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Make a Home for Houseplants

Six reasons to grow a houseplant (or two)

Houseplants

With a piece of furniture designed for plants, such as the A-Frame Plant Stand, you can display a collection of houseplants.

Houseplants are good for you. Sitting next to a tropical palm, a serene orchid, or a cool-looking succulent actually makes you feel better.

"I know I work harder and better when I'm surrounded by plants," says Justin Hancock, a spokesman for Costa Farms, a large-scale grower in south Florida that grows 1,500 different indoor and outdoor tropical plants. "It's just this calming effect," Hancock says.

Studies on houseplants and health, especially research by Bill Wolverton, who worked with NASA on plants and indoor environments, show that houseplants also remove volatile organic chemicals from the air. It turns out that houseplants play many healthful roles. Here are some of them:

Stress Less: The natural world is itself an antidote to stress, research at the University of Washington shows, and it works even in a high-rise. Mark Martin, an interiorscaper and owner of Interior Tropical Gardens in Chicago, supplies palms, bromeliads, dracaenas, pothos, and other tropical plants to offices, hotels, and homes. "In an 80-story building, you lose your touch with nature." Tropical plants restore it, and make employees feel better. "There is a study that states that a company that has tropical plants has three fewer sick days per employee than a company with no plants," Martin says.

Tips

  • Overwatering is the main cause of death in houseplants, professionals say. Use your finger, or, better yet, make an opening with a table knife, or just a stick, and then poke your finger deep into the hole to feel how much the moisture there is. Giannoni's plant-care employees learn to distinguish among soils that are dry, slightly moist, moist, and wet. They count as they water — one-thousand one, one-thousand two — and make a note of how many counts a plant gets when it is watered. If they need to tell a colleague how to water that plant, they simply let the person know how many counts the plant gets. "It takes a while to master this, but just write it down," he says. It works.
  • When you buy a new plant, leave it in its nursery pot and drop it, pot and all, into a decorative cachepot. "People think a plant needs more soil to grow bigger," Giannoni says. The best strategy, however, is to buy a plant already the size you want it to be. Often, it can remain in the pot you buy it in for years.
  • Tools are important. A watering can is essential, of course. Giannoni's employees also carry a pair of scissors, and a pair of pinking shears, to snip edges of leaves. They use a dust cloth, and each has a magnifying glass (to inspect for potential problems). Mark Martin and his employees use a sponge to wipe off leaves, and "a really trained eye" to recognize problems. And then you have to get tough: "If you have a really sick plant, throw it out and start over with something else," Martin says.

Study Hard: A study by the University of Michigan showed that houseplants help people concentrate — which makes them a good choice for a desk, in a study hall or classrooms, Hancock says. The results "caught a fair amount of attention" when they were reported. "We can be helping our kids with plants — it resonates with people," Hancock says. Keeping a plant on your desk or in a classroom also gives kids an opportunity to develop nurturing skills, and to learn about responsibility. Learning to water and care for houseplants is a good way to grow young gardeners.

Peperomia

Peperomia is an easy-care houseplant with interesting foliage. Needs bright light, but away from direct sun.

Clear the Air: Wolverton's research showed that houseplants improve the air in a sealed, non-ventilated structure. Good ventilation is the best way to improve indoor air quality, but houseplants produce oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the air, which is good in any situation. Professionals in the interiorscaping business, and Costa's 02 for You program, recommend one houseplant for every 100 square feet in a home or office — Hancock's desk, with 10 houseplants on it, proves it's not that hard to accomplish.

Relax: Houseplants just make you feel better, says Dan Giannoni, owner of Great Plants Inc., an interiorscaping business in south Florida. "People may not notice what it is that makes them feel good, but plants have a psychological and emotional impact," he says. "They are relaxing. In a home, office, or hotel, people gravitate toward areas with plants, Giannoni says. In his own home, there is a large potted palm tree behind the sofa where he reads. "It's like being in a hammock," he says.

Get Happy: "Plants change your outlook on the whole day," Mark Martin says. "They bring a smile to your face." If you're just getting started with houseplants, try something easy, such as bromeliads, which look great and need little care. Read the labels on houseplants at a garden shop and look for especially low-maintenance plants. You'll quickly learn what kind of light is best and how to water properly. Overwatering is usually the biggest problem.

Looking Good: Above all, thriving, healthy houseplants look good, and make you look good, too. They are cheering accents, the finishing touches in indoor decorating. Succulents are popular now, Giannoni says, for their striking, sculptural appearance. Orchids are classically, stylish plants for an important spot in your home. "You just need a few key plants," he says. "It doesn't have to be overwhelming, like you are a complete gardening nut." Choose great-looking pots to match your decor, and then find a plant that will fit right in. "You can have a different style in every room," he says, or try keep the overall style consistent.

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