Home & Garden

House plants add color, health benefits indoors

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette

A white orchid flowers in the greenhouse at Culver’s Garden Center & Greenhouse in Marion, bringing a refreshing breath of spring indoors during the winter.
Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette A white orchid flowers in the greenhouse at Culver’s Garden Center & Greenhouse in Marion, bringing a refreshing breath of spring indoors during the winter.
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New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, quit smoking, get organized, exercise, buy a houseplant.

Buy a houseplant?

“I know people talk about exercise and food, but a houseplant is an easy way to incorporate a healthier you,” said Joan Garner, retail greenhouse manager at Culver’s Garden Center & Greenhouse, 1682 Dubuque Rd., Marion.

Studies have shown that plants help clean the air, lighten your mood and brighten interiors aesthetically, she said, bringing the colors of nature indoors.

“Green makes you feel so much happier,” she added. “Houseplants keep us grounded with that touch of nature from outside and where we came from. We all came from nature and this is that attachment to it inside.”

For those seeking plants to clean the air, Garner points to ferns, “which can be massive and big,” mother-in-law’s tongue, made famous in Grant Wood’s 1929 painting “Woman with Plants,” and spider plants, which propagate quickly. “They’re beautiful,” she said. “They have a lot of color and unique textures.”

Bamboo palms, dracaena, Chinese evergreen, philodendron, ficus and peace lilies also are natural air purifiers, according to an oft-cited 1989 NASA study.

“The health benefits just so outweigh any effort it takes to keep track of these things, and the investment is so minimal. For $15 you can have a beautiful houseplant. So if you are still looking for a New Year’s resolution for a healthier you, this is it. It’s different. People are into different forms of meditation and yoga or whatever — this is another option and it’s something for all ages.”

HOME PLACE

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Plants can be added to any room of the house — kitchen, living room, office, bedrooms and bathrooms. From a design perspective, it depends upon size, Garner said.

“If you have a floor plant that’s 6 feet tall, that’s really an anchor in the room,” akin to a piece of furniture. “But if you have something that is more like the 12- to 18-inch size, that’s more of an accessory,” she said. “It’s the frosting, which is what I like to call it.”

Plants also can be storytellers, if they came from your grandma’s house or remind you of the African violets your aunt had by a window or the plants your grandpa loved to tend.

“We always remember that (connection) and if you don’t have a natural interest for plants, it may be a heritage connection for some people. It’s kind of that cultural thing — it can carry on some of your history in life,” she said. “I think everybody has a funeral plant or received a plant for their birthday, and that’s what you remember most about the plant. Then that’s a reflection back on who gave it to you, and the story with it. That’s a unique part of your home that a chair or a lamp usually doesn’t offer. Sometimes you get grandma’s lamp — but I like that part of houseplants, too.”

TRENDS

“Succulents are all the rage,” she said, especially with teens and 20-somethings who tend to be health-conscious and inspired by nature. These desert-oriented charmers come in various shapes, sizes and colors, with some adding dainty little blooms.

In the full-sun regions of California and the southwest United States, succulents can grow quite large outdoors, but indoors in the Midwest, they tend to stay small. They require minimal watering, don’t need a lot of space and are “super cute,” Garner said, making them ideal for dorm rooms.

“Twenty-somethings love that individuality,” she said. “They like everything to be custom. They want it to be a reflection of them, and so to have such a wide variety, and to be able to put them all together in a cute little pot that’s different than anybody else has is really fun, and they’re relatively cheap, which makes it nice.”

Succulents are showing up in unexpected places, too, like wedding reception centerpieces or for people who feel a connection with the ocean. “It’s a great reflection of a coral reef kind of look,” Garner said, “so you can get that underwater feel to it, too. I feel like I’m snorkeling and looking down at them.”

Tiny plants also are popping up in perennially popular terrariums and miniature gardens.

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“Kids love miniature gardens. It’s a great thing to do with a grandparent, and they’re just so cute,” Garner said.

The tiny plants have changed the face of fairy gardens.

“We have a whole section dedicated to (fairy gardens) and it’s really fun because it used to be that fairy gardens were lush green with a little fairy set into them. Now it’s all about a beach scene with colored sands and rocks, and then you throw a little plate over here in the corner. And so it’s like taking a little twist on the miniature scene. It’s not just the lush garden look — you can do any kind of scene that you want.”

WINTER TIPS

While houseplants can add a needed boost in the dark days of winter, they’re in hibernation mode, too.

“Plants are really smart you know. They get it. They get that it’s winter time right now. They know it’s a rest period for them,” Garner said.

“We don’t give them as much credit as we should. We’ve been talking about a lot with guests who now have time to transplant, but now it’s not a good time to transplant houseplants. They don’t like it at all in the wintertime. They know the days are short, they know that the weather’s cold. So if you feel as if you need to transplant them, you need to wait.”

If you think your indoor plants need to be in a bigger pot, go ahead and buy one, she said, but just set the smaller pot inside the larger one and wait until March. And stop worrying about the roots.

“Most houseplants like to be root-bound, and a lot of people don’t give that enough time to develop,” Garner said. “They see it looking like it’s going to explode out of its pot and they start to panic.”

Houseplants can stay in the same soil for two or three years before the dirt starts to wear out, she said. When it is time to repot, make sure the new pot has a drainage hole so the plant doesn’t get “wet feet.” If the pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, add some charcoal, gravel or packing peanuts to help separate the dirt from the water that gathers in the bottom of the pot, Garner said.

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Looking for a pop of color to brighten up dreary days? Christmas cactus, orchids and amaryllis provide vibrant blooms during winter. Even the green leafy plants come in various shades, from chartreuse to deep, vibrant greens. Some, like rubber plants, may have a slash of red on their leaves, which will liven up your decor.

PETS & PLANTS

Pets and plants can coincide peacefully, but choosing pet-friendly plants takes a bit of research before buying, Garner said.

“You as a pet owner need to be aware that there are plants more dangerous to animals,” she said, adding that even if pets do nibble on leaves, their bodies will reject the greens via vomiting.

Instincts also kick in, she said.

“Animals know by instinct what is and what isn’t (dangerous), so they’re not rushing up to eat it in nature and falling over dead. You don’t walk around and see dead cats all over the place because they ate a houseplant.”

Still, plants do provide temptation.

“When you’re in a home and you’ve contained that animal, they kind of get sassy or more playful with (plants),” she said. “Just do your homework and ask questions. Make sure that it’s safe.

“And if you have toddlers or little kids, you don’t want them pulling (plants) over or chomping on them. It’s not deadly to eat grass by any means, but you don’t want your 3-year-old eating a bunch of grass.”

MOVING OUTDOORS

When it’s time to welcome warmer weather, indoor plants can move outdoors, too, Garner said.

Porches make great spaces for giving plants a breather. Keep in mind the type of sun for which the plant is suited, too. Don’t put shade-loving plants in the sun, she said. Check them daily for water, too, so they won’t go dry. Skip spritzing the leaves, however.

“People think that’s helping the plant, but it doesn’t do anything other than soothe you,” she said. “The plant doesn’t get enough moisture from that to really do anything.”

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When it’s time to bring them back inside, she said to rinse off the leaves or treat with a systemic insecticide that comes up through the plant, so no pesky hitchhikers come in the for winter.

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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