When it comes to decorating interiors there's nothing like the dramatic effect of an indoor tree. A well-developed weeping fig is as striking as a Ming vase; yet, its acquisition won't dent your savings account.
Moreover, the variety of trees able to grow indoors is so great that there is one to fit almost any decorating need, be it a shady corner or a sun-filled space. Also, indoor trees are easier to care for than smaller houseplants.
Once mature, an indoor tree needs less frequent watering and repotting.
Most of these jolly green giants will thrive if planted in an all-purpose potting mixture consisting of equal parts loam, peat moss, and either coarse sand or vermiculite. Make certain the containers have drainage holes that are topped with a few inches of rock chips, broken crockery, or small pebbles.
Water them thoroughly once a week in fall and winter, twice a week in spring and summer. Turn them about weekly; wipe their foliage clean monthly, and, unless you reside in humid quarters, mist them regularly. Top-dress them every two years and, once the plant is mature, repot every five or six years. Keep them away from drafts and gas leaks.
Most indoor trees require bright light -- natural or artificial -- although some, such as the areca and bamboo palms and the rubber tree, survive indirect light, especially if they're provided with yearly vacations in brighter locations, yours or a neighbor's.
Feed monthly, spring through fall, at half the recommended dosage. Use a fish-emulsion fertilizer for the foliage trees and a low-nitrogen one for the flowering ones. Provide as much ventilation as possible.
Pinch growing stem tips each spring and summer and, except when growing the Norfolk Island pine or any of the palms, don't balk at pruning these giants whenever they are overgrown. Just use a sharp blade and make slanted cuts.
The most difficult part in cultivating indoor trees is finding them. Some nurseries don't stock them. Therefore, either start small and nurse your own plants to maturity, or if you're determined to start on a large scale, call the plant nurseries in your area first and discover which ones stock the plants you want. Shop around and bring a 10X magnifying glass along with you to ensure the detection of any pests.
Don't get carried away when buying young and invest in a potential jungle. When fully developed, too many trees will not only deprive you of living space, but also detract from the individual beauty and dramatic effect of each one.
"A palm in your parlor is worth two on the beach," writes Richard Langer in "Grow It Indoors."
The following are some easy-to-grow indoor trees:
Norfolk Island palm (Araucaria excelsa):m
This is a cone-bearing evergreen tree whose symmetrically shaped branches grow horizontally, in the shape of a pyramid, from a single central trunk that grows 6 inches annually till it reaches 10 feet. Each branch level represents a year's growth.
Provide it with a dry spell in winter and never prune. Its evergreen branches don't grow back. Buy it in place of a Christmas tree this year. It looks best when decorated with traditional items.
Bottle palm (Beaucarnea recurvata):m
This tree, thanks to its chubby, water-storing trunk, will survive long vacations easily. It's also known as the pony-tail palm.Feed it only once a year, preferably in the spring, and grow it in the smallest pot able to contain the roots.
Don't prune its shaggy top, because this is the coiffure that Mother Nature intended.
Schefflera, or umbrella tree (Brassaia actinophylla or Schefflera actinophylla):m
This is the plant that every upwardly mobile executive yearns to have in his office. Simply, it's a mark of corporate power and for good reasons. It's expensive, beautiful, hardy, develops rapidly, and is marked by long, glossy leaves that radiate in umbrella-shaped clusters from the ends of lengthy, narrow stems.
Prune it regularly to keep it from hiding your sofa.
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea costaricana):m
Don't be fooled by its delicate appearance, because this shade-loving palm, composed of clusters of bamboolike canes topped by lacy fronds, is able to survive in less light than any of the other trees listed here. It's also tolerant of both air conditioning and low humidity. Keep its soil consistently wet, however, and don't prune.
If your palm is female, you may be confronted with small scarlet-colored fruit in the summertime. Don't eat it.
Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens):m
Also known as the butterfly or cane palm, it is another shade-tolerant, plumelike feather palm with fronds that droop at their tips and canelike stems that are naturally yellow. If you provide it with moisture, in soil and air, you'll be successful.
Although it seldom flowers indoors, if it does the fruit that follows is dark , turban-shaped, and inedible.
American wonder lemon, or ponderosa lemon (Citrus limonia Ponderosa):m
This is one of the many dwarf citrus fruit trees that can be cultivated indoors. However, while the tree is small in size, the fruit is jumbo -- 5 inches long and weighing up to 2 1/2 pounds. That's enough for a lemon meringue pie.
Like other citrus fruits, it needs direct sunlight, moderate temperature (up to 75 degrees F.), and consistently moist soil from March through September. From October through February water only when the soil feels dry. Feed monthly with an acid-type fertilizer, spring through fall, and every two months in the winter.
You can, of course, grow your own lemon trees by planting the seeds of lemons you consume. These trees, however, will neither fruit nor flower when grown indoors.
Coffee tree (Coffea arabica):m
Its flowers are aromatic and its deeply veined glossy- green leaves are striking. Indoors it reaches a height of 3 feet.
It flowers in its second year if provided with rich humusy soil that is kept consistently moist, with bright light, high humidity, and warm temperatures. The coffee beans don't follow till the third year, and then only if conditions are right.
Java fig, or weeping fig (Ficus benjamina Exotica):m
Indoors, the Exotica grows into a 6-foot tree whose spreading and drooping branches are covered by ovalish, 2- to 4-inch-long, leathery leaves. If contented it produces figlike fruit.
Grow it in a bright, warm location. Let its soil dry out before rewatering. Once mature, don't bother to repot. Prune each spring.
Rubber tree (Ficus elastica):m
This is the favorite of every American bank lobby because of its tolerance for dim light, drafts, and fluctuations in care and temperature. The most interesting variety is the Decora, whose large, ovalish leaves, unlike the uniformly green originals, are centrally veined -- white above and red below. The decora, however, requires bright light.
Water only when the soil feels dry and don't repot once it is fully grown. Prune yearly beginning in the second year.
Bay tree or sweet bay tree (Laurus nobilis):m
This is the ancient laurel tree whose branches adorned the heads of classical heroes. Its leaves, which are impregnated with aromatic oils, are an ever-ready source of fresh bay leaves. Also, it is one of the few indoor trees that is tolerant of drafts.
The bay tree likes bright light and a moist atmosphere (up to 75 degrees F., but with a 10-degree drop during the night). Feed it lightly every 6 weeks spring through summer.
Adam's Needle, or yucca (Yucca filamentosa):m
The yucca is a semidesert plant that is ideal for the hot and dry interiors of our centrally heated homes. It's practically stemless, with a basal rosette composed of tough, leathery, sword- shaped leaves that are 2 feet long and an inch wide. Its large, showy, white flowers grow in striking 2-foot-long clusters that are borne on lengthy stalks.