Tag Archives: houseplants

Houseplants Facts to Know

It’s amazing how many potential pollutants can be found in a home. For most of a winter day, our homes are closed tight with no windows or doors open to let out pollutants and let fresh air circulate. Toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene can be released from furniture upholstery, carpets, cleaning products, paint, plastics and rubber. Carbon monoxide from the incomplete burning of wood and nitrogen oxides from cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and smog can also be present in indoor air.

Areca palm

Then there are airborne biological pollutants. These include bacteria, viruses, animal dander and dried cat saliva, house dust and pollen. House mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens grow in damp warm environments. Mold and mildew grow in moist places like central heating systems and are just one more source of indoor pollution.

Many common houseplants help fight pollution indoors. They are able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. The first list of air-filtering plants was compiled by NASA as part of a clean air study published in 1989 which researched ways to clean the air in space stations. As well as absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, as all plants do, these plants also eliminated significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Other studies added to the list of chemical pollutants and the best plants to remove them.

Pothos

NASA researchers suggest that the most efficient air cleaning occurs with at least one plant per 100 square feet. Even the microorganisms in potting soil remove some toxins. Yikes, who knew all that was going on right under our noses.

BromeliadSome of the easiest houseplants to grow are some of the best to have in the home. Just about all the potted palms are good. Also rubber plant, dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, philodendron, boston fern, ficus, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, spider plant, snake plant, pothos, English ivy and phalaenopsis orchids are high on the list of plants that fight indoor pollution.

Bromeliad species

If you have a cat of dog that you share your home with most of the above plants aren’t safe for them according to the ASPCA website. While all plants clean the air only ferns, spider plants, areca and parlor palms and phalaenopsis orchids from the above list are safe.

Other houseplants toxic for dogs and cats according to the ASPCA are asparagus fern, lilies, cyclamen, jade plant, aloe vera, azalea, begonia, ivy, mums, coleus, sago palm, kalanchoe and rubber plant. Keep your pets safe by keeping toxic plants out of reach.

There are many houseplants that are safe for cats and dogs and every plant photosynthesizes and cleans the air to some extent. Some of the common ones include African violet, aluminum plant, bromeliads, peperomia, areca palm, polka dot plant, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, chenille plant, creeping Charlie, false aralia, Tahitian bridal veil, wandering jew, goldfish plant, piggy-back plant and the succulents, donkey’s tail and hens and chickens.

With a little planning you can clean the air in your home while keeping the pets safe.

Houseplant Confidential – Part I

Tucked on window sills and tabletops my houseplants clean the air and provide indoor beauty while the landscape outdoors is mostly resting. They are easy to keep healthy if I follow a few tips.

Spathiphyllum aka Peace Lily

A typical houseplant lives in the understory of a tropical rain forest where it gets filtered light. They’re used to warm rain and perfect drainage. We put them in pots inside our homes where they have much different conditions to contend with. Most houseplants will tolerate darker conditions if you adjust your watering to accommodate the slower growth rate.

Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry allowing oxygen to move back into the root zone. Let the soil in a 4-6 inch pot dry half an inch down between waterings then water with room temperature water. Don’t let the pot sit in a saucer of water or the roots will rot. If your plant is in a larger pot let the soil dry a couple inches between waterings. A moisture meter is very helpful for larger plants.

Move plants into the best light you have. Even a table lamp will provide light for a plant growing underneath. Remove dust with a moist cloth or place the entire plant under lukewarm water in the sink. Dust blocks light from getting to leaves.

Dracaena

Fertilize less often skipping December and January and starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February. Houseplants are essentially dormant in winter needing fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Don’t re-pot a plant in winter when they are slow to grow new roots. Replant when the growing season resumes in March or April. Choose a pot only two inches bigger than the old pot each time you transplant. Most plants grow happily for years in the same pot and soil with proper fertilizing and watering during the growing season.

Avoid placing plants in cold drafts near high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway. Ficus trees are notorious for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.

Sansevieria

If you have medium to low light conditions in your house some of the best upright plants are philodendron, peace lIly, Chinese evergreen, cast-iron plant, schefflera, arboricola, ferns and palms. Hanging plants that grow well in low light are heart-shaped philodendron, pothos and grape ivy. Most of these houseplants grow naturally in low light areas of the jungle. Don’t overwater and they’ll be happy.

If you do find insects on your plants, a spray of mild insecticidal soap for houseplants usually does the trick if you do a follow up spraying a week later. Horticultural oil works well, too, by smothering insects and their eggs. If you have tiny black fungus gnats flying over the soil, you are watering too frequently. They feed on the algae growing on moist soil. Scrape off the surface, spray with insecticidal soap and let the soil dry out.

