Why Interiorscapers Should Take Over Neglected Atriums

One of the biggest opportunities for interiorscapers is taking over neglected atriums. This building area sets the stage for the ambience and is meant to impress both its occupants and its visitors. When an atrium starts showing signs of neglect, disease, and overgrowth, everyone notices. The decline is not always due to poor interiorscape service. The worst cases happen when the property’s budget can’t afford a professional service, or the owner felt it wasn’t high priority enough to hire one and attempts to care of it themselves.

This was the case for a three-story office location – an open atrium in the center, topped with a vaulted glass ceiling, and koi pond in the middle. It had been a research center that housed monkeys and for over a decade, one staff member tried to keep it up during her free time. The atrium looked like an overgrown amazon jungle with no design and giant thirty-foot ficus trees that were growing into the glass ceiling. 

The worst part was the amount of scale, mealy bug, and mold that covered the canopy and infected most of the plants below. If you cut a branch, white puffs of mealy blew everywhere and then sticky black film covered your hands. I’ve taken over many neglected atriums before, but by far, this was my biggest and nastiest challenge. If you have an overwhelming interiorscape situation like this one, here’s how I’d suggest to tackle it:

Treat It

Before you can add any new foliage or start cutting away leaves and branches, the disease must get under control first. If you start adding fresh plants, they are going to be a prime target for the disease. If you start removing overgrown foliage that’s infected, the movement alone is going to help spread the infestation. Using a systemic disease control product is the best route when you have a million tiny leaves three stories high that you can’t reach with a spray. 

A systemic product moves into the soil for the roots to absorb which, in turn, makes the foliage poisonous to vampiric pests that feed off the nutrients. Since this atrium needed an extreme effort to treat, I subcontracted a horticulture pest control expert to at least get the disease manageable. This was worth every penny because it took weeks of drenching, spraying, and applying different mixtures to combat over a decade of neglect.

Foliage Removal & Trimming

The second step I took to return this jungle into a recognizable design was to remove all the layers of debris on the ground. This helped new growth spring up as well as reduce a gnat breeding ground. By removing the deteriorating leaves and drying out the mucky soil, this reduced the fungus gnat breeding ground. Once accomplished, the original design started to emerge. There were plants growing from tenants’ old dish gardens that I removed. Certain varieties, like ivy, had to go because the environment wasn’t right to keep them healthy. 

I subcontracted professional tree cutters to do the very risky job of cutting back fifteen feet of the ficus canopy from the ceiling. Some of the limbs were so thick, they needed a pole chainsaw to cut. Again, worth the added expense of tree experts handling the dangerous equipment and the enormous task of taking out massive limbs from the atriums.  

Redesigning Atriums

In my experience, it’s rare that a client will have a budget left over to immediately update the design. I create both a high end and low end proposal anyway, giving them a vision of the atrium’s potential. The budget approving process usually takes a couple fiscal years. If it’s not approved within that time frame, I ask about it every year because if I don’t, someone else is going to get those extra funds. 

atriums are unique and bring natural light

In Summary

Getting the opportunity to maintain large atriums that are overrun with issues can be very daunting for many interiorscapers to take on. Especially if you’re just starting out and perhaps only have yourself to handle it. Making connections and hiring outside professionals can make it possible. 

In the past, I have made the mistake of underestimating these costs in my bid. Instead of rushing to get the quote finished, I take my time getting professional estimates at the site and make sure I factor in all the extra labor, equipment, and products it’s going to take getting the interiorscape back to shape. It took two years to finally eradicate most of the disease from those ficus trees and foliage. If you decide to take on a challenge like this one, you will be battling disease issues for years. If you’re not proactive, it’s easy to lose the war. 

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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