Large plants can mask less attractive features, or pull the eye toward desirable views.

Deb Brown, Special To Star Tribune

Large houseplants can make a big impact

  • Article by: Deb Brown
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • February 1, 2005 - 10:00 PM

We live in an era of instant makeovers, bombarded with television programs that chronicle ordinary women turning into "swans" and ordinary houses into designer show places.

Though most of us aren't looking for such drastic changes, we do occasionally tire of our surroundings and look for ways to spice up our homes. One of the easiest ways to give a room a new look is to add a large plant or two.

A large plant, also called a floor plant, can draw attention to an attractive architectural feature or a particularly fine view. But it also can mask less attractive features. And, there's nothing like a healthy, growing plant to add color and movement to an uninteresting area.

When it comes to making an impact, one large, impressive-looking plant is worth more than an entire collection of smaller, mismatched houseplants. Even though larger plants tend to cost more, if you choose well and care for it properly, it can be a good investment.

Most houseplants that are available in plus sizes, particularly those that are tree-like, need good light to grow well. Without sufficient light, the foliage becomes more sparse and new growth may appear stretched and spindly. Some large plants are more tolerant of lower light levels than others, though. So keep your room's exposure in mind when looking at plant choices.

Consider the ceiling height in a room, too. A large plant should reach no taller than three-quarters of the way to the ceiling. If you plan to place plants near south- or southwest-facing windows, where they are likely to grow vigorously, choose plants that can be pruned so they won't outgrow their space.

Here are just a few large, attractive houseplants that can help transform a lackluster room:

Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) is undoubtedly the most popular indoor tree. This sun-loving plant is available in a variety of sizes, with solid or variegated foliage and with a single trunk, many stems or even a braided trunk.

Though it thrives in a bright location, it will tolerate medium light. When moved to lower light, however, it typically sheds lots of leaves, which can leave the canopy looking thin. Aside from picking up fallen leaves, this plant is easy to care for. Just allow the soil to dry a little below the surface before watering it, and fertilize at half-strength when the plant is actively growing.

Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) shares many of the same cultural requirements of weeping fig, but looks more sculptural and dramatic. Unlike weeping fig, fiddle-leaf fig won't shed its massive, fiddle-shaped leaves at the drop of a hat. That's a good thing, seeing as how the leaves are roughly 10 to 12 inches long and would be sorely missed, particularly if several dropped at once.

Schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla) has an exotic look that would make it at home in a primitive painting by Henri Rousseau. It can be truly stunning when grown in a location with enough sun to maintain its large, glossy leaves. It's far less appealing when grown in low light, because it spreads out and becomes gangly.

Each leaf of a schefflera (which also is called Queensland umbrella tree) resembles an umbrella, with seven, nine or 11 leaflets radiating in a circle from a long petiole, or leaf stem. To keep the leathery leaves shiny, dust-free and, hopefully, mite-free, occasionally wipe them with a damp cloth.

Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is a slow-growing palm that is among the most attractive -- and expensive -- indoor plants. Known for its elegant, large, arching fronds, this palm is able to do well in relatively low light. While it doesn't need direct sunlight, the brighter the indirect light, the more fronds it will be able to maintain.

Kentia palm does best in front of a north- or east-facing window or by a patio door. You could also place it several feet away from a brighter window. Wipe its foliage regularly to keep it looking fresh and prevent spider mite infestations.

Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans 'Bella,' also known as neanthe bella palm) is even better adapted to low light than Kentia palm. However it's hard to find a large one. Perhaps that's why parlor palms are generally planted several to a container, which gives their delicate fronds the appearance of additional fullness.

Keeping that foliage clean is a harder job than with the much larger Kentia fronds, but it's worth the effort.

Deb Brown is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Yard and Garden Line. For help with garden, plant and insect questions, call the Yard and Garden Line at 612-624-4771.

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