Next week: toxic and non-toxic houseplants for cats and dogs and those that clean the air.

Cool Ideas for Back-to-School Gifts

With the first day of school fast approaching parents are busy getting colored pencils, highlighters and markers for the new school year. Students need backpacks, clothes and other supplies too. Teachers are hard at work also getting their classrooms ready in addition to lesson plans. If you are thinking of getting your teacher and classroom a little back-to-school gift here are some suggestions that will do double duty as teaching moments and a thank you.

tillandsiaTillandsia mounted on driftwood

Plants are the perfect choice for a small gift. One easy-to-care plant is the tillandsia or “air plant”. A small one can be placed in a small shell or attached to a piece of driftwood and if given some light near a window and sprayed or dunked in water each week they will flower and reproduce by growing offshoots or “pups”. Turn this gift into a teaching moment to share with the rest of the class by writing out an explanation of their interesting ways.

Tillandsia like their relatives, Spanish moss and pineapple, have tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes which serve as very efficient absorption systems to gather water. They are very tolerant of drought conditions and will grow with just a spritzing of water although I like to run mine under lukewarm water to mimic the showers they might get where they normally grow on tropical tree limbs. They prefer the light from a bright window but not direct sunlight and are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain.

succulentsSmall succulents for the window sill

Another plant that would make a nice addition to the classroom is the succulent.  Succulents are easy to grow. They are very forgiving plants given different watering and light conditions. I’ve seen small ones planted in recycled boxes, old tins and hand decorated or painted clay pots. Succulents have an interesting life history that can be shared with the class, too.

A quick check of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, provides this information. In botany, succulent plants are plants that have some parts that are more thickened and fleshy in order to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions. The word “succulent’ comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice or sap. Succulent plants may store water in leaves, stems or roots and have the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, which makes them equipped to survive in an ecosystem which contains scarce water sources. They can survive on sea coasts and dry lakes, which are exposed to high levels of dissolved salts that are deadly to many other plant species. If they can survive there they will flourish in the classroom.

spathiphyllumSpathiphyllum or Peace Lily

Another gift idea for the classroom is a small houseplant that can clean the air. The first list of air-filtering plants was compiled by NASA as part of a clean air study published in 1989 which researched ways to clean the air in space stations. As well as absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, as all plants do, these plants also eliminated significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Other studies added to the list of chemical pollutants and the best plants to remove them.

NASA researchers suggest that the most efficient air cleaning occurs with at least one plant per 100 square feet. Even the microorganisms in potting soil remove some toxins. Some of the easiest houseplants to grow are some of the best to have in the classroom. Just about all the potted palms are good. Also rubber plant, dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, philodendron, Boston fern, ficus, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, spider plant, snake plant, pathos, English ivy and phalaenopsis orchids are high on the list.

Other gift ideas that would do double duty outside the classroom in life lab would be a packet of quick maturing seeds such as lettuce, spinach or other greens. Sow the seeds thickly into nice prepared soil on the first possible school day and begin harvesting the baby greens ‘cut and come again’ style about six weeks later.

The outdoor garden boxes always need new plants to attract polinizers and 4” pots are readily available. Choose from California native plants such as salvia and yarrow. Common garden plants that attract bees and other insect pollinizers are rosemary, lavender, sweet alyssum, glorious daisy and coneflower.

Houseplants Clean the Air in Winter

 

 

spathiphyllumSpathiphyllum aka Peace LilySome of my houseplants look a little sad. They were forced to give up their regular place for the Christmas tree and table top decorations and the leaves are dusty and looking a bit droopy. Houseplants can absorb toxins from the air in your house. We spend more time indoors in the winter so that’s an important function. Let your houseplants work for you.

It’s amazing how many potential pollutants can be found in a home. For most of a winter day, our homes are closed tight with no windows or doors open to let out pollutants and let fresh air circulate. Toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene can be released from furniture upholstery, carpets, cleaning products, paint, plastics and rubber. Carbon monoxide from the incomplete burning of wood and nitrogen oxides from cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and smog can also be present in indoor air.

DracaenaDracaena

Then there are airborne biological pollutants. These include bacteria, viruses, animal dander and dried cat saliva, house dust and pollen. House mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens grow in damp warm environments. Mold and mildew grow in moist places like central heating systems and are just one more source of indoor pollution.

