Green and clean: Houseplants purify the air

  • By Debra Smith Special to The Herald
  • Tuesday, December 10, 2013 1:22pm
  • Life

Houseplants are a functional and beautiful addition to the home.

They provide a pleasant green backdrop, reduce stress and even purify the air, said Jenn Dazey, a naturopathic physician who teaches organic gardening and botanical medicine classes at Bastyr University.

Dazey is one of eight gardening experts scheduled to give talks as part of the Sustainable Gardening Winter Speaker Series, which begins in January. Dazey will speak Jan. 31.

She became interested in indoor plants after she noticed more people she treated at her practice becoming ill during the winter months.

She learned that indoor plants can absorb and neutralize pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds released from the everyday manufactured items in the home, such as carpeting and pressboard furniture.

The most famous study on the topic was completed by NASA in 1989 and researchers at the University of Georgia have since expanded on that work. In one study at the University of Georgia, researchers placed different plants in a sealed chamber with air pollutants, and found many plants worked better than HEPA filters at removing pollutants.

Some plants also regulate humidity in the home, reducing dust and mold, she said.

To reap the health benefits, add the equivalent of 10 plants in 6-inch pots for every 1,000 square feet of house, Dazey said. Plants provide the same benefits at the office, too.

Generally, houseplants need a container with drainage holes and a dish underneath, she said. Fill the container with a good, all-purpose organic potting soil. Many indoor plants don’t need fertilizer. When planting a new container, make sure to give the plant some water. That helps settle soil particles and keeps the plant from wilting from shock.

Quite a selection of indoor plants are available that are easy to care for, even for those who feel indoor plants tremble in fear at their approach.

Cacti are not good at removing pollutants from the environment because, as Dazey put it, they keep their mouths shut to conserve moisture. Instead, here are a few recommendations from Dazey of plants that reduce toxins and are fairly forgiving:

Boston fern: This plant likes to stay moist and can’t handle direct sunlight. It’s perfect for a daylight basement, a west- or north-facing room or a bathroom without a window.

The fern pulls moisture from the air, which helps reduce mold. Water about once a week.

Fiddle leaf fig tree: This plant thrives on neglect. When people have problems with this tree, it’s because they give it too much attention by fertilizing or overwatering, Dazey said.

It wants to dry out before it is watered. It prefers dim light and grows to about 5 feet tall indoors. It also does better in a too-tight pot. She suggested a container no bigger than 10 inches.

About every five years, the tree needs to come out of the container and have its roots pruned.

Snake plant: This plant is also commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue. It can almost grow in the dark, Dazey said. It needs water about once a month.

Spider plant: This is the plant that keeps on giving and giving, Dazey said. Its long tendrils can easily be snipped and transferred to a new pot. The plant fills whatever container you plant it in and needs to be divided about every six months.

If the classic spider plant doesn’t appeal, plenty of new varieties are available, including variegated forms. Spider plants do well in a variety of light, including artificial light.

The plant is so hardy, Dazey said she’s seen plants that appear dead come back to life once watered.

Peace lily: This plant is a top performer when it comes to removing various kinds of chemicals from the home environment. Different varieties are available. The plant is prized for its blooms, which feature cream-colored petals surrounding a yellow spadix.

It prefers a medium-moist soil but can tolerate those people who compulsively over water. The plant likes low light. People often place them on the floor to better view the gorgeous flowers, Dazey said.

Hoya: Dozens of varieties of this vine are available. It wants to grow and grow up toward the light, Dazey said, and it’s happiest in full sun, so a south-facing room would be best.

The plant is incredibly fragrant. Since it is a vine, it does need to be trained up a trellis or some other vertical object. The vine likes a too-tight pot, and it’s easy to take cuttings.

English ivy: This plant is an invasive plant outdoors so keep it inside. Within the home, it tolerates most light conditions. It can be trained into a topiary or allowed to sprawl across a curtain rod or spill down a pedestal. Different varieties are available, one so delicate it the leaves resemble that of a Japanese maple.

Dracaena: This plant is often mistaken for a palm. They come in many different color variations. They do not like direct sunlight. This slow grower needs its pot size increased gradually as it grows so it doesn’t become root-bound.

One last tip from Dazey. It’s normal for houseplants to get infested with bugs, such as spider mites. If the plant has spider mites, it often looks dry and you may see fine webbing.

Avoid using pesticides, which kill microbes in the soil that help the plant work as an air filter. Instead, give the problem plant a few minutes in a cold shower once a week.

Most are tropical rain forest plants and benefit from an indoor version of the monsoon.

After about three showers, the bugs are usually gone, she said.

Master Gardener Series

Eight gardening experts are scheduled to take part in an ongoing speakers’ series organized by the WSU Master Gardener Foundation of Snohomish County.

All the talks are at 9:30 a.m. Fridays beginning next month at the Mukilteo Presbyterian Church Social Hall, 4515 84th St. SW, Mukilteo.

Jan. 3, Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks: What is New and How They are Picked.

Jan. 17, Monica VanderVieren, Plant It and They Will Come: Wildlife in a (Mostly) Native Landscape.

Jan. 31, Dr. Jenn Dazey, Year-round Benefits of Indoor Plants.

Feb. 14, Lisa Taylor, Tasty Heirlooms: Ten Amazing Vegetables You Simply Must Grow

Feb. 28, Laura Watson, Clematis Made Easy.

March 14, Ciscoe Morris, Bugs – Eek, Squish, Splat!

March 28, Sue Goetz, Designing an Edible Garden Lifestyle.

April 11 Karen Chapman, Foliage First: Three Easy Steps to Fabulous Gardens and Containers.

The entire series costs $85. Register online at www.gardenlectures.com. If space remains available, individual seats are $20.

More information: 425-357-6010.

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