Monday, February 3, 2014

Bringing the Greenery Indoors

The Climate Crusader is hoping to improve her indoor air quality with some new houseplants.

When I first moved away from home and into a dorm room back in my student days, one of the first things I bought for my new space was a potted plant. I had a lovely south-facing window seat, which provided the perfect place for my new plant to live and thrive. In short order I added several more plants to my collection, tending them lovingly, fertilizing them carefully, and enjoying them immensely. For a decade my home was filled with plants - and then things changed.

The first thing that impacted my plant collection was my now 10-year-old cat. She had quite a knack for knocking over plants in her kitten days. While I never saw her eating the plants, I also became concerned about whether or not all of my greenery was safe for her. A couple of my houseplants made an exit during this period, but this was only the tip of the iceberg.

A kitten is one thing, a toddler is quite another. When my daughter was born almost nine years ago I discovered a heretofore unknown destructive force. Plus, my daughter really did put everything in her mouth, which made me even more concerned about whether all of my houseplants were safe to have around. On top of all that, I was sleep-deprived and barely able to care for myself. Most of my houseplants disappeared during this period, although a few managed to survive.

My children are now five and almost nine years old, and my cat is into the double digits. Today, I am reasonably confident that I can keep plants in my house safely. Recently, I decided to start building up my houseplant collection again. I'm doing this partly because I just enjoy plants and greenery, but there's a much bigger reason for investing in ivy and ferns: indoor plants can improve your home's air quality.

We all know that plants 'breathe in' carbon dioxide and 'breathe out' oxygen, which is good for people. However, they can also absorb harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. In fact, NASA did a study on using plants to purify air in space stations, and they've published lists of the best houseplants for cleaning air. Some of these plants can remove up to 87% of pollutants within just 24 hours, if you have the recommended one plant per 100 square feet of living space.

My house isn't huge, but it's not tiny either at about 1900 square feet. Fitting enough plants into it is a little challenging. Not every room has enough light, or enough space. However, there are a few ways to squeeze more in. Hanging plants or installing shelving creates vertical space. Also, remember that indoor plants don't just have to be decorative. You can grow herbs or greens indoors, for an edible way to improve air quality. By mixing up the types of plants, their size, and where you place them, it's a little easier to fit them in.

I'm still working on getting up to the 19 potted plants, but so far I'm really enjoying this. Plants are beautiful and beneficial - what's not to love about that?


Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I bought and killed 3 houseplants this year :(
I am still kind of in that stage where I'm barely able to care for myself. We do have one plant still that a neighbor gave us that is managing to do pretty well.

Plants are good for mental health too! I'm sure I've read about how hospital patients recover faster with plants/ flowers in their room.

Amber Strocel said...

@Betsy - I recommend false shamrock ( I got mine when I was 7 years old. Even if it's completely dead, it comes back to life when you water it. In fact, my mother once won a bet when she found a completely dead shamrock in the attic that she'd forgotten about years ago, and it sprouted green shoots after she gave it sunlight and water. Plus, I just learned it's edible.

Green Bean said...

I'm like Betsy. I kill indoor plants constantly. Outside, I'm golden. My youngest brought plants home from a teacher two years ago though and I'm still keeping that one alive - barely. I was actually considering moving it to a pot outside, on the porch, until I read your article. I guess I'll let it continue to purify our air indoors! :)


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