Last week, I mentioned my friend in another state who is getting ready to list her home for sale. She finally found a great listing agent and he suggested that she get rid of some of her houseplants – like the formerly-stunning, 7-foot tall giant bird of paradise that refuses to stand up straight.
Completely lacking in any shade of green on either thumb, I was shocked she even had such a specimen that was still alive. She tried repotting it, but it didn’t help and it flopped over again. Then there’s another rather large plant that is dying. He suggested she replace both of them.
But, knowing her (she works in a hospital and is hardly ever home), those, too will die. Her mom, however, was blessed with the greenest thumb ever and sent her a list of plants that are hard to kill, so I thought I’d share that with you today.
Houseplants are more than just pretty faces
Ever hear about the NASA Clean Air Study? It was done years ago and its aim was to find ways to clean the air of more than 100 volatile organic compounds found inside the Skylab space station. Some of these included formaldehyde and benzene, both carcinogens.
Indoor pollution is a real problem not only in the close environment of a space station, but in our homes as well. We caulk, we weatherstrip and more to keep the outside from coming inside. What we’re doing in the process is trapping all the gasses that are being spit out by synthetic items in our home (carpets, etc) where we inhale them and, quite possibly, become ill.
“If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system,” claims B.C. Wolverton, who did the original studies. He’s talking about plants here and found that certain plants can actually clean the air of toxins.
While a number of plants can be used to scrub your indoor pollution away, you can find a short list here. The good news is that many of these plants also appear on the hard-to-kill list, so you hit the exacta if you introduce them to your decorating scheme.
The NASA study loves the peace lily, especially the Mauna Loa variety (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’). It removes benzene, formaldyhyde, ammonia, xylene and a bunch of other stuff from indoor air. The one drawback to the plant, however, is that it’s toxic to pets, according to the ASPCA, so if you have one that loves to munch on greenery, either keep the peace lily out of its reach or choose another plant.
Peace lilies are ideal for spots that don’t get much light and have even been known to flower in dark corners of the home. What we like best about the plant, though, is that if you forget to water it, it will let you know by drooping. Give it a drink and it’ll perk right up again.
When you’re conscientious about watering, give it a huge amount of water – flood it – and then let the soil dry out. Other than that, and a dose of organic fertilizer once a year, the plant requires little care to thrive.
If you need something to fill a hanging planter, do consider pothos (Epipremnum spp.), a gorgeous and hardy vine. Not only is it an amazing air cleaner, but it’s a fast grower as well, sending out long runners that you can cut, stick in a glass of water, and root new plants.
Pothos tolerates low light (even artificial light) and dry soil (as long as it’s not dry for weeks). Ideally, you’ll water when the soil is dry to within an inch of the surface and cut back on the frequency when the plant isn’t actively growing (such as in winter).
A basic houseplant fertilizer, or a 20-20-20 balanced fertilizer, once a month during the growing season will have it performing at its best but it won’t die if you don’t feed it. It just won’t grow as well.
Pothos is toxic to dogs and cats, causing “Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, according to the ASPCA.
Also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue, the snake plant (Sansevieria spp.) tolerates both shady and bright environments, and very little water. In fact, the best way to kill the snake plant is by overwatering it. Eventually (if happy) it can reach to 4 feet in height.