Improve Your Living Space with Houseplants

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Air Quality, Blog, Front Page, Green Living, Homes, Slideshow, Tips

Plants create an inviting atmosphere for indoor spaces any time of year. Photo: Julia Wasson

Decorating a room with plants is a natural choice, as plants provide an almost instantaneous sense of calm and peace. They can transform a room from average to extraordinary in an instant. And, in addition to their aesthetic value, some plants can actually improve a room’s air quality.

Choosing which plants to use takes a bit of planning for best results. But even a single plant can be the foundation for a decorating makeover. It’s hard to go wrong when decorating with plants, but there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. The following tips will help you get started.

Filtering Indoor Air

Some plants are very good at removing harmful toxins from the air. For example, the spider plant, often used as a hanging plant, not only grows like wildfire, but is also good at absorbing harmful air pollutants and releasing beneficial oxygen. Spider plants are particularly hardy and easy for even the novice plant owner to grow.

Mother-in-Law's Tongue filters indoor air, but may enjoy an "outing" during moderate weather. Photo: Julia Wasson

Peace lilies are dark-green, leafy plants that sprout tall, white flowers in the spring. These, too, are great at cleaning the air inside your home. If you don’t see your peace lily flowering, it probably doesn’t have enough natural light to cause it to bloom. Move it to a sunnier area, but avoid strong, direct sunlight, which can burn the leaves.

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue is a helpful filter for formaldehyde and other toxins. With its tall, stiff leaves, it also makes a dramatic accent in a room. This plant does well under most circumstances, and is hard to kill unless you seriously over water it or neglect to water it altogether. During moderate weather, you can use it to decorate an outdoor area such as a porch or deck, but keep it out of strong, direct sunlight.

Gerbera Daisy is a flowering plant with large, colorful blooms. According to a research by NASA, it’s highly effective in removing benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE) from indoor air. Both benzene and TCE are common ingredients in many industrial products and can be found in homes.

“Janet Craig” is a variety of Dracaena Deremensis that NASA found to be effective in filtering benzene, TCE, and formaldehyde. Though the name may not be familiar to you, it’s been spotted on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Office. There are many varieties of D. Deremensis, which also make great houseplants.

For a list of houseplants that are exceptionally effective in purifying indoor air, you can download a pdf of the study results for free from NASA.

Arranging Plants in the Room

There are no hard-and-fast rules for decorating with plants, other than to make sure that the plants are healthy and pleasing to the eye. But some general principles will help you create a pleasing look.

A small tree, like this ficus, can be used to soften a grouping of furniture in a room. Photo: Joe Hennager

Find out what each plant needs before you decide where to place it in a room. Does it like a lot of light? Then it might work well in front of a window. But watch for any sign that the sunlight is burning its leaves. Does it prefer shade? Find a corner of the room away from direct sun, but don’t keep it in a dark room for days on end.

Hanging plants are best placed in or near windows where they will receive sunlight during the day. Bright, intense sunlight is too strong for most houseplants, so choose a window that gets morning sun instead.

Create a grouping of potted plants of various sizes in a sunlit corner or in the entryway to the room. Floor plants can also be arranged next to chairs, sofas or televisions. Use caution that the electronics next to plants do not throw off so much heat that they dry out, wilt, and die.

Placing a tall plant or small tree in a grouping provides a focal point. By itself, it can balance out other strong elements or soften a grouping of furniture that has many angles.

Palm trees, ficus, and other tall plants are typically placed in large floor planters. These two plants are good both for filtering the air and for adding height to a plant grouping. Ficus, commonly known as weeping fig, often drops its leaves. If you have a crawling baby or toddler, you might want to wait a few years before bringing a ficus into your home.

Some Are Poisonous

Always make sure that the plants you choose will not pose a potential health risk to children or family pets who live in or frequently visit your home. If you purchase a plant from a nursery, ask them about potential toxicity. Or, search online to find out about plants you get from friends or purchase at a grocery or big-box store.

Geraniums aren't considered toxic for most people. Photo: Joe Hennager

Like the spider plant, English ivy is great for removing toxins from indoor air. But ivy can be poisonous to young children and animals, who tend to chew on anything that comes near them. If you choose to use English ivy in your decorating, make sure that it is in a hanging pot, far out of reach of little hands and curious paws.

Dieffenbachia, or dumb cane, has large, deep-green-and-white patterned leaves. It’s shade tolerant and makes an excellent houseplant, especially as a tall, focal point in a grouping. But it is toxic when chewed, causing swelling of the mouth and other highly unpleasant symptoms. This is a plant that you definitely should avoid if you have small children or pets who might try to eat the leaves or gnaw on the cane.

If you have small children, consider choosing non-poisonous alternatives, such as a flowering geranium, African violet, Swedish ivy, or orchids. But remember, even non-toxic plants may cause an allergic reaction in a given individual.

If you’ve got a question about whether a houseplant is poisonous, check the list provided by the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture Home & Garden Education Center.  Or, contact a resource in your own community.

Getting Started

Spider plant "babies" are easy to start in small cups filled with potting soil. Photo: Joe Hennager

Houseplants outgrow their pots over time and need to be repotted or split to maintain their health. Most people are happy to give cuttings or split their root-bound plants for people who will give them a good home.

If you don’t have houseplants yet, ask your friends to keep you in mind as they care for their own houseplants. You can also advertise your desire for houseplants or cuttings on Freecycle.

And if you’re really serious about creating a healthy environment for plants to thrive, do some research. Though many houseplants have become popular partly because they’re hardy and nearly indestructible, you’ll have much better success if you give them the conditions that are best meet their unique needs.

Adding indoor plants to your living space is a wonderful way to filter air and make the room cozy and inviting. Plants add an element to decorating that other accessories simply cannot match. Their life and vibrant green color instantly make people feel at ease and calm. For a truly relaxing and eye-pleasing room, be sure to include the beauty of indoor greenery.

Jessica Ackerman

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)


6 Responses to “Improve Your Living Space with Houseplants”

  1. Improve Your Living Space with Houseplants | Eco-FamilyFun - Green Living Tips On Saving Money For The Family on May 15th, 2010 9:34 pm

    [...] Original post AKPC_IDS += "522,";Popularity: unranked [?] Share and Enjoy: [...]

  2. Tweets that mention Improve Your Living Space with Houseplants | Blue Planet Green Living -- on May 17th, 2010 6:51 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shalona Anuj, PhD, Green News, Kyle Shoreville, Nicole Bennett, Green Shack and others. Green Shack said: Improve Your Living Space with Houseplants | Blue Planet Green Living [...]

  3. Lynda on September 20th, 2010 11:46 am

    I have a green house plant that grows tall no flowering, and will shoot new branched of the main stock. I do not know the name of this plant but it came in a plant arrangement . It is the only one that has survived and is doing well after being in the dart for more than 3 month. It leaves are about 4-6 inches long spears and all green it just keeps getting taller and taller that we have cut it back 2 time already. Can you help me find out what it is thanks Lynda

  4. Begonias on April 25th, 2011 6:05 am

    A great thing about Growing Houseplants is that they help you to enjoy plants and gardening all year long.
    See also : ‘Top 10 Houseplants for Cleaner Air’

  5. Bringing some life into my parents’ home with houseplants « Law Of Attraction on July 31st, 2011 12:37 am

    [...] also bought them a few that are easy for them to maintain. My mother uses gardening but can’t really get down and [...]

  6. Jessica Ackerman, Contributing Writer : Blue Planet Green Living on September 8th, 2011 6:21 pm

    [...] Improve Your Living Space with Houseplants Share and Save: [...]