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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jan 30

The Benefits and Care of Indoor Plants

Posted on January 30, 2015 at 8:29 AM by Elisa Ignatius

by Charlene Burgi

A house wasn't a home in the 70s without boasts about the number of houseplants found throughout each room. Many homes touted so many leafy greens (and I am not talking about spinach, kale, and lettuce) that it seemed a machete would be needed to get from one room to another.

Over the years, this trend to reforest the interior of our homes has been scaled down, but houseplants do have redeeming qualities not to be ignored. They clean indoor air and filter out toxins, according to NASA studies. They increase humidity as well as oxygen levels, which, in turn, can reduce headaches, cold symptoms, stress, and blood pressure. These amazing facts don't even factor in their aesthetic properties. How could we turn down the opportunity to support these outstanding qualities?

With that said, houseplants do require some responsibility on our part. In this house, indoor plants tend to be ignored. You could say anything about their care, except that they are pampered. Therefore, I chose hardy species requiring minimal water and low light to maximize the benefits of owning houseplants. Pothos, orchids, dracaena, and spathiphyllum are found scattered about the living area and managing, for the most part, quite well.

 Orchid in need of new bark and fertilizer.
However, the other day, I walked into the laundry room where most of the plants reside. They love the sunlight in there, not to mention the warm, humid air from the dryer. These two elements—sunlight and humidity—are almost as important as their need for water. I noticed the small phalaenopsis orchid leaning precariously out of its pot and decided I should repot the poor thing. As I took inventory, it appeared there was more than an orchid requiring my attention. They all needed something done!

Bromeliad in need of a bigger pot and fresh soil.
Bromeliads screamed for cleanup and bigger containers with fresh soil; the hydrangea required pruning; the Boston fern seemed anemic and looked, as if to ask, for fertilizer with a shot of iron. A plant we inherited from Jack's mother—some type of monster elephant ear that would be much happier outdoors in a temperate climate—is forced to put up with indoor living here and only wishes for more light. Due to lack of light during the winter months, it pouts by losing almost all of its leaves and survives by going into a rather bleak semi-dormant stringy mess. After the danger of freezing temperatures, we move it onto the covered deck with wonderful indirect sunlight and fresh air to watch it grow beyond daily measure.

Many of these plants require more spacious growing conditions to thrive, so it is time for me to scrub and sterilize larger pots with a weak solution of bleach. All of the plants call for their foliage to be washed off. The dust clogs their cells and blocks them from grabbing pollutants out of the air. The orchids will need new orchid bark and a healthy dose of orchid fertilizer. Everything else needs fresh indoor potting soil and a container one size larger than the plant is growing in currently. A chopstick is used for tamping down the soil around delicate roots in the clean pot, plus a good soaking of indoor organic fertilizer should finish the job.

Have you taken inventory of your indoor plants lately? Did you say you didn't have any house plants? The benefits far outweigh the little responsibility that comes with taking care of them. Check out your local nursery. Make certain that you purchase plants that fit the best growing conditions in your home.


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