It’s March in Central Texas. Gardeners know what to do: Get your tomatoes and peppers into the ground protect them from the wind; start planting vegetables and flowers everywhere.
In your enthusiasm for decorating your outside world, don’t forget to plant your home and office gardens as well.
For a long time, we thought that a straggly devil’s ivy wandering around the window and perhaps a dried-up mother-in-law’s tongue in the hall was adequate to add a little nature to the inside world. Now we know better.
There are many good reasons to add some living plants to your home decor. The best general reason is that they make you feel better. They do that by cleaning up the indoor air, relaxing tensions, creating pleasant smells and sights and more.
Research at NASA has shown that indoor plants can remove up to 87% of air toxins, including carbon dioxide, in 24 hours. Studies have also proven that indoor plants reduce stress levels and boost your mood. A University of Michigan study found that being around plants helps improve concentration and productivity and can even increase your memory retention by up to 20%.
It is smart to add plants not only to your home but to your workplace as well.
Norfolk Island pines, for example, which are a common Christmas gift, remove harmful volatile organic compounds from the air, purifying it and making it safer for your and your family to breathe. Volatile organic compounds are released by common household furnishings and compounds, including cleaning materials, beauty products, paint, clothes have been dry-cleaned and crafting products like glue and markers.
Most people who receive a Norfolk pine tree in a little pot during the holidays have no idea what the plant is and what to do with it besides tying a ribbon on it. Like poinsettias, these plants are often tossed once the season ends, but don’t do that. Part of the confusion comes with the name. In fact, this (Araucaria heterophylla) is not a pine tree at all, and the Norfolk for which it is named is a tropical island situated in the South Pacific between New Zealand and Australia.
Extremely easy to grow and care for, the Norfolk Island pine is happy to spend its entire life in Texas in a container. Water when the top 2 inches of soil are dry – poke it with your finger when you think it might need water. Give it medium to bright light. It is happy in the shade outdoors and with moderate light indoors. Otherwise, it just does its work, looks goods and makes few demands.
Orchids are great self-care flowers. They are widely available and offer a great variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Because they are beautiful, they can have a calming influence on your mood in addition to their ability to improve air quality.
Orchids prefer medium to bright light but never direct sunlight. They come growing in appropriate material and usually with information on care Keep in mind that they bloom for a while, and then don’t.
They will be happy with light and humidity. Mist them to keep them moist and give yourself an opportunity to look closely at them and enjoy their beauty. Orchids also offer the opportunity for the growers to take full credit for a lovely plant that makes few demands.
One way to boost those plant superpowers is to mix up your indoor landscape. While most plants release oxygen during the day, at night when photosynthesis stops, the process stops. Some plants, however, including orchids, succulents and bromeliads, do the opposite and emit oxygen at night, making them perfect plants for the bedroom and for encouraging good sleep.
Succulents are very popular outdoor plants right now, but don’t forget to bring some indoors as well. Many succulent plants are extremely easy to grow and require virtually no care.
Jade, a common houseplant, is long-lived, stays small and looks good. Fat oval leaves and woody stems give them the appearance of small trees. They are happy with little light and even less water.
Crassula ovata has many common names including money plant, dollar plant, lucky plant and friendship tree. In addition to looking good and being care-free, the jade plant improves indoor air quality and increases humidity in the air, and it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air both day and night. The size of the jade is determined by the size of the pot. They grow slowly and will be happy in a small pot for a long time. It is often used in fairy gardens and as bonsai.
Another popular indoor succulent is aloe vera. In addition to the other benefits, aloe is commonly used for healing burns, scratches and other skin ailments. The prettiest aloe I ever saw grew in an upstairs room that my mother never used. It was in a hanging basket away from the window but getting some light; she never watered it. It was rounded, lush and beautiful.
Of course, these are just a few choices for your indoor garden. The old devil’s ivy, Swedish ivy and English ivy, sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue), scented geraniums and so many more do a great job of cleaning up the air, lifting your spirits and giving you a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature. And after all, isn’t that what gardening is all about?
Judy Barrett is the author of several gardening books, including “Easy Edibles” from Texas A&M Press.