Perhaps my recent post, Breathe Easy, inspired you to buy a few houseplants to purify your air and decrease toxins that off-gas from carpets, furniture, paint and cleaners. “Now what?” you might ask. Many feel befuddled when it comes to caring for plants, claiming they kill plants and worry past disasters are doomed to continue into the future. Not so!
Plants are living things and require care just like pets do. If you’ve ever owned an animal (or an animal owned you), you can easily learn to tend these very undemanding ‘pets.’
Things to keep in mind are temperature, humidity, light, soil moisture and fertilization, which I will outline in detail below.
The best plants for cleaning the air are tropical in origin, requiring a range of temperature, which luckily, coincides with the range we humans find comfortable as well: 60-75F (15-24C).
Under ideal conditions, these plants will respire and grow rapidly, thus increasing their cleansing capabilities. So, while cacti and succulents look nice and thrive on total neglect, their slow growth makes them poor candidates for air cleaning, thus I will focus this post on tropical plant care.
Most tropical plants live in lush, humid, jungle conditions adapted to low light, high humidity and daily rainfall that evaporates almost immediately, repeating the cycle every day. While the plants in the NASA study can tolerate lower humidity levels often present with home heating and cooling, they thrive in moist air.
To increase humidity around your plants you can use an atomizer to mist the plants once or twice a day. Another method is to place a large tray of pebbles filled with water beneath the plant saucer. Placing the pot directly on the pebbles is not recommended as soil will sift into pebbles reducing their evaporation effectiveness and roots will grow out of drainage holes taking over the tray.
These plants require indirect light, such as an average room receives. In winter, they may be in a sunny window, but summer sun may be too strong and would need to be filtered by a curtain, blind or moved away from direct light. If the room receives little or no light, a LED or fluorescent bulb can provide enough for survival. Special, broad-spectrum bulbs offer optimal light conditions, but are not necessary.
Soil moisture is where most failures occur, generally from overwatering. Using potting soil amended with 50% perlite and activated charcoal (available at garden stores) will help keep the soil aerated and avoid root rot. Roots need air as much as the green parts do.
The trick is to learn when to water – too often or not often enough will have the same result – death.
Before watering a plant with room temperature water, touch the soil to see if it is slightly dry to the touch. If it is moist, check again in a day or two. Size of plant and pot, plastic or clay, as well as room conditions, will determine how quickly it needs watering. For instance, in winter, I water maybe once every 7-10 days, whereas in the other seasons, it may be every 3-4 days. You can’t tell unless you touch first. It may require checking daily, but eventually, you will be able to predict each plant’s needs. Water until a little drains out of the bottom of the pot; remove any excess in saucer after a half an hour. Never allow water to sit in saucers, as it can lead to root rot.
Lastly, fertilizer needs to be applied to keep plants vigorous. There are chemical fertilizers like Miracle-Gro® and organic ones like Neptune’s Harvest®, the choice is up to you. Pick one formulated for houseplants, generally in a 5-10-5 (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio. Follow directions on the label. In general, apply every 2-4 weeks or if that is too hard to keep track of, you can dilute the formula ¼-strength for every time you water.
Keep plants free of dust by spraying them with tepid water from a kitchen faucet sprayer or for larger plants, in the shower. Once a year, take plants outside, turn out of their pots, wash away old soil with a hose, trim off dead roots, prune top growth (if excessive), and place in a larger pot (only if pot-bound) or divide in two, increasing your number of natural air cleaners for your home or to give away. Always pick a pot that is sized only slightly larger than the existing root ball.
With a little care, plants will reward you many times over with their beauty, serenity and health-giving properties. Which I believe is well worth the effort!
Wow! Now I feel terrible. I have a lot of plants and I don’t do many of those things. I will now.
Your plants will love you even more! 😉
Thanks for this info Elza. I was just looking at one of my dead plants!
Time to get a new one – haha! Snake plants can go a month without water – maybe you should get one of those!
And here I thought taking care of cats was complicated. Wow, Eliza, you really have got this down! I am not able to have any plants in our home due to cats eating green. So, with much relief on my end, I don’t have to learn how to take care of indoor plants. Thank you though for educating those who do have plants. ❤
Do you grow wheat grass for the kitties? They love nibbling on the greenery as it gives them roughage and fresh vitamins. I grow a 12″ x 18″ box ‘lawn’ for my pets.