The first list of air-filtering plants was compiled by NASA as part of a clean air study published in 1989 which researched ways to clean the air in space stations. As well as absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, as all plants do, these plants also eliminated significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Other studies added to the list of chemical pollutants and the best plants to remove them.

PothosPothos

NASA researchers suggest that the most efficient air cleaning occurs with at least one plant per 100 square feet. Even the microorganisms in potting soil remove some toxins. Yikes, who knew all that was going on right under our noses.

Some of the easiest houseplants to grow are some of the best to have in the home. Just about all the potted palms are good. Also rubber plant, dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, philodendron, boston fern, ficus, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, spider plant, liriope, snake plant, pothos, English ivy and phalaenopsis orchids are high on the list.

SanseveriaSanseveria

Caring for your houseplants in winter will keep them healthy. Remove dust which blocks light from getting to leaves. I use a moist cloth as it’s too much hassle to drag them to the shower.

Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry. Poke your finger into the soil. As a rule of thumb, if your plant is in a 4-6? pot let the soil dry half an inch down between waterings then water thoroughly with room temperature water. Don’t let the pot sit in a saucer with water for over an hour or the roots will rot. If your plant is in an 8-12? pot let the soil dry to 1-2? down before watering and if you have a bigger specimen the soil should be dry 2-3? down before watering. Don’t panic if this takes 2-3 wks before the soil has dried sufficiently for a plant in a big pot. A moisture meter is very helpful for your larger plants.

Fertilize less often. Some houseplant growers skip fertilizing in December and January starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February. Think of your houseplants as essentially dormant in winter. They need fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Here in the Santa Cruz mountains many of us live under trees that block available light during the winter and cloudy days can further lower the amount of light your plants receive. Move plants into the best light you have. To avoid unnecessary trauma, don’t repot a plant in winter. If you’ve acquired a new plant, it’s best to put it inside the next size pot for the time being and replant it when the growing season resumes in March or April. Most plants grow happily for years in the same pot and soil with proper fertilizing during the growing season.

Plain green leafy types do best when there’s less light. Schefflera, arboricola and philodendrons like heart-leafed, selloum and split-leafed, pothos, Chinese evergreen, peace lily and ferns look good even in dreary conditions. They come from the under-story of jungles and grow naturally in low-light areas. Don’t overwater and they’ll be happy.

I’m going to get more indoor plants for my own home and choose from those that filter the air best.

Winter Houseplant Care

sansevieriaI miss the Christmas tree and decorations that bring color to the house over the holidays.  After they’re packed away for another year and the tree recycled it looks a bit bare around here. The houseplants get their favorite places back now near the windows. This an important month for them when the garden is asleep. I want them to look great but Mother Nature delivers darker skies and less daylight hours. Even though they are still green they are taking a break and don’t grow much over the dark days of winter. Don’t become a clueless houseplant killer. Remember houseplants clean the air. We need them.

Light and water are the two main factors that cause a houseplant to go south.  A typical houseplant lives in the understory of a tropical rain forest where it gets filtered light until it grows big enough to reach up into the canopy for brighter light.  They’re used to lots of warm rain but perfect drainage, tooWe put them into pots inside our homes where they have much different conditions to contend with.  Most houseplants would like bright filtered morning sun by an east window but many will tolerate darker locations if you adjust your watering to accommodate the slower growth rate.

pathosWater just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry. Poke your finger into the soil. As a rule of thumb, if your plant is in a 4-6″ pot let the soil dry half an inch down between waterings then water thoroughly with room temperature water. Don’t let the pot sit in a saucer with water for over an hour or the roots will rot. If your plant is in an 8-12″ pot let the soil dry to 1-2″ down before watering and if you have a bigger specimen the soil should be dry  2-3″ down before watering.  Don’t panic if this takes 2-3 wks before the soil has dried sufficiently for a plant in a big pot.  A moisture meter is very helpful for your larger plants.

I’m like the cobbler who has holes in his shoes when it comes to plants.  I love to have lots of them around cymbidiumbut they have to be tough and easy to care for. If you have have medium to low light conditions like me in your house some of my favorite upright plants are split-leaf  philodendron or philodendron selloum,  spathiphylum ( peace lily), Chinese evergreen, cast-iron plant, schefflera, arboricola and parlor palm.  The low-light hanging plants that I love are the heart-shaped philodendron, pathos and grape ivy. Most of these houseplants grow naturally in low light areas of the jungle.
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Houseplants don’t like to be transplanted during their dormant period in the winter.  They are slow to grow new roots at this time.  You can transfer a plant to a new pot that is about the same size or a just a little bit bigger if you need to but it’s better to put off any major potting projects until spring.  Remember to choose a pot only  2″ bigger than the old pot each time you transplant.  The soil can dry between waterings this way allowing oxygen to move into the root zone.

