In addition to adding beauty, color and living energy to your home, research indicates that houseplants add health benefits, too.
One benefit is that houseplants add humidity to our dry, winter air. Another benefit, according to the University of Florida Extension Services, is that caring for houseplants has a calming effect on people and reduces blood pressure. NASA scientists have discovered that common houseplants and blooming potted plants improve indoor air quality by absorbing potentially harmful gases.
Research has determined that living plants are efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air, and that plant leaves, roots, and soil bacteria all are important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors. NASA's scientists studied 19 plant species for two years and found that some plants are better at removing certain toxins than others. The following plants were determined by NASA scientists to be most effective at removing toxins from the air:
Now is a good time to order seeds. Most vegetables and annuals should not be started until eight weeks before planting outdoors, that is, about April 1. Some flowers, however, need to be started much earlier - for example, impatiens, wax begonias, pansies, Gerbera daisies, snapdragons, coleus, heliotrope and lobelia. Read planting directions carefully because some seeds require dark to germinate, some require nicking, etc.
Late February and March are good times to prune trees, especially fruit trees. Let professionals trim your large trees. Do not paint new cuts. The tree will seal off its own wounds within hours. Paint encourages rot.
Check stored summer-flowering bulbs and tubers for rot. Discard rotted and mushy ones.
Some houseplants will give you winter bloom and color: orchids, bird-of-paradise, tropical ginger, anthuriums, protea, cyclamen, peace lily and African violets, for example.
Late this month or when you see new growth, resume a regular schedule of fertilizing houseplants. Use fertilizer at half strength.
Use kitty litter, sand or chicken grit to de-ice slippery steps and sidewalks instead of salt, which harms and even kills grass and shrubs.
The most common cause of houseplant demise is overwatering.
• English ivy (hedera helix)
• Spider plant (chlorophytum comosum)
• Golden pothos (epipremnum aureum)
• Peace lily (spathiphyllum "mauna loa")
• Chinese evergreen (aglaonema modestum)
• Bamboo or reed palm (chamaedorea sefritzii)
• Snake plant (sansevieria trifasciata)
• Philodendron (philodendron scandens "oxycardium," selloum, and domesticum)
• Dracena (dracaena marginata, fragrans "massangeana," deremensis "Janet Craig," and deremensis "warneckii")
• Weeping fig (ficus benjamina)
Following are descriptions of some popular houseplants and care-taking tips:
The most well-known of the ivies is Hedera helix, or English ivy. Algerian ivy, hedera canariensis, is another beautiful foliage plant. All ivies are climbers and will attach themselves to rough surfaces. They are great for hanging baskets and can be trained into interesting topiary shapes. Ivies prefer consistent watering, as much natural light as possible but no direct light, cooler temperatures at night, good air circulation and some humidity.
"Lucky bamboo" has become very popular as a houseplant and Asian accent. lucky bamboo is actually a dracaena, and not bamboo at all. It grows better in soil; however, it is often sold in vases filled with rock, and the roots are in water rather than soil. It requires low light because direct sunlight can cause the leaves to turn yellow and burn. Lucky bamboo should never be in temperatures below 40 F. and needs to be fertilized every two months with a mild fertilizer. The water in the vase should be changed about every two weeks.
Also known as saintpaulia, there are thousands of African violets to choose from. Flowers come in shades of white, pink, red, purple and blue and may be single or double, fringed or ruffled. They can thrive and bloom indoors for months and are not as temperamental as you may have heard. African violets require good-filtered light, evenly moist soil and adequate humidity. They also thrive under artificial lights.
Peperomias are native to tropical America and are members of the black pepper family. The most common species is peperomia argyreia, also known as the watermelon begonia. Peperomias are very easy to grow and as a general rule like to be slightly pot-bound. Water them thoroughly only when the soil is quite dry, as they are prone to root rot. Fertilize with a mild houseplant fertilizer every six months. They thrive in bright light and average home temperatures.
Philodendrons are native to Central and South America. There are two basic kinds - climbing (or trailing) and self-heading (or non-trailing). When allowed to trail or cascade, they produce moderate-sized leaves, but when given something to climb on, the leaves are much larger. They like bright, filtered light and soil that is kept moderately moist at all times. The popular split-leaf "philodendron" is not a philodendron at all but a monstera.
It's virtually impossible to kill this plant, aglaonema commutatum. It can sit in dark corners of a room and be watered infrequently. Its dark green, lance-shaped leaves are heavily marked with grey or white. Some varieties grow up to three feet tall while others top out at about 12 inches.
Properly called epipremnum or scindapsus, pothos resembles the common trailing philodendron but is fuller, with waxy, green and yellow leaves. It grows equally well in potting soil or plain water and can be pinched back to any desired size. Given support, like a branch or log, it will climb; in hanging pots it will cascade; on a coffee table and pinched back it will resemble a bouquet of leaves. It likes bright light and moderate watering.
Because they survive well in indoor environments, dieffenbachias have been popular houseplants for homes and offices for more than 150 years. They have attractive oblong, paddle-shaped leaves with distinct white markings. As the plants get older they shed their lower leaves, and new top growth makes them look like miniature palm trees. Water them sparingly and give them bright, filtered light.
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