Hmmmmm …. NO I don’t. Now I will have to. I know how much they LOVE grass because I bring it into the house for them to eat. This is going to be on my list as I shop at amazon. Thank you so much, Eliza. You wouldn’t believe how much I have to keep track of. Love, Amy ❤
Ah, forget Amazon, my sweet. Do you have a health food store nearby? Just go to their bulk section and buy organic wheat kernels (sometimes called wheat berries). Very inexpensive and a cup or two will last you for a while. Soak the berries overnight, then plant them in a large pot (or an old cake pan filled 3/4 with soil works well) with a bit of soil to cover, water and put high up (like on fridge) or where the kitties can’t get them until they sprout. Then put them in a sunny place and let the feast begin! Yum!
Oh wow! Thank you! Eliza, you are chock full of goodies!
My pleasure. 🙂
Good clear advice, thanks Eliza
Thank you, Dorris.
Thanks for all the info Eliza. I always buy a few more plants when we take the Christmas tree down … it just looks so bare inside after all the festive greenery has been removed. I water our plants just once each week, same day, same time but vary the amount of water depending on their needs. This year I’m also taking a load of Spider Plant offshoots for new plants as they are so brilliant for air purification.
Thanks, Gillian. Aren’t plants just so awesome? Can’t imagine life without their company!
Great post, Eliza. What you inspired me to do with your earlier post was repot some plants I have had since I was a child. I don’t even know what they are, but I split them up and put them in the bedroom and the bathroom as well as the kitchen. They seem quite happy and I watered them all today after–yes!–sticking my finger in all the pots!
Wow, since you were a kid? That is really amazing! I don’t think I have anything older than a dozen years at most. I’m sure they are happy with all your loving attention! 🙂
After reading this Eliza, I can’t wait to get dirty again! Watering is definitely my downfall but I found these cool ceramic wine bottle holders to stick in the soil of my larger plants and I simply fill an empty wine bottle with water – when it’s empty I refill it – it has been beneficial with my much busier schedule. I wish I could take so many tropical plants home with me but I’ll settle for my sweet little Staghorn! I have my “tote garden” outside here and although it’s been a little cool my amaryllis and an orchid are sending up blooms already! They love this humid air! Don’t you just love love love plants?
Yes, I’ve always been a plant-aholic. 😉 Great idea about the bottle waterers – I imagine it elicits more than a few comments from guests! Thanks, Kathy.
Not as much as my wine bottle border outside to which I always reply that I am trying to grow wine!
Eliza, I really enjoy these postings. I am planning on getting some plants for my office and for my home. I smiled at your comment about being owned by a pet 🙂 I can so relate.
Thanks, Kim. If anyone has successfully cared for a pet, they can do plants easily!
You are such a confidence builder!
I believe in all possibilities!
Thanks for sharing all this! Why is it important not to pot plants in a too-big pot?
Good question! When the pot is too big, it takes too long to dry out, because there aren’t any roots to wick the moisture out. So it can lead to root rot.
That’s great to know! I’ve always wondered that. Now I have to go find some tiny pots for my new – ineffective at cleaning air – succulents 😉
😀 They still make great pets. 😉
Helpful and inspiring post Eliza. I need to get my green thumb dirty again!
There you go! 😉 Thanks, Val.
I don’t have any great windows for plants. This is a great post Eliza. Great info!
Thanks, Julie. Maybe you can get a little light to put in a bookshelf? Snake plants tolerate really low light. I have a couple that are in a north facing room and not even in the window and they do fine. Bulletproof!
I have my outside plants under a grow light in the basement. Thanks Eliza!
That’s great, Julie. I knew there is a nurturer in you! ❤
Really good advice. I’ve killed many plants by not following much of this advice. Today, I have a few violets, an aloe, an ivy, and an orchid. The orchid was a gift. It finished blooming. I want to see what it does next. A new leaf is growing.
Sounds like a nice collection. Don’t cut the orchid’s bloom stem off unless it dries up. If it is a phalaenopsis, it will rebloom from the same stem. Plant care can be quite rewarding. I really appreciate the bloomers in the winter.
