Clearing the Air

Bringing in the Outdoors with Houseplants

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Plants inside your home create a wonderfully relaxing and welcoming ambiance that can have a positive effect on both your mental and physical health. Surrounding yourself with nature improves your home environment in many ways, and actually makes you happier.

Indoor plants create a more humid environment, and certain types of plants offer the added benefit of purifying the air by producing more oxygen and clearing out toxins. NASA set out to prove just how effective houseplants are to air quality. The NASA Clean Air Study was conducted together with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to determine if houseplants could be used as a tool to solve indoor air pollution problems here on Earth as well as in the space station. The results of that study show that plants can play an active role in removing chemicals in the environment caused from household cleaning products, synthetic fabrics, paints, and building materials (such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde). These pollutants can accumulate quickly in a closed interior space with limited ventilation, and depending on the amount and type of exposure, this can result in discomfort or even illness.

In addition to the NASA and ALCA study, other researchers have found similar results with common houseplants reducing the amount of indoor pollutants. To maximize the benefit of air-cleaning plants, you’ll want to have at least two full plants in 10- to 12-inch pots per 100 square feet of space. Consider placing plants in close proximity to where you breath such as on a desk, next to your bed, or in a window next to the kitchen sink, where you can maximize their benefit.

Some of the most effective air-cleaning houseplants are also the most affordable and easy to care for, including snake plants, spider plants, philodendrons, golden pothoses, areca palms, peace lilies, and English ivies.

If you have access to a lot of sunlight in your home, consider an aloe plant. The gel of the aloe plant soothes skin burns and cuts, and the plant can help to not only clean the air but to monitor the air quality in your home. When the amount of harmful chemicals in the air becomes excessive, the plants’ leaves will display brown spots.

Flowering houseplants can add color and fragrance to your home and many bloom year-round. Many varieties of begonias produce blooms throughout the year. Wax begonias and Rhizomatous begonias are versatile because they work both outdoors and before frost sets in they can be moved indoors with a south- or west-facing window in direct sun; Rieger begonias, a winter-flowering plant, require cool temperatures and short days with direct light to bloom. African violets need similar conditions as the Reiger begonias, and you can start new plants simply by cutting off a leave and rooting it in moist potting mix. Flowering maple is a fast-growing plant that is almost constantly in bloom, and can be quite festive with its colorful blooms.

Keeping your houseplants healthy requires some effort and care. First, all plants need water. Stick to a watering schedule that should be designed based on your lighting and humidity level. Water the base of the plant to strengthen the roots and stems, and spritz the leaves regularly.

Plants cannot be too dry when you fertilize them, so when it is time to feed them, be sure they have adequate moisture for a few days before giving them plant food.

In addition to your container having holes, you should have rocks or drainage material at the bottom of your containers. Water should not pool at the bottom of the container.

Every plant requires light to grow and flourish, and it is important to understand how much sun each type of plant requires. Full sun is only considered to be unblocked or unfiltered southern light, and western sunlight will also work. If you have northern or eastern light, choose plants that need shade or partial sun. Make sure to clean the leaves—dust on leaves can block sunlight (likewise, make sure your windows are clean on both sides).

Plants, for the most part, do not like to be moved. In winter months, plants are resting, so wait to re-pot any plants until springtime. And when it comes time to re-pot, only go up one pot size, or no more than 2 inches larger.

Just like people, healthy plants are better able to ward off pests and disease than unhealthy plants. Be sure to inspect your plants, including the undersides of the leaves, for pests and disease. If you see something, try to identify the problem so that you can apply the proper treatment.

Caring for houseplants is a low maintenance hobby that reaps a multitude of benefits and rewards. Be sure to choose plants wisely based on the conditions of your home, then take delight in caring for your inside oasis and breath easier.