Improving the Air Quality Inside Your Home
As a horticulturist I have always had houseplants in my home and I would like to explore with you the health and medical benefits of having these wonderful creatures around. As a child I remember there were always houseplants around the home. Having houseplants around the house became second nature to us; it was like having another brother or sister around, it just did not talk back to you. It was not until years later that houseplants received recognition for all the benefits that you receive from them. Several studies have been done on the benefits of houseplants and how houseplants in your home or office remove indoor pollutants, and toxic chemicals from the air. These studies have shown which houseplant removes what indoor pollutant or toxic chemical from the air. There are many health benefits that people receive from plants in the home or work place.
As newly built homes and offices were being constructed to be more energy efficient, the homes and offices become airtight and sealed, and the quality of air inside these newly built homes and offices led to indoor pollution or what is called sick building syndrome. Newly built homes or offices are loaded with indoor pollutants such as: benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. There are more indoor pollutants and toxic chemicals, but these are the big three, and are found in numerous household products and building materials. Formaldehyde is found in many building materials, and consumer products including paper towels, garbage bags, facial tissues, carpet-backing, plywood, and particleboard. Benzene is found in adhesives, caulking compounds, ceiling tiles, electro photographic printers, floor coverings, paints, particleboard, photocopiers, wall coverings, stains, and varnishes. Trichloroethylene is found in duplicating machines, electro photographic printers, and photocopiers.
A NASA study was a huge stepping-stone to raising public awareness of the benefits of houseplants. NASA’s 2-year study done in conjunction with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) showed that certain houseplants remove a specific indoor pollutant better than other houseplants studied. The study also showed that some houseplants would remove more than just one indoor pollutant. Another study involving houseplants showed that employees that work in office buildings that had interior plants in their lobbies and also in their offices had a lower rate of sickness, had better employee morale, and had a lower rate of employee sick days, when compared to employees that did not have interior plants at their work place. In a recent study published in February involving houseplants and patient recovery times, researchers monitored hospital patients that had undergone the same exact surgery. One group of patients had houseplant(s) in their room, and the other group did not. The group with plants required less pain medication, were in less pain, and had a faster recovery time than the patients that had the same surgical procedure done, but did not have houseplant(s) in their hospital room.
In the book “How To Grow Fresh Air” by Dr. B. C. Wolverton, He mentions 50 interior plants that remove indoor pollutants from your home or office. The plants in his book were rated according to ease of plant care maintenance, pest resistance, efficiency of chemical removal, and transpiration rates.
Here are a few of my favorite houseplants that remove indoor pollutants and toxic chemicals from the air. I have chosen these plants for their excellence in improving the air quality in interiors, and also for their ease of care.
Bamboo Palm – Chamaedorea seifrizii. The Bamboo Palm is easy to care for, is more resistant to bug infestations, will give you an overall height of 6-8 feet, and will take any type of light conditions. Bamboo Palm has a high transpiration rate, which means during the dry winter months with dryer air coming from your heating system the air will feel less dry. Due to the Bamboo Palm’s upright growth it is an excellent plant to place in bare, empty corners or anywhere you need a little more height. This palm removes high rates of benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde.
Chinese Evergreen – Aglaonema spp. The Chinese Evergreen will remain one of interior landscapers favorites because of its durability indoors. The plant is easy to care for and is fairly resistant to pest infestations. The overall height is about 3 feet and maybe placed in any type of light conditions, except direct sunlight.
Lady Palm – Rhapis excelsa. The Lady Palm is another excellent choice for removing indoor pollutants. The palm is fairly slow growing and is easy to care for.
Janet Craig Dracaena – Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig'. There are two cultivars of Janet Craig Dracaena. There is Janet Craig Compacta variety that can be used as a table plant and there is Janet Craig Dracaena that makes an excellent floor specimen. Both varieties can be placed in dimly lit areas, and can tolerate neglect.
English Ivy – Hedera helix. English Ivy is a vining plant and can be used in hanging baskets or trailing down the sides of pots. The plant will take any type of interior light conditions, and I have realized during the winter months to let the soil dry out between watering. There are several cultivars to choose from, but anyone you choose will be an excellent choice. The English Ivy removes high levels of formaldehyde.
Ficus Alii – Ficus maclellandii ‘Alii’. Ficus Alii will enhance your home interiors with its stately tree shaped form. The Ficus can be grown as a bush or as a standard (grown as a tree). This Ficus is not as picky when it is moved and is easier to care for than Weeping Fig. The Ficus will tolerate lower levels of light than Weeping Fig and does not drop its leaves.
Peace Lily – Spathiphyllum spp. The Peace Lily will enjoy any type of light conditions, except being in direct sunlight. Peace Lily will group nicely around other plants, and reaches an overall height of 2 to 3 feet. This plant has been rated as one of the top performers of removing benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde from the air.
