and the ruins of Pompeii.

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chapter 8

Chapter 8

The Interior Use of Plants

Evidence of the use of potted plants is found in ancient Chinese artifacts, on the walls of tombs of the Egyptian pharaoh, and the ruins of Pompeii.
  • Containers of ornamentals adorned the palaces of European nobility for centuries and filled the parlors of middle-class Victorians and Americans more recently.
  • Potted foliage plants or house plants have had their place in homes for many years.
An unsatisfactory outcome is predictable when architects and interior decorators try to work with plant material whose qualities and maintenance requirements are unknown.
  • The term interior plantscaping comes from the demand for maintaining plants indoors. It is a variation on the term landscaping.
  • For now, the term interior plantscaping will be used to describe the work.
Tropical foliage plants have proven to bethe most successful indoor plants because they do not require the period of cool temperature dormancy that often makes temperate zone plants unsatisfactory.
  • As a profession, interior plantscaping deals with the design, installation, and maintenance of plants in interior locations.
Five things plants must adjust to when used indoors:
    • A drastic reduction in the quality and intensity of the light
    • Reduction and constriction of the plant’s root system
    • The replacement of natural rainfall by dependency on humans for correct watering
    • A reduction in nutrient requirements and a potential for buildup of soluble salts (fertilizers)
    • A lack of air movement and rainfall, allowing dust to accumulate on the leaves, often plugging stomata and reducing photosynthesis
    • Potential damage by air conditioners, central heating system, cleaning chemicals, water additives, and other irritants.
To understand the lighting requirements of a plant you must ask:
    • How much light do interior plantings need?
    • What kind of light do they need?
    • What sources of light exist indoors?
  • No matter how many windows and skylights are designed into a home or office

building, the light intensity inside

will never equal that outside.

  • Light intensity is expressed in

units of lux or footcandle.

A lux is the illumination received on a surface that is 1 meter from a standard light source known as unity.
  • A lux is and international measurement comparable in use to the metric system.
  • In the United States, the footcandle unit is more commonly used and understood.
  • One footcandle is equal to the amount of light produced by a standard candle at a distance of 1 foot.
  • A light meter is the only way to measure light intensity accurately.
A light meter is the first piece of equipment that should be bought by a plantscape designer.
  • The keys to a plant’s survival are acclimatization and maintenance of the minimum light intensity required for its survival in an attractive and healthy condition.
  • Acclimatization is defined as the adjustment of an outdoor plant to interior conditions.
  • The minimum light intensity is the level of illumination necessary to allow acclimatized plant to produce new leaves at a rate equal to or slightly greater than the rate at which old leaves senesce and abscise.
The term used to describe when leaves age is senesce.
  • The term used to describe the falling off of leaves is abscise.
  • Light intensity is reduced gradually over a period of several weeks or months. The acclimatization process cannot be rushed without a severe reaction (defoliation, or death).
During nutrient acclimatization, high fertility levels in the soil is unnecessary, and thorough soil leaching at the beginning of the acclimatization period and occasionally afterwards will prevent a buildup of soluble salts.
  • During moisture acclimatization, the frequency of watering is reduced to prepare plants for their more stressful interior locale.
  • During temperature acclimatization, temperatures are gradually reduced to the range common to most interior areas (65 -75 F).
Light quality is the color of light emitted by a particular source.
  • Plants depend upon blue and red bands of the visible light spectrum.
  • The unit of measurement for light wavelengths is the nanometer.
Five questions to consider when selecting the proper lamp for illumination of an interior planting:
    • How extensive is the planting?
    • Are the plants to be encouraged to grow or merely to be maintained at their current size?
    • Will the plants receive any sunlight? If so, how much and for how long?
    • How far will the artificial light source be from the plants?
    • What types of lamps are being used for general lighting of the area and what is the intensity of surface illumination provided?
Special effects such as shadows or textural highlights can be created with incandescent lights installed beneath the plants and directed upward. These are called uplights.
  • When supplemental lights are added for overhead illumination, they should be positioned to light the plants fully without shining in the eyes of viewers.
  • The most important of all light sources for interior plantscapes is natural sunlight when it can be planned for and depended on.
Sunlight entering from overhead is of greater use in the illumination of interior plantings than light entering from the side.
  • The medium that serves when plants are growing in a nursery field or production container is likely to be inappropriate for an interior installation.
Problems with natural field soil include:
    • Too heavy to permit rapid drainage
    • Too heavy for the floor to support if the container is large
    • Inconsistent in composition, making standardized maintenance of separate planters difficult.
    • Infested with insects, pathogens, or weeds
Indoors, photosynthesis is reduced to survival-maintenance levels, so the root system need not be as large.
  • One of the first steps at the time of installation is to remove production medium from around the roots and prune away excess roots.
  • More interior plant deaths result from over-watering than from any other reason.
  • The need to water a planting can be determined by feeling the soil and observing its color.
When water is applied, it must be in a quantity adequate to wet the soil deeply, not shallowly.
  • Deep watering promotes deep and healthy rooting while providing the soil leaching necessary to prevent soluble salt buildup.
  • Fertilization is needed to provide the mineral elements required for photosynthesis.
  • Too much nitrogen may lead to spindly, succulent, and unattractive growth.
  • Excessive fertilization follows only slightly behind overwatering as a major reason why interior plants fail to survive satisfactorily.
Humidity is seldom a problem for plants growing outdoors, but can cause a problem for interior plantscapes.
  • If the correct precautions are not taken, plants can experience ethylene poisoning during shipping. This is caused by the exhaust and can severely damage the plants. Proper ventilation is the key to preventing this problem.
Air pollution cannot be escaped by bringing the landscape indoors.
  • Proper ventilation will carry away chlorine vapors, fumes from smokers and chemical cleaning agents, or the ethylene which may be present if a building is heated by some form of hydrocarbon combustion (fossil fuel).
  • Dust is an air pollutant different from the others in that it is a particulate not a vapor.
  • Air filtration reduces the amount of dust.
Pruning will not be extensive in an interior planting because of the plants’ reduced rate of growth.
  • Repotting of plants is necessary in plantings where growth is allowed.
five common pests in interior landscape
Five common pests in interior landscape

Aphids Mealybugs

Spider mites

common pests continued
Common Pests Continued

White Flies Scale

The only real defense against vandalism to interior plants is public education and cooperation.
  • Grouping compatible species is used often in interior plantscapes. By using plants which have the same requirements for light, moisture, fertilization, and soil mix, grouping helps simplify maintenance.
The success of the plantscape is measured by its appearance and health.
  • No greater field in ornamental horticulture holds greater promise than interior landscaping.