Fertilize less often.  Some houseplant growers skip fertilizing in December and January, starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February.  Think of your houseplants as essentially dormant in winter.  They need fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Avoid cold drafts.  Most houseplants can handle slightly cooler temperatures at night but detest blasts of chilly air.  Avoid placing most plants near drafty, high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway.  Ficus trees are famous for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.

Plants get dusty decreasing the amount of light they can use to photosynthesize.  Insects such as spider mites actually thrive in dusty conditions.  Take your plants to the kitchen sink or tub every few months and wash them off with luke warm water or use a moist cloth or paper towel to wipe the dust off the leaves.  In the summer when it’s warm you can wash them off outside with the hose in the shade but it’s too cold now for this.  How would you like to have a cold hose turned on you these days?

If you do find insects on your plants,  a spray of mild insecticidal soap for houseplants usually does the trick if you do a follow up spraying a week later.  Horticultural oil works well, too, by smothering the insects and its eggs.  If you have little black fungus gnats flying over the soil, you are watering too frequently.  They feed on the algae growing on moist soil. Scrape off the surface, spray with insecticidal soap and let the soil dry out.

Many common houseplants  help fight pollution indoors. They are able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air through the everyday processes of photosynthesis and I’ll tell you which ones are the most effective in an upcoming column.

Colorful Houseplants

My birthday falls in February and Valentine's Day does, too. The weather this month can be a bit gloomy some years. That's why I'm always thrilled to receive a flowering indoor plant to brighten things up. Many bloom for a very long time making them a good investment. They are easier than you think to take care. Color inside the house is like seeing a rainbow. Flowering plants make you smile.

My mother used to love anthuriums so I always think of her whenever I see them. Found in wet tropical mountain forests of Central and South America some varieties have the unique ability to swivel their leaves toward the sun. Anthurium andraeanum is the common variety grown mainly in Florida and the Netherlands as an indoor house plant.

anthurium_closeup_rrAnthuriums are durable and will survive for a remarkable period of time, even under adverse conditions. The beautiful waxy flowers along with large, heart-shaped glossy leaves are able to handle dryness around the root ball but then need to be watered thoroughly and allowed to dry slightly between waterings. They can take as much indirect light as you can provide. Lower levels of light will slow down flower production but the plant will survive just about anything. They make me think I'm in Hawaii again.

The amazing bromeliad family includes Spanish moss and the edible pineapple. Bromeliads are commonly called "air plants" but really they are epiphytes growing up in the air on tree limbs and crotches or in rock crevices, free of any connection to the ground. There are just a few species which grow on the ground and are rooted in soil. Bromeliads are distinctive as they have so many forms, textures, colorful leaves and long-lasting blooms. That's why I like them. They are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain.

I have a collection of tillandsias also in the bromeliad family. Some grow in shells, some on drift wood, some in terrariums. These are what most people think of as air plants but really they do need a lukewarm shower now and again like they would get in the tropics.

Then there are the bromeliads with bright, colorful bracts or modified leaves surrounding a tiny bromeliad_rflower. Bromeliads flower only once, then send out new young offsets. All bromeliads share a common characteristic: trichomes which are tiny scales on their leaves. These scales serve as a very efficient absorption system. Bromeliads are very tolerant of drought conditions. In a normal house, it's not necessary to keep the central cup filled with water. If your plant is growing in a lot of light and you do fill the cup with water, make sure to flush it every so often to remove any salt build up.

Bromeliads are not heavy feeders and normally live on the scanty nutrients their roots obtain from rotting leaves. During the growing season you can use a liquid fertilizer at half or quarter strength. There are so many types of bromeliads to choose from. All are beautiful and provide color for a very long time.

There a several other blooming houseplants that are also personal favorites. We all have a couple of African violets happily blooming in a windowsill. Phalaenopsis orchids are pretty easy to bring into bloom in the average house. And one of the best houseplants for a hanging basket that takes lower light levels and dry conditions is the Lipstick plant. Free-flowering in shades of orange or red, the Lipstick plant is a relative of African violet and Streptocarpus. With showy flowers they are also related to "Goldfish plants". They prefer a well-drained potting mix since they are accustomed to surviving on rainwater running off the trees in the wild.

Remember that hanging plants that are closer to the ceiling where the air is warmer will dry out faster and need to be watered more frequently.

Living plants bring the outside in, clean the air and provide color when the sky is grey.