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Fatsia is tropical in landscape, indoors
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Lately I’ve been writing a lot about indoor plants and thought it was time to switch to the outdoors. Then I got a better idea and decided to tell you about the fatsia japonica, a great plant that performs in both places.
The fatsia, also known as Japanese aralia, is one of the most-loved shade garden plants in the South. Large palmate leaves similar to a philodendron make the fatsia at home in the tropical garden.
Outdoors, it is cold hardy to zone 8 and needs protection in zone 7, but it has been known to withstand temperatures as low as 7 degrees. More northern zones relish the plant as an indoor tropical.
The plants need shade but will tolerate morning sun. Prepare the soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply. This is a plant you don’t want sitting in soggy winter conditions.
Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper, planting at the same depth it is growing in the container. A wider hole helps with quick root expansion and adaptability to your garden.
Moisture is critical the first year, so water deeply when required. Feed four weeks after transplanting with a slow-release fertilizer, like an 8-8-8 at 1 pound per 100 square feet of bed space. Feed established plantings in March. Annual light pruning will keep the plant shapely, so remove old stalks in favor of young shoots.
To enjoy as a fine indoor houseplant, place the fatsia in a bright, filtered light location. Your container should be fairly large to allow the plant to reach a stage of elegance. Don’t skimp on potting soil. Choose one that is light and airy yet has good moisture-holding capacity. A heavy soil will make your life miserable when it comes to moving the plant and judging its dryness.
The fatsia’s big leaves use quite a bit of water for an indoor plant. As you develop a relationship with the plant, you will see that it does not hurt it to see a little wilt.
In the landscape, the fatsia is one of the best shrubs to give a tropical feeling. Its giant leaves were made for the pool, water garden or large atrium, and you can grow them as understory plants to banana trees. Partner them with aucuba and holly fern for a tropical-style garden that is cold hardy.
Fatsias are mostly sold generically, but named varieties include Aurea, which has golden variegation; Variegata, with white variegation; and the compact Moseri. A close relative called the fatshedera gives much the same look on a vine with smaller leaves. The fatshedera is actually a cross between the fatsia and ivy.
As you enjoy the rest of the holidays, think about planting fatsia this spring at your home.