While you probably know that outdoor pollution can have negative consequences on your health, you might not realize that the air inside your home can also be scary. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be found in paints, furnishings and building materials can cause health problems such as eye, nose and throat irritation, nausea and even cancer, depending on the level and length of exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since most of us spend around 90% of our time indoors, the air we breathe there is vitally important. While some of the danger can be avoided by switching to low- or no-VOC products, there is something even more fun—and maybe less costly—that can help keep your indoor air pure: houseplants.
To Your Health
Going green can be interpreted quite literally: Houseplants are a beautiful addition to your home that also come with eco-friendly benefits. Plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, providing clean air, and they also trap and absorb some of the pollutants inside our homes, according to Bodie Pennisi, an extension floriculture specialist with The University of Georgia (UGA) Extension Service. While you can’t rely on plants to completely rid your home of these pollutants, they definitely can’t hurt.
Plants can do more than just clear the air. They can also reduce stress. “As a succulent and cactus grower, working with plants definitely improves my mood,” says Kurt Straudt, owner of Southeast Succulents (www.southeastsucculents.com) in Atlanta. “And if you enjoy gardening, then doing so will lower stress, which, of course, is the root of many illnesses.” Succulents such as aloe vera can also help heal cuts and burns.
Easy To Please Looking for a low-maintenance plant? Here are a few that are generally easy to care for:
❍ Spider plant ❍ Snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue ❍ Bromeliads ❍ Bamboo ❍ Succulents and cacti ❍ Golden pothos
So how do you choose which plants are best for your home? Visiting your local garden center is a good place to start. Ask an expert which ones are best for your home based on how much space you have, how much maintenance you’re willing to do and, of course, what look you’re going for. You can select from indoor trees, small shrubs, flowering plants and a variety of succulents.
A 2009 study led by UGA horticulture researcher Stanley Kays revealed that some plants are especially good at removing VOCs from the air. The study examined 28 houseplants to see which were best, and the Purple Heart plant came out on top. When it was placed in an experimental environment, the Purple Heart plant was able to remove four out of five major VOCs from the air.
The study also found a few other plants are good at removing VOCs: ❍ English ivy ❍ Asparagus fern ❍ Purple waffle plants ❍ Variegated wax plants
Other plants that are known to be good for indoor air quality include: peace lily, pothos, Boston fern, Areca palm, rubber plant and Ficus Alii.
Grow Upside Down
Looking for a fun, upscale way to incorporate houseplants into your décor? The Boskke Sky Planter adds a striking architectural element in addition to creating oxygen. The planter hangs from the ceiling, saving space and conserving water with a specially designed reservoir that waters the plant as needed. “Greenery brings more life to your environment, and the Sky Planter has little hassle with all the rewards,” says Becky Sue Becker, owner of Designs by BSB (www.designsbybsb.com) in Atlanta. You can use the planter with a variety of plants, but some of the best ones are orchids, geraniums, peace lilies, Boston ferns, mint and other herbs.
While those without green thumbs may worry about killing indoor flora, caring for houseplants is not as difficult as you might think. The most important things to consider are light and water. Plants need strong light to survive and thrive indoors, according to Atlanta gardening expert Walter Reeves (www.walterreeves.com). When shopping for plants, consider the level of light in the spot where you would like to place it. The plant’s label should tell you how much light it requires. If your plant needs more light than your home gets naturally, you can also use an artificial light source such as fluorescent or incandescent light. If you’re using a fluorescent bulb, Reeves says to make sure it’s as close to the plant as possible; if it’s more than four feet away, it probably won’t do any good.
Water is also important for houseplants. Be sure to read the plant’s label and research it online to see how much it requires. You don’t want to under- or over-water. If you’re afraid of watering correctly, try succulents or cacti. They have added eco-friendly benefits because they conserve water and thrive in many types of soil. More eco-friendly options include organic houseplants and edible plants such as herbs that can double as food.
Living walls, or walls made entirely of a variety of plants, are being used more and more in office buildings and even homes. If you don’t have room for a whole wall, you can still try a little vertical gardening. Some plants, especially succulents, can be placed in frames and hung on the wall as art. Use different varieties to create unique patterns.