Corn Plant - Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’. Corn Plant is a wonderful plant to have around because of its ease of care and the natural upright, columnar growth habit of the plant. This plant can be placed in Low to Bright light areas, and is one of the plants that removes formaldehyde from the air.
Golden Pathos – Epipremnum aureum. Golden Pothos is a beautiful plant to use in hanging baskets or anywhere you would like a trailing plant. The plant can be placed in any type of light conditions and can tolerate neglect.
Warneckii Dracaena - Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’. Warneckii Dracaena will brighten up your living space with its green and white foliage. The plant makes an excellent specimen that will tolerate lower light conditions, and will remove benzene from the air.
Dragon Tree - Dracaena marginata. Dragon Tree has wonderful green with red-edged foliage and with age will develop a small trunk. The plant needs medium to high light, and removes trichloroethylene from the air.
Syngonium - Syngonium podophyllum. Syngonium is a vining plant that can be used in hanging baskets or trailing down the sides of pots. The plant will take any type of light conditions and is very easy to care for.
Weeping Fig - Ficus benjamina. Weeping Fig will enhance your home’s interiors with its stately tree shaped form. The Ficus can be grown as a bush or as a standard (grown as a tree). This Ficus is picky when it is moved, and does not like to be placed in drafty areas. Once Weeping Fig has adjusted to its new interior home the leaf drop will stop. Weeping Fig requires high to medium light, and removes formaldehyde from the air.
Schefflera - Schefflera actinophylla. Schefflera at one time was one of the most popular interior houseplants, but as new varieties of houseplants were introduced to the market its popularity lessened. Schefflera is a good plant for beginners, and can tolerate some neglect. The plant has a tendency to attract some pests, and to prevent this, mist the foliage monthly.
Schefflera - Schefflera arboricola. This variety of Schefflera is bushy in nature, and will take less light than S. actinophylla. There are several new cultivars on the market that will give you a variety of colorful foliage.
Heart Leaf Philodendron – Philodendron scandens oxycardium. Heart Leaf Philodendron is one of my personal favorites because you can place this plant anywhere in your home. It can be used in hanging baskets or trailing down the sides of pots.
Moth Orchid – Phalaenopsis spp. The Moth Orchid is an orchid for beginners and will give you years of enjoyment. After the flower has faded trim back underneath the faded flower(s), and sometimes a new flower spike will emerge. I give my orchids a weak solution of water-soluble orchid food bi-weekly.
Dendrobium Orchid - Dendrobium spp. The Dendrobium Orchid is an orchid for beginners and will give you years of enjoyment. After the flower has faded trim back underneath the faded flower(s), and sometimes a new flower spike will emerge, or a new plantlet will emerge. I give my orchids a weak solution of water-soluble orchid food bi-weekly. Dendrobium Orchid removes formaldehyde from the air.
Anthurium – Anthurium ‘Lady Jane’. Anthuriums will give you tropical foliage and flowers.
Oakleaf Ivy – Cissus rhombifolia ‘Ellen Danika’. Oakleaf Ivy is excellent to use in hanging baskets, or trailing down the sides of pots. This plant has beautiful oakleaf foliage, and will take any type of interior light conditions. I have realized during the winter months to let the soil dry out between watering.
Here are a few guidelines to help you care for your houseplants:
Water: As a general rule, I water my houseplants once a week or biweekly depending on the plants light requirements. The less light the plant is located in the less frequently you would have to water versus a plant that is located in a high light location. Plants that are located in high light areas should be checked once a week for water, and plants that are located in low light areas should be checked every other week for water. This rule has always been a successful way to guide a new plant owner to success.
Fertilizer: I fertilize my interior plants with a water-soluble plant food once a month or I use a time-release indoor-outdoor fertilizer. If I were using a time-release fertilizer, bimonthly I would give my plants a treat by applying a half recommended strength water-soluble plant food for a little extra boost. The orchids that I mentioned in this newsletter would need a fertilizer recommended for orchids, but you may use an orchid food for your houseplants, too.
Containers: For newly purchased houseplants I would keep them in their original pots and just purchase a wicker basket, a ceramic, or a brass container as a pot cover. When putting the plants in a decorative container don’t forget a plastic saucer to put in the bottom of the decorative pot, and especially with wicker baskets.
Lighting: There are several houseplants to choose from and each has their own light requirements. Some houseplants tolerate the darkest corner in the room, while other houseplants need the brightest area of the room. When choosing houseplants pick the one best suited for the room and also the lighting of the room. You don’t want to pick a houseplant that will overwhelm the room, or pick a houseplant that gets dwarfed by the room size.
Placing: For a home that has 2,000 or less square feet, use a total of 15 houseplants that have a pot size of six inches or more. I would recommend placing one to two houseplants in the rooms that are occupied the most for best removal of indoor pollutants. Depending on the size of my rooms, I use at least two or more houseplants in every room.
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