Hmmm…all the blooms dried up and dropped. It looked odd with two empty stalks sticking up. I read about what to do from a ‘good’ source. It said to cut them and apply cinnamon to the wound. I may have done the wrong thing. But, they smell good. 🙂
Well, if they dried up, they probably weren’t phalaenopsis, so that’s okay. If they were scented, maybe they were cattleyas or cymbidiums. Most orchids you do cut back, but there are lots of phal. on the market because they are easy to propagate. You see them in grocery and DIY stores.Also known as butterfly orchids because their flat blossoms look like wings of a butterfly.
How wonderfully leafy! I’m not much good with plants…
The past does not equal the future. 😉 It is a matter of attention, but many lifestyles do not allow the time and I’m guessing you are pretty busy. Maybe try one and look at it every day while you are having your morning cuppa, let it be your Zen moment. 🙂
Lovely, informative post Eliza! Thanks for sharing!! Blessings, Sarah
Thank you, Sarah. 🙂
Thanks so much for such an informative post. I’m already doing many of the things you suggested, and I will incorporate the ones I am not doing.
You’re welcome. Glad to hear it!
OK … will give leafy ones another go, since I really do want the benefits and they do look so good.
That’s great! Indoor gardening can be as rewarding as it outside. Good for you in many ways. 🙂
I can’t imagine a home without a few houseplants – however, I do stay away from the tropical ones as in my cold and draughty old house they are not likely to thrive!
I know what you mean. Our house gets cold at night and can get quite dry because of the wood stove. Dumbcane and aglaonemas struggle here, so I’ve limited myself to the tougher ones, like snake, peace lily and philodendron.
This is great information! Thank you for sharing! I don’t have any plants except a very small cactus which I think is dead but it’s still cute! Lol I plan to get some more plants though! I had an orchid a few years ago. It was pink/purple and lived really long. I read often how to take care of it and I must have done something right! My sister had one too. Hers did not live as long. She kept hers in her room and I kept mine in my room. I think my positive attitude played a part in mine living long! Lol I believe our energy has an effect on those around us. I did not know all of these things about caring for plants and it’s very interesting to read! Your pictures are beautiful and I love that Buddha statue! 😀
It’s great that you have so much knowledge and share with others!
Thank you, Kim. Yes, our energy definitely has an effect on the living creatures around us!
Fertilizing and re-potting. Who knew? Well, you clearly. 🙂
Lol – ;-D
I love this, many thanks! The biggest problem people have in condos seems to be the sooty mold. I decided to not have indoor plants anymore except the ZZ Plant (Zanzibar Gem). I’m concentrating on the outdoor beach, coastline plants.
Thanks, Maria. Mold can be a serious issue, I know.
Well, you already know that people here put their plants in AC.
They think AC is the salvation!
This is full of great advice Eliza! I am saving the whole post for future reference! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Indeed it is. I was thinking to do the same. 😀
Thank you, Dor, I’m glad. You were on my mind as I wrote it. 🙂
Thanks for the good advice Eliza. Your photos are so vibrant :-)! They inspired me to walk into a building I walked by yesterday in downtown Calgary. There was a lovely glassed area on the first floor with tables and chairs and lots and lots of tropical plants. And there was a little fountain with koi and turtles too. A nice break from the concrete jungle.
Thanks, Myriam. Sounds like my kind of place. When I lived in the city/burbs, places like that were a magnet for me!
Great article on how to care for indoor plants! I know it took me a long time to learn how to care for them. I also love your photos.
Thank you very much. For me, it’s second nature, but I suppose there was a learning curve at some point (a VERY long time ago – ha-ha!).
I visited your site and it’s terrific. Well done! 🙂
Thank you for this Eliza! I’m going to bookmark this post so I can refer to it often. Until I feel confident. Which I don’t. Yet.
Thanks, glad it was helpful. You only need practice! I was thinking of making an acronym out of the care points, but never managed it.
So much great advice! And gorgeous photos! Oh, just what my gardener’s soul needs this time of year. Thank you for sharing, WG
Thank you. I expect this is old hat to you! 🙂
It’s puzzling, Eliza, that I have a huge garden in the best shape but can’t keep an indoor plant alive for more than a season. I have been successful with a dracaena to purify the air in the bedroom, but everything else begins to look sickly after a few months. Thanks for this much-needed tutorial!
Thanks, glad you found it helpful – good luck!
Great article, Eliza! I read it twice and I am sure I will have to read it again—I am so bad at taking care of my three plants! I posted your blog and this article on my FB page. I think it will help many of my friends! (and my daughter!)
Thank you so much, Jane, much appreciated. Hope it helps! 🙂