Houseplants for Clean Air

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

Air pollution in the home and office? Are you kidding?

With new technologies and materials in the construction industry that boast of air-tight structures to conserve energy and energy costs, we are also sealing in potentially harmful pollutants. Some of these contaminants might be carbon monoxide, radon, and mold. But other pollutants or gasses that may be trapped are simply gasses emitted by glues, paints or other compounds from common household products, like carpets, furniture, and plastics.

So how do we combat this potentially harmful environment without giving up the energy efficiency of our homes and offices? Research shows that something as simple and natural as houseplants may be your first step.

Leading this research was Dr. Bill Woverton and fellow scientists at NASA's Stennis Space Center in the early 1990's to find out about any long-term health consequences of gasses that may be found on shuttles and space stations. Plants have proven to be a key to helping us keep our air clean, whether it is indoors or out. Some key plants, through this study, that have proven to be of the best for this purpose are English ivy, spider plant, pothos, philodendron, snake plant and dracaena, to name a few.

Pothos, philodendron and snake plant are low light plants as well as some dracaena species. This means that in the home or office, these plants will survive under florescent lights or windows that are not in direct sunlight.

Pothos and philodendron are both vining plants. This allows these plants to be used in a hanging basket or trained on a trellis type system. The pothos have variegated foliage, either yellow or white, depending on the variety. Be sure they are not overwatered, as too much water can cause root rot. Both of these plants can attract mealy bugs, which can be controlled with a horticultural soap for houseplants. (Remember to read the label before applying any insecticide for mixing, application and control.)

Snake plant is upright, has sword-like leaves , and can dry out between watering. This plant will grow to about 4' in height and have very little insect or disease problems. In a low light situation with very little attention, this plant is a survivor.

English Ivy, spider plant and some dracaena species do like sunlight. Giving it a sunny window, eastern exposure would be best, will allow these plants to perform wonderfully. These plants will require more watering than the low light plants mentioned above. When the soil is dry to the touch, water it thoroughly, until the water runs out the bottom of the pot.

There are very few insect problems with the spider plant, but the English ivy is well known for spider mites. Frequent trips to the sink or shower with water running over the foliage will deter these insects from becoming too populated. If populations grow, you may need to use a horticultural oil spray for houseplants to control this insect. (Read the label for proper use of any insecticide.)

One plant per 100 square foot of living area seems to the general rule for how much green is needed. Bottom line: Enjoy some live houseplants in the home or office, they not only add nature indoors, but make your environment healthier too!

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