Living Color

Houseplants not only add pleasing and vibrant touches to any room in the house—they’re also good for you!

Donna Aron (left) and Kim Carrier (right) of Organic Plant Care in Keene keep plants pest-free and happily growing for a wide range of clients.

Add some greenery to your life this winter with a houseplant or two. Not only will the dreary dark days seem brighter, but the air in your home will be cleaner and you will feel better, too!

Businesses have long known that plants in the workplace enhance productivity, but did you know that plants can absorb toxic chemicals from the air; lower blood pressure and stress levels; as well as reduce tension, anxiety, fatigue, depression, anger and hostility? You have to marvel at the hidden power of plants!

Nancy Carlisle of Nancy Carlisle Interior Plantings in Concord has been designing and installing interior plantscapes in homes and businesses for more than twenty-five years. “Plants are living breathing things that grow, change and adapt to their environment,” she says. “Adding even one plant will have a positive effect on your psyche. Studies have shown that plants affect us by making us feel better, improving our productivity and offering a feeling of relaxation.”

Terry Lannan is the chief executive officer of EnviroGreenery, a plantscaping company with locations in Nashua and Burlington, Massachusetts. “Human beings weren’t meant to spend their lives indoors, surrounded by carpet and drywall,” Lannan says. “There’s a certain ambience that indoor plants bring. Some people would call it relaxing, others would say soothing, but it is always positive. Rarely do I run into someone who ‘hates plants.’ They may not understand how to take care of them, but that is a learned skill like anything else.”

It is a skill that Laura Trowbridge of Peterborough has mastered. In summer, she grows a multitude of tropical plants outside on her patio. When frost approaches, she is not ready to give up the plants that have delighted her all summer, so she brings them inside for the winter. “I like to create a tropical look in the sunniest corner so I can enjoy the lushness all winter long,” she says.

She has had some of these plants for years. “I have become attached to them and they feel like old friends,” she says. “Just about every plant has a strong connection to a friend or family member.”

Donna Aron and Kim Carrier of Organic Plant Care have been taking care of plants in homes and businesses in the Keene area since 1989. If you are concerned about having to spray your plants with chemicals to keep insects under control, Aron has some tips for prevention. “Clean your plants’ leaves every other week with a solution made by diluting 1 teaspoon of a nondetergent soap—such as Dr. Bronner’s liquid lavender—in a quart spray bottle of water. Spray the leaves, top and bottom, and wipe them off. A clean plant is a pest-free plant,” she says. “Plants get dirty just like furniture.”

If you are paying close attention to your plants, you notice problems while they are still small and easily addressed.

Laura Trowbridge and Pip take a moment to relax in her sunny sitting room. South and west facing windows are perfect for growing a calamondin orange, staghorn fern, bird of paradise, aloe and other tropical plants.

Choosing your plant

Not sure what to grow? There is a plant for every situation, and the right plant varies from room to room. “Do your research ahead of time,” Lannan says. “Too many people race off to the garden center and buy a plant that strikes their fancy. Then they are disappointed when it dies within two weeks.” Carlisle offers these questions to ask when choosing a plant:

• Does it fit your style and décor?

• Is it the right shape and size for your space?

• Does the plant look healthy?

Other things to consider are:

• How much time do you have to spend on plant care? If you are a busy person with little time to spare, don’t buy plants that need daily watering. Look at low-maintenance succulents, sempervivums, cacti or the so-called air plant tillandsia. Aron recommends the ZZ plant. “It is from Africa and grows from a large bulb. If you forget to water, the bulb holds enough moisture to keep the plant going.” Lannan recommends aglaonema, sansevieria and dracaena. “They are staples in the interior landscaping industry and used throughout corporate offices for a reason,” Lannan says. “They are attractive, inexpensive and easy to care for.”

• How much space is available? Low-light plants—such as Boston fern and pothos —don’t have to be as close to a window as high light-lovers do. Low-light plants free up precious bright windowsill locations for blossoming plants, such as hibiscus and flowering maple.

