I’m an Addict!

There, I said it. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m addicted to three things: houseplants, books and tea. Well, maybe four: Chocolate, though I would sooner live without chocolate than without my houseplants.

At one count I had 64 houseplants. I have more now. I started layering plants inside of my bigger puts to get that same look you get with your outdoor plants. So I have maidenhair fern growing under my banana tree in the front window of my office at home. I have two baker’s racks in those same windows, layered in plant along with four other floor models.

I would not survive the winter without my houseplants; they keep me sane. Sometimes they do less well and I’m forced to toss them out into the yard for clean-up in the spring. Sometimes they eek their way through the winter and I return them to the sunroom (which I can use for three seasons) or the front porch to fatten them up again.

Do you know that NASA scientists have done a bunch of research on plants that can be used to purify the air as part of their preparation for space station habitats? While all plants do purify the air to some degree, there are some superstars in terms of removing the main household toxins from the air (including benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.) So if you have a fear of cancer, are susceptible to asthma or allergies, or are concerned about auto-immune disorders, certain plants will clean your air of the negatives. Me, I just love the plants. Here are some of my favs that are particularly good at air-cleaning.

Aloe Vera is an easy plant to care for because it likes to dry out between watering. It’s also very useful if you get a burn or a skin rash, assuming you’re not allergic to it.

Boston Ferns are good too, though I don’t have much luck keeping them alive during the winter because they like damp soil and bright light. If you have a south facing window, that might work for you.

Corn Cane does great in both low light and low water so it does okay over the winter as long as I don’t fuss over it too much.

English Ivy is fabulous for removing all kinds of yuck from the air. It likes indirect sunlight too. I always tend to overwater them so my solution has been to grow my ivy in water. Then I never have to worry about too much or too little.

Gerbera Daisies are fabulous at absorbing carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen in a flash, so it’s a good one to grow in your bedroom because you’ll sleep better.

Philodendrons are among the best houseplants for removing gunk from the air. And so easy to grow. Again, if you tend to over or underwater, just grow it in water and you’re set.

Spider plants are some of my faves. If your spider plant starts to do poorly it may be that the roots have grown too big for the pot and it’s having trouble feeding properly. Pull that puppy out of the pot, rip off all those big fat roots (they almost look like tubers) and repot with fresh soil and the smallest roots still intact. Bam!

Benjamina is one of my fave houseplants. It doesn’t like to be moved around a lot. It’s both bright light and shade tolerant, but wherever you put it, leave it the hell alone or it’ll drop its leaves like a hussy drops her drawers. Water moderately.

The NASA study suggests a six-inch plant for each 100 square feet of interior space if you’re using plants to clean your air. I’ve got that ratio beat.

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Gail Vaz-Oxlade

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25 Responses to “I’m an Addict!”

  1. Wow!!! I knew plants were good but this is great! I have never been a very good gardener, so I think I may try the plants you suggested growing in water…..they might actually work for me! :) Thanks for the info Gail!

  2. Thank you for this post. I used to have beautiful house plants, but let them die one by one when I was going through a bad period. They would add some life and color to my house. I will canvas the people in the office for clippings. This will be an inexpensive way to get started on my collection.

  3. I love house plants, even when I was younger and still lived at home I loved them. My friend would tease me about the “forest” in my room! Living in an old drafty farm house my house plants have to be able to tolerate that; we also have small windows so it has been a bit of an experiment seeing what will servive in the windows that are not on the south side. My aloe Vera Has done amazing, it is Huge! I have to repot it again soon and separate the little baby ones. For those looking for clippings, if you like Aloe Vera I know I am always looking for people to take the little ones so you should ask about those from people as well. It’s funny how some plants don’t like to be moved, I had two ivy plants die on me when I was decorating the kitchen as I moved them to another room, even though the window was still on the same side of the house, and they had been very large heathly plants up until them.

  4. I’ve always had houseplants. In my first apartment after I left home I used them to fill all the empty spaces and window sills. I still have some but not near as many. When I started to travel a lot I realized it wasn’t really fair to expect someone else to water a whole nursery so I gradually reduced the number of plants. Now, many years later, I’m into a purging stage where I don’t like clutter at all and prefer more open space again. I only have about ten plants but I still start new ones every time I trim them and give the new plants away.

  5. Thanks for the tip about the spider plant – mine seems to be on it’s last legs. Could be because it was forgotten about for a while!

    I love philodendrons. I don’t get a lot of light, northeast facing windows and large trees, but I have 1/2 a dozen philodendrons.

    I’m trying to keep several citronella cuttings going. I love planting them near my back patio in the summer, but it’s a challenge for me to keep them alive in the winter.

