If you're looking for ways to keep your spirits high during the gray months of late fall and winter, one option might be growing closer than you think.
Research shows that plants can reduce stress and improve a person's attitude. So if your spider plants and philodendrons have been on the front porch all summer enjoying the year's unseasonably mild weather, now is the time to bring them indoors to brighten your cold-season living space.
"Plants tend to bring many feelings of hope and rebirth," says Lynn Amyx, residential services team leader at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. "When we want to celebrate an occasion or cheer someone up who is blue, we often present them with the gift of a living plant. Plants are nonjudgmental and can often bring the care giver a feeling of validation."
But the relationship goes both ways. If you expect your plants to make you happy, you have to keep them happy.
Before bringing plants inside, remember that in addition to soaking up sun and rain, their soil also has become a likely repository for debris from dead leaves and a home for insects that have burrowed in during the summer. Clean up the plant, trim off any dead branches and leaves, clear out the insects, wipe down the pots and shine the leaves before carrying it indoors.
Tending to houseplants can help die-hard gardeners ease into the less active fall and winter months without going into complete withdrawal from lack of gardening.
In addition to their emotional benefits, houseplants can be used to spruce up an interior design scheme. They add splashes of color, soften up hard interiors, warm up cold spaces, are inexpensive and can freshen the air.
They also can improve the overall quality of indoor air.
A house can start to feel stuffy and stale when doors and windows are sealed up for the winter. Instead of buying incense or other artificial aromas, consider bringing a scented plant into the home. Scented geraniums, lemon trees, pine trees, peppermint plants, orange trees and chocolate herbs are among options that fill the bill. Flowering plants can eliminate odors as well. Try jasmine, string of beads, wax flower and wax plant to create the illusion that spring is right outside your door.
Perhaps the most effective argument for having houseplants is that they improve air quality. According to NASA scientists, houseplants extract volatile organic chemicals from indoor air, which can be up to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air. One 6-inch houseplant per 100 square feet of indoor space acts as a decent air filter. A U.S. government study found that 15 to 18 houseplants in 6- to 8-inch pots helped improve air quality in an 1,800-square-foot house or office.
Some common household pollution sources whose effects can be minimized with houseplants are:
- Combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood and tobacco products.
- Building materials and furnishings, insulation containing asbestos, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed-wood products.
- Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care or hobbies.
- Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices.
To improve a plant's chances of surviving, Darrel Helling, manager of Earl May Nursery & Garden Center, 3200 Iowa, recommends keeping it out of drafts from air-conditioning and heating ducts.
His favorite choice for a houseplant is the Chinese evergreen.
"They do not need a lot of care," he says. "Just basically water them once a week and fertilize once a month. They are also ideal in low-light situations."
Other houseplants aren't as tolerant of low light. It's important for indoor gardeners to be attentive to the unique needs of individual plants. Keys to keeping houseplants healthy include maintaining the proper amount of light and humidity, keeping the indoor temperature at a moderate level and choosing the proper soil type and fertilizer.
Finally, the water quality (filtered is better, palms especially prefer filtered) and amount of water are critical. Over-watering is the No. 1 culprit in killing houseplants. It's always best to err on the side of under-watering.