• How family-friendly is the plant? “A number of plants do not have user-friendly leaves,” Carlisle says. “They can have points and sharp edges. Avoid those if you have kids, or if the plants are going to be in a high traffic area.” A number of indoor plants are poisonous to pets and children. Carlisle advises checking the Northern New England Poison Control or ASPCA websites (see Resources below) for information.

Laura Trowbridge farms out her biggest plants to friends Beth and Swift Corwin for the winter. Melianthus major, Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’, alocasia, colocasia, Agave americana and a bowl of succulents lend a tropical look to their bright, west-facing sunroom.

• What direction do the windows in your home face, and how much light does each room receive? Carlisle says lighting is probably the most critical factor. “Sometimes winter is the brightest time of year because the snow reflects sunlight into the house, the leaves are off the trees, and the sun is lower on the horizon and pours in the windows,” she says.

Trowbridge says, “My kitchen/great room is large and has lots of sun streaming in.” Many of her plants—including clivia, osmanthus, calamondin, begonias and Brazilian edelweiss—blossom inside over the winter. “I crave the fragrance of these plants. They make the kitchen smell earthy, lush and alive even though it is below zero and white outside.”

• How warm is your home? When trying to match a plant to your indoor environment, keep in mind the plant’s natural habitat. A heat-loving tropical plant will sulk in a cold room. “We heat with a woodstove in the other end of the kitchen so it tends to be quite dry,” Trowbridge says. “The plants seem to add moisture and a feeling of tropical air even though it is freezing out.”

Plants as your decoration choice

Plants can be an integral part of your indoor décor. Carlisle says, unlike anything else, plants add a texture to an indoor space. Trowbridge likes the creativity involved in displaying her tropical plants. “Getting the textures, scale and contrasting foliage arranged just right to form a tropical collage is a challenge,” she says. The containers you choose reflect your decorating style—traditional, bohemian, contemporary, vintage or ethnic—and give new life to a Grandma plant. Other factors Know the plant you are bringing home. Is it easy care or a difficult diva? Is it poisonous to pets or children? Does it need special care, such as pruning, fertilizing, a rest period or frequent repotting? How much water does it require? Does it need misting or bottom watering?

“Most people overwater their plants. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the plant, the longer you can go between waterings,” Lannan says. “Of course there are exceptions to every rule. If root-bound or in a terra cotta pot, the plant won’t retain water as long. If the soil is damp when you go to water, it is likely fine. When we are training new horticultural technicians, we tell them ‘If it’s wet, just forget.’”

Carlisle says, “The biggest factor is the balance of light, temperature and water. More light, more water; less light, less water. Add temperature into that equation: hotter and drier, more water; cool and damp, less water. A universal rule of thumb for plants: let them dry down halfway in the pot before you water again. Just because the top inch of soil is dry, it doesn’t mean the root ball is dry.”

Indoor plants can turn your house into a home by breathing life into a room. They can enhance your décor, serve as a focal point, supply a green alternative to curtains, connect the inside world with the out-of-doors, make a statement, create a mood and act as living sculpture while having a positive effect on your disposition.

Recommended Plants for Air Cleaning

NASA studies have shown that some common houseplants have the ability to remove toxins and carbon dioxide from the air while adding oxygen. Only one or two plants per one hundred square feet of floor space are necessary for maximum benefit. Some of the best plants for air cleaning are:

• Philodendrons, especially heart-leaf, selloum and elephant-ear philodendrons

• Warneck, Janet Craig, red-edged and cornstalk dracenas

• English ivy

• Spider plant

• Ficus benjamin or weeping fig

• Golden pothos

• Peace lily

• Chinese evergreen or Aglaonema

• Bamboo palms

• Sansevieria or snake plant (also called mother-in-law’s tongue)

• Boston fern, rubber plant, bromeliads, aloe vera or bird of paradise

• Chrysanthemums or gerbera daisies

“Adding a selection of small and larger houseplants will be visually pleasing and help to clean the air in your home,” says Nancy Carlisle of Nancy Carlisle Interior Plantings in Concord.

Categories: Gardening & Landscape