  6. Thanks for info Gail. But I am sad to say that I do not have even a green fingernail. I make cactus’s even die in my house. This is how terrible I have been with plants, so I have given up on those things. I think that they would be better with another person.

  7. Interesting article – I would love to see more on this topic. One question: could you elaborate on what you mean by “grow in water”? Does that literally mean to fill a pot with water and no soil? Are special fertilizers required to supply nutrients that would normally be obtained from the soil? I’d appreciate anyone’s insights on this!

  8. That post is amazing! I’ve been wanting to have plants in my living room (facing north with a huge patio door) in my apartment since I moved in, but I never know what to buy. since I’m asthmatic, that is going to be AWESOME!! :)

    Thank you so much Gail! I’ll take room in my “furniture” budget to buy some plants! :)

    Gabby

  9. I put all my plants and beautiful plant pots that i had been given over the years into my garage sale a couple of years ago. Dusting the leaves, watering then wiping up water off my hardwood floors, picking up leaves off the floor ugh–it was clutter for me. So I simplified and found them all new (and better) homes except for one large fig tree that didn’t sell and I kept.
    My son’s got asthma too. Sometimes I think that plants can contribute to that because the leaves can really collect the dust when the furnace is on in the winter, as well as fruit-flies in soil, so be aware of that with respiratory issues.
    I love gardening and my plant tending will have to just wait until spring.

  10. leave it the hell alone or it’ll drop its leaves like a hussy drops her drawers, that is the best line I ever heard. LOL.

  11. I am a terrible green thumb but have been interested in finding more plants that require less fuss so thank you for the post! I read once that african violets are especially good at removing the chemicals expelled from computer printers and are a good house plant but I haven’t had much luck in finding them in stores. I had the most success with the peace lily but sadly forgot you need to get them a babysitter when you go on vacations! My poor Rip in Peace Lily :(

  12. Love plants but also love cats but cats don’t love plants – there’s the problem !

    Any suggestions ?

  13. avatar Elizabeth A Says:
    January 9, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Lynne, I have that problem, too. I currently don’t have any plants since they mowed my African violets when they were in full bloom and then had the nerve to spit the flowers all over the house. BUT I know what works, hanging things. I even had a two shelf unit that hung once, that was the best. And you can put them right in front of the best windows that way, too. I grow great plants in the fish tank, though, lol!

  14. I have over 50 house plants — love the spider plants & the climbers. Got them crawling my ceiling. I have allergies but also have hot water heating so that helps. I water my plants with warmed water that sits on the heater — this also helps to moisten our dry Southern AB air. I’m also a gardener — I use raised garden beds & believe in “Grow food Not lawns”. I mostly grow fruits — raspberry, strawberry, saskatoons, & rhubarb. Homegrown veggies is the best especially because I know it’s Organic.

  15. THANK YOU GAIL!!!!

    Thanks for this information! I have been thinking a LOT about getting some more houseplants and have ZERO knowledge on the subject. This is a great start and could not have come at a better time :)

  16. I too, find great reward in houseplants. It seems I have done best with tropicals…I have a lemon tree that is full of flowers & over a dozen wee Meyer lemons. Also found a hawaiian plumeria (lei flowers) 5 years ago & have managed to keep the mother plant growing while taking cuttings & rooting them. I had to use my aloe more than once for burns & healing skin conditions. Nothing can beat it. They all do make for a healthy inviting home.

  17. I only have houseplants in the office. My cat eats all green things down to a stub at home. Even cut flowers on the dining room table.

    That’s okay though. I also find houseplants high maintainance. The dead leaves, remembering to water, the pressure to make sure they look good.

  18. @ Lisa, haha, yes my cat will eat certain plants down to a stub as well! He loves ferns, my grandmother gave me a very large one and that cat grazed on it until it died then proceeded to sleep in the pot! Leafy plants and succulents will be left alone but I can not have any plants that have grassy like leaves.

    As I posted earlier I have quite a few plants, but have not taken the best care of them since I had my son, thankfully I have had them for a long time so they survived it. After reading this I finally repotted my poor neglected plants! I was putting it off as I needed to put some in larger pots and I am having trouble finding room for them once they have gotten bigger. They are at the point where they are not yet tall enough for me to set on the floor (they don’t reach above the windowsill yet), but don’t fit on the windsill anymore.

  19. cool post but i think you meant “eke” not eek

  20. Have you guys heard of these? Since I am not much of a green thumb and have to contend with being an apartment dweller I really like the idea behind these and their website provides a list of indoor plants that is also very helpful: http://www.woollypocket.com/

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