Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Houseplant Whisperer

You know that plants produce oxygen.

But, did you know that common houseplants clean carbon dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene out of the air?

NASA scientists have been studying houseplants to find ways to keep the indoor atmosphere of future space stations healthy. It turns out, our common houseplants are powerful indoor air warriors.

House Plant
Photo courtesy of Dee at Morguefile.
These days, many of our new purchases "off-gas" (secrete dangerous gasses into our indoor air). Off-gassing is a particular problem for newer construction, which is usually sealed up tightly in an effort to save energy. Unfortunately, this means pollutants aren't able to dissipate outdoors. Ever heard of the term sick building syndrome? This is how it happens. 

But, have no fear!

Your common, everyday houseplants will help you breathe easier.

The NASA scientists recommend 15-18 good-sized houseplants in an average 1,800 square foot home.

(I know you're counting your houseplants right now. I have 6. How many do you have?)

Not only do houseplants look warm and homey, they're good for you, too. If you're blessed with a green thumb like my mom, who not only has a green thumb, but seems to be some sort of houseplant whisperer, then you're one of the lucky ones.

What's a girl with a black thumb to do? Learn how to care for houseplants, that's what.
  • Many of the plants on the NASA list are common plants we've all heard of; English Ivy, spider plant, peace lily and philodendron, to name a few. You won't have any trouble tracking them down to add to your home.
  • Get clippings from friends and relatives or buy plants one at a time at a local garden center. Take note of how much water and sunlight your plants need before you throw away the little card that comes tucked into the soil.
  • Add watering plants to your weekly chore routine. Lift the plant, pot and all. If it feels light as a feather, then it needs water. If not, touch the soil. Is it moist? If so, check it again the next day.   
  • Rotate plants to different windows until you learn where they are happiest. It will differ for different types of plants.
  • If, despite your best efforts, a plant doesn't seem to be thriving under your care, let it go. Stick with the plants that do well for you.
  • Don't forget to bless your work environment with houseplants, too!
If I can do this, you can, too. I went from one sickly plant last summer to six plants that have been mostly thriving since last fall. One is questionable, but I'm giving it another few weeks. I plan to add more over the next few months. The important thing is to keep trying. Don't assume this is beyond your grasp.

If it works for the space station, it'll work for you.

The source for this blog post is the Minnesota Cooperative Extension article Houseplants Help Clean Indoor Air written by Deborah L. Brown.


  1. Then with a house with less clutter there is room for house plants! Great post!