by Georgiana Marshen
There is nothing more lovely and cheery than a room filled with beautiful green plants. Bringing the outdoors in has always been a challenge. Plants were meant to grow outside, under natural conditions, not under an artificial environment inside.
The Victorians were the first ones to attempt bringing their favorite plants indoors. Great effort was made to hold onto the beauty of the plant year round, and to bring to life the interior of their homes during the winter months. The Civil War Era found parlors adorned with beautiful green plants. The greenery was used as a way to brighten up their dull living quarters.
Present day finds us trying to accomplish the same fetes as our Victorian and Civil War ancestors - bringing color and beauty into our homes. Another more important reason plants are being brought indoors today, has not so much to do with beauty, as it does with health.
We spend a lot of our time indoors- jobs, home, school- and we don't get enough "fresh air". Chemicals in our homes and offices, found in synthetic building materials, can cause health problems. Studies have been conducted and the results found that plants brought into a room, will absorb these chemicals (Benzene, Trichloroethylene and Formaldehyde) and put oxygen back into the room. One potted plant per 100 square feet will clean the air in an average home or office. Without a doubt, the most important job of an indoor plant is its air purifying abilities.
Of the many indoor plants cultivated today, there are a few that show better than usual abilities of absorbing these chemicals than others do. Bamboo Palm, Spider Plant, Dracaena, and Weeping Fig are just a few that have this absorbing ability.
Growing and maintaining these air purifying plants and other popular indoor plants is not as hard as you may think. Keep in mind there are cultural factors to be considered when attempting to grow these plants indoors. Light, humidity, temperature, soil, type of water and fertilizer together, make up your plants needs.
Light is a critical factor because it is the main source of energy for every plant. The more light a plant receives, the more it will grow. The opposite is also true. There are different types of light conditions and each plant will have its own requirements. Direct light will allow you to place a plant in a south-facing window in full sun. Bright light refers to light coming into a north window that has no obstructions. This is the best light condition for most plants, including the Spider Plant. Medium light can be found in most offices and rooms that have florescent lighting. A north-facing window that is blocked by trees will create a low light condition. There are some plants that can grow under low light conditions, for example, the Bamboo Palm.
Humidity influences plant growth as well. Too low, and the plants' leaves drop or turn brown. The humidity levels in homes are usually low because we heat our homes in the winter. You can increase the humidity around a plant by placing the pot in a pebble filled tray. Fill the tray with water, almost covering the pebbles. Make sure that the pot does not sit in the water. By doing this, you create humidity directly below and around the plant. The Mosaic Plant benefits from extra humidity as does the Zebra Plant.
Indoor temperatures have a wide range in our homes. Some plants like cool temperatures (55F-70F) such as Jade Plant, and some like a mid-range temperature (65F - 80F) such as the Cast-Iron Plant. The Crystal Anthurium and Rex Begonia just like it hot (75F - 85F).
Which growing medium you use will be determined by the plant you want to grow. All-purpose potting mix is very popular and now soiless mix is being used as well. Certain plants require their own type of mix, for example, African Violet mix and Orchid mix. Know the plants' requirements before you purchase a soil mix.
Water quantity is very important. Too much and the plant drowns, too little and the plant dries up. Overwatering causes most plant deaths. It is better to give a plant less, more often, than too much all at once. Another important factor for good plant growth is water quality. The best water for indoor plants is one that has been treated. Placing a container, filled with water, on a counter and allowing the chemicals to evaporate, becomes treated water. Make sure the pH of the treated water is between 5.5 and 6.5.
A good houseplant fertilizer will satisfy most indoor plants' nutrient needs. Dilute the amount by half when feeding. If a plant is growing under low light conditions, you don't need to fertilize as much as you would a plant growing under bright light conditions.
Now that all of the cultural factors have been talked about, lets get back to our air purifying plants. The Bamboo Palm, Spider Plant and Weeping Fig are all very hardy- meaning they are very forgiving- have medium to bright light requirements, need to be moderately moist and like mid-range indoor temperatures. Dracaena has the same requirements with one exception, it needs low light conditions. Other popular indoor plants to consider are Red-Margined Dracaena, False Aralia, Croton, Rubber Plant, Parlor Palm, Philodendron and Snake Plant.
Our Victorian and Civil War ancestors had a limited choice of plants to bring into their homes, whereas we have a vast number of species to choose from thanks to today's growers. It took modern day research to find out that Parlor Palms and Snake Plants clean indoor air. Surprisingly enough, these plants have been in homes since the Victorian Era.
Breathe easier- give indoor gardening a try.
About the Author
Georgiana Marshen is a master horticulturist and freelance garden writer. She has been published in BackHome magazine and is a contributing garden writer for American Profile Magazine.