Liz writes to us with a question after seeing an idea in Dwell Magazine:
The November issue of Dwell has an interesting article on a supportive-housing development in Chicago designed by Helmut Jahn ("All Aboard," pg 160). One resident uses large houseplants instead of curtains on his street-level windows to provide privacy and block light. (Pictured on pg 164, the photos are great, but I couldn't find one online.) I would love plants instead of curtains in our place! Have other AT readers used plants inside to create privacy or separate spaces? How difficult is it to find the right plant and right size? I would love ideas on how to do this or see what people have done!
The scanned photo is a bit blurry but in all probability, what we see here is a Ficus benjamina window screen.
If you hired a professional interior plantscaper to solve this design problem, this would likely be the recommendation. With better selection of trees, 2-3 Ficus trees would be sufficient to screen this window.
Contrary to widespread belief, Ficus trees are tough as nails. The vast majority of problems with Ficus benjamina plants are “operator error”.
The most common problem is insufficient light. Their well known penchant for dropping leaves is often caused by moving the tree outdoors during the summer where it grows “sun leaves”. When moved back inside in the fall the tree may drop the “sun leaves” and go through a re-acclimation process in adapting to drastically lower indoor light levels.
Tip: Sun leaves are smaller and lighter color, indoor low light leaves are larger and darker green.
Sub-irrigate the trees and provide adequate light and you will surely find out for yourself that these are truly tough trees.
A few tips:
* Install them in sub-irrigation (self-watering) planters. The same EarthBox type sub-irrigated grow box planters would work very well. If they do such a good job of growing tomatoes, why not Ficus?
* Rotate the trees regularly to even the growth
* Learn how to prune them. That will be the subject of a future post, perhaps a video.
* If there is not enough natural light, supplement it with fluorescent light.
* Be careful about creating a heat trap. Very high light and inadequate air circulation will create a heat trap and the tree will likely drop most if not all of its leaves.