We do a lot to protect and improve our homes, including making sure we have effective locks and a good security system, buying new throws, putting up prints and painting walls to brighten a room… but do you ever think about the quality of air in your home and your office?
According to the CSIRO, poor air quality is of increasing concern. As people spend more and more time inside their homes or indoors in office environments, the air we breathe is rarely fresh. In fact, the air we breathe in during most of the day could easily be polluted with airborne fungi, microbial contamination, or house dust mites and even air toxics such as formaldehyde. Let’s face it, some days the only fresh air we breathe will be between our front doors and our cars or public transport – and even that air could be polluted by city smog. Add to this the fact that we spend more and more time every year staring at screens and living a sedentary lifestyle, and we have a recipe for ill health.
Can plants help?
A number of studies over the years have proven that having an indoor plant can significantly improve the air quality of an inside environment. NASA scientist B.C Wolverton researched how plants could help astronauts on Skylab breathe clean air. This research found that having one house plant for about every 9 square metres would help you breathe in clean air in a home or office. More recent research performed by Kamal Meattle in Delhi found that it was essential to have a particular amount of plants for each person who inhabited an inside space, making sure that the plants were regularly wiped down and spent some time each month outside, and that these simple steps led to improved health for the people using the space. So not only do indoor plants look lovely, they can help our health. Inspired by the links between plants and better health, below are five plants that are attractive, easy to maintain and good choices for improving the air quality of your home or office.
Areca Palms are attractive house plants that are purported to help convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen, which can be of particular use in offices where an excess of CO2 can lead to feelings of drowsiness that will impact productivity. They are happiest placed in front of a window that gets a large amount of sun. You don’t need to water them often, in fact the potting mix should dry out between watering, and fertilizer should be administered rarely. Although the palms can be short lived inside, they are cheap to buy and their hardiness and attractiveness make up for the fact that you might have to replace them. Maintenance difficulty rating: Low.
Like the Areca palm, this frightfully named but strikingly attractive plant will improve the air quality of your home or office by assisting in the conversion of CO2 to oxygen. They are also touted as the hardiest of indoor plants, likely to survive the most negligent of owners as long as they are watered occasionally – in winter, you can reduce your watering to once a month. While it is kind to make sure they have some sun, they can survive in the less light filled areas indoors. They do well in sandy soil. Maintenance difficulty rating: Low
Also known as the Jade Plant, these plants are often touted as a good luck plant, and even more importantly, can help absorb chemicals that can leak into the air we breathe inside. They’re very easy to grow and thrive under artificial light and in warm room temperatures, although the plant will be happiest if you place it near a window. When it comes to watering, it’s best to monitor the soil; when the soil dries out, water it, and not before. These plants are long lasting and if you don’t kill them with kindness could end up growing to be quite tall and wide, so place it somewhere it will have a bit of room to grow and choose a pot that will anchor it so it doesn’t become top heavy. Maintenance difficulty rating: Low
If you’re looking for a flowering plant that is less fussy than the violet, this plant is for you. The flowers are pink and architectural and the plant is quite hardy. This one is a bit spiky though, so it is the kind of plant best suited to environments where it won’t be brushed past regularly. It enjoys a warm room, indirect light and you water it by filling up the central cup of the plant. Maintenance difficulty rating: Low to Moderate
Maybe you would also like to grow something that has flowers to brighten up a room while improving the air. An African Violet can be a beautiful addition to your home. They like an environment that is sunny, but doesn’t get direct sun, so place the plant on your desk if it sits in front of a large window or on a window sill that doesn’t get a lot of light throughout the day. This plant will need more watering than the above choices; the soil should be kept moist and you will need to be careful to water underneath the leaves. You also need to keep it warm, so if you have the kind of office environment that requires a cardigan in summer, you might have to reconsider this choice. However, if you place this plant in a warm room and water it, you will be rewarded with regular blooms in your home. Maintenance difficulty rating: Moderate
Melbourne based horticulture expert and former researcher for Gardening Australia Stuart Burns, says “If your home or your office has windows and gets some sunlight, you can basically grow any plant from your local nursery that is marked as indoor friendly. Once you’ve got one, make plant maintenance a part of your schedule, you can turn one of your coffee breaks into a plant checking break, it’ll be good for you! Water is occasionally. Pay attention to the soil. If it looks sick, give it a holiday outside – it’s simple!”
“Nobody really has a black thumb and the majority of indoor spaces will be improved by a plant.”