Monday, March 10, 2014

Clean air gardening

The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, which is a huge chunk of your life. I was surprised to learn that the air pollution inside your home or office can be worse than the pollution outside - so much so that the Environmental Protection Agency ranked indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Luckily there are many things that you can do to clean up the air you breathe inside. First, eliminate air fresheners that are loaded with artificial chemicals - say adios to Glade plug-ins, potpourri, Febreze sprays and scented candles. I felt like I needed a gas mask the last time I bought a card from Hallmark and was tortured by the multitude of offensive Yankee Candles. Anything "fragrance" related introduces dangerous phthalates into your home that wreak havoc on your hormones and endocrine system - read more here. Also avoid vinyl flooring and any particle board/pressed wood furniture. They are made with formaldehyde which poses a threat to the long-term health of your family with dangerous chemical off-gassing. Cheap particle board furniture from Target is tempting when on a budget, but you can find great deals on real wood furniture at consignment sales of off Craigslist - this is especially critical if you have children or elderly with respiratory trouble or allergies. Here is a great article about off-gassing and how you can minimize your exposure.

My favorite way to improve air quality is with household plants. Plants absorb airborne pollutants as part of their normal "breathing" process (carbon dioxide in, oxygen out) and transport them to their roots, where microbes feed on and detoxify them. NASA did a Clean Air Study to research ways to improve air quality in the space stations. They compiled an amazing list of the best plants to eliminate significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde, xylene/toulene, ammonia and trichorethylene from the air. Top performers were pothos (devil's ivy), peace lilies, red-edged dracaena, spider plant, and variegated snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue). Bill Wolverton, NASA research scientist, suggests at least one 8 to 10 inch pot per 100 square feet of home or office space. He also recommends using a mix of different plants because each one has an affinity for different toxins. Anytime you introduce new carpet, flame retardant furniture or electronic devices to your home it is a good idea to add a plant nearby too!

Taking after my mother I have decorated with plants for as long as I have been decorating. I still have the same pothos that I brought with me to college way back in 1995. This trooper drove out to Colorado and back with me sitting in the back window of my car!
This pothos and I go WAY back - she has been with me for almost TWO DECADES! 
Pothos (AKA Devil's Ivy) is my absolute favorite plant and is perfect for anyone who lacks a green thumb - it will not die. Seriously, it will live forever - even if you forget to water it for a whole month. Plus I think they're really beautiful, especially the variegated varieties. They are a great option for low light areas (perfect for bathroom or office) and can also handle bright indirect light - only direct sunlight needs to be avoided. I wait until mine are really dried out and then give them a good watering in the sink so they can completely drain. I have never changed the soil, fertilized or transplanted them - no need, so easy! 
They should be called Angel's Ivy instead of Devil's Ivy.
Another way to grow pothos plants is by "rooting" (propagating) them in pretty glass containers. The vines on your plant will start getting long and you can cut them once they reach seven or more leaves. Be sure to cut at an angle right below a root node, which is the little brown bum coming out of the vine - the new roots will sprout from this spot. Remove the bottom three leaves and put in water (non chlorinated rain water or distilled works best). They will soon start to grow roots - voila! 
rooted pothos 
I also have a couple spider plants (AKA airplane plant), which are extremely easy and low maintenance like the pothos. I just bought a big one at Lowe's for only $9.99 and am going to hang it in Ed's workshop, which is FULL of toxins that I don't even want to know about. Part of the NASA study showed that a spider plant removed 95% of the formaldehyde from a sealed plexiglass chamber in 24 hours - nature is so amazing!
A smaller spider plant I have in Olivia's room 
My peace lily care skills need some improvement. I had one in my living room that was very unhappy for over a year. It was very droop, pathetic and sad. After a little research I learned that it probably needed a bigger pot, but I chose the wrong time and place to transplant. I took the plant outside so I wouldn't make a huge mess when I added the extra dirt. It was one of the coldest days of the year and this poor tropical plant was less than thrilled. I finally just threw it away, lesson learned - I am going to try again and hope for better success next time!

My peace lily "Droopy" before the transplant mishap
I recently went to Campbell's Nursery to pick up a few plants on the NASA list. I think Campbell's is the most beautiful place in all of Charlotte and is the perfect pick me up during gloomy weather - it is impossible to be unhappy there with all the gorgeous orchids, maidenhair ferns and beautiful colors! Jesse and his staff are so knowledgeable and helpful - he told me he was aware of the NASA study but believed that plants with the biggest leaves were the best at removing toxins. Made sense to me and he showed me some of his favorite indoor plants that were low maintenance.
Campbell's Nursery 
I fell in love with a schefflera (chef-o-lera) that he recommended and it sits happily in the same spot as my old peace lily. Once a week I try to bring it outside, water it, gently hose down the leaves and let it get a little sunshine - she seems to really enjoy that. Like my pothos I wait until it's completely dry before watering. 


Although spiky plants aren't my favorite, I am going to incorporate a red-edged dracaena somewhere in my house. We're redecorating our bedroom and one might fit nicely in the corner - supposedly they can grow as tall as the ceiling! Luckily I've read they're also very easy to care for, which works really well for me.
red-edged dracaena (image from Pinterest)
Another plant I have owned and adored for almost 10 years is my jade plant. Although this plant is not  on NASA's list I think it is a must have for every home. Also known as a "money tree", this feng shui favorite is supposed to bring luck and fortune when placed near the entrance of a home - mine is as close to the from door as possible! They love sunlight and their cute little leaves will grow toward the light. I like to mess with mine and turn it around a lot. Since it is a succulent, it does not need much water - mine gets about 1/2 cup every month.
I really love caring for all my houseplants and think they bring so much life and energy to a home - plus they can make your house a safer and cleaner place to be! If anyone actually achieves luck and fortune from their jade plant my cut is 50% :)

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