Houseplants keep the indoors warm in the winter

Houseplants add warmth and life to any home and can change the look and feel of a room but they seem even more special in the winter when so much of our outdoor vegetation is dried up and brown and we are inside more of each day. Besides adding color and interest to your home, plants can literally help freshen the air as they naturally take in and process carbon dioxide and other gases that are not good for us and produce lots of fresh oxygen our bodies do need. For many years now NASA has been experimenting with air filters for the space station and although they certainly use a variety of mechanical, ionic and mineral filters they have found that growing, respirating and transpiring plants are one of the best filters for contaminants and an excellent generator of oxygen. Certain plants like Chlorophytum or airplane plants excel at cleaning the air and have earned space on the space station even though they don’t produce anything the astronauts can eat but somebody decided what they breathe is pretty important and that is where many foliage or houseplants excel.

Besides their role as clean air machines there is a trend towards recognizing and using houseplants as living art. This trend probably started in Europe but is being widely adopted here in the United States to select and place houseplants in groupings to create a visual effect, in mixed pots or dish gardens, grown in bonsai, braided, poodle, espaliered or numerous other unique shapes to create interest or drama. Most of the larger size foliage houseplants are grown in Florida or California where they get bountiful sunlight and don’t have to use as much heat or energy to grow these slow growing warm blooded crops. They are then shipped here for your selection and enjoyment. The cheaper houseplants are usually sun grown but may drop more leaves and have a harder time adjusting to your low light in the house while the better foliage plants are acclimated under increasing shade for weeks or months before shipping. This acclimating costs more but almost always increases your chances of house plant success.

Your collection of house plants will often vary in physical size, pot size, type of soil mix and growth rate or vigor so watering will vary depending on the plant and you should generally not just water everything because it is Tuesday or some other set day. Observe your plants, feel the soil and wait to water until lightly dry and then water good. Wait to water again until dry again. Big plants in small pots will need water more often while small plants in big pots will need water less often.  Most houseplants don’t really need much fertilizer because they are growing at such a slow pace in low light. You can feed with a liquid fertilizer every fourth or fifth watering or use a slow release fertilizer every 4 to 6 months. There are a few pest problems you can face like white fuzzy mealy bugs or very small red spiders that leave little yellow dots on the leaves where they have sucked and if they get real bad they will actually create fine webbing. These and other pest problems are pretty easy to solve with a systemic insecticide, aerosol indoor plant bomb or by mixing a little general purpose insecticide in your sprayer and thoroughly spraying your plants. The bigger problems are the tendency to overwater houseplants which causes the roots to drown or have a shortage of oxygen and weakens the plant to be attacked by rots or funguses. When watering it is better to err to the dry side rather than the wet side if you are unsure whether to water. The other major problem which causes a slow degeneration of most foliage plants is low light. Compared to 5000 to 15000 footcandles out in the yard on a bright day. Most places in your home have only 50 to 200 footcandles of light so many plants will slowly go downhill. Place the plants near windows or under lights to get as much light as possible and adjust to the idea of using a plant for several months or years depending on the light and then replace it with a fresh new energetic plant. You can also renew or re-energize many of your houseplants in the spring, summer or fall by moving them out on your patio or under trees. Remember they will need more water in the higher light but will usually produce a flush of new growth when given a chance to “vacation” outside. You can pinch and prune your plants to control their growth, to shape them and to get cuttings which you can try to propagate.

There are many wonderful choices in houseplants these days far beyond the normal rubber plants, weeping figs and scheffeleras.  Visit your local nursery, garden center or florist and select some houseplants and start purifying your air and creating a style or personality for your home.

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