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Publication: Garden Guides
Houseplants That Clean Your Indoor Air

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                   GardenGuides Newsletter 
                  Tuesday, January 9, 2007 

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Houseplants That Clean Your Indoor Air

Certain houseplants help keep indoor air clean by removing 
pollutants. The plants that clean air best are decided on 
four criteria: 
1. Effectiveness in removing the three main indoor pollutants 
(formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide)
2. Ease of growing
3. Resistance to insect and disease
4. Ability to transpire moisture. 
Based on these the top three houseplants were Lady Palm 
(Rhapis excelsa), Rubber plant (Ficus robusta), and English 
ivy (Hedera helix). You need two or three full-sized plants 
(in 10-12-inch containers) per 100-150-square-foot room for 
best results. If you don't have enough room for full-sized 
plants, place plants in "breathing zones" in your room, such 
as near the bed or office desk, for optimal results.
 
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How to Grow Herbs Indoors

Herbs are sun worshipers for the most part. As expatriates of 
the Mediterranean region, most flavorful herbs don't thrive 
in the un-Mediterranean environment and inadequate light our 
houses provide. Herbs don't tolerate north-facing windows, or 
windows that gets less than 4 hours of direct sunshine a day.

Provide Light

Even if your indoor herbs get their four hours of direct sun-
shine daily, installing supplementary lighting is a necessity. 
The light coming through a window may seem bright to your 
eyes, but its intensity in winter is often less than one-tenth 
of the outdoor light during a summer day. Grow lights will 
work if their light intensity is high enough and the spectral 
quality is right.

Acclimate Plants Gradually

Plants produce two kinds of leaves in response to strong or 
weak light. High-light leaves are thick, strong and narrow. 
Low-light leaves are thinner, more delicate and broader than 
high-light leaves. But narrow high-light leaves are less 
efficient in converting light energy into food than low-light 
leaves. High-light leaves are accustomed to an abundance of 
light, so they don't have be as efficient at food production. 
A plant that is adapted to abundant light often turns brown 
and drops leaves indoors. This is because it can't produce 
enough food to maintain itself. The plant tries to make food 
by shedding the inefficient leaves and producing efficient 
leaves higher up and closer to the light source. When you 
bring herbs indoors, this leaf drop and increased leggy growth 
can happen within weeks, or even days. Some herbs cannot make 
the transition fast enough to survive.

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Rosemary is a case in point. This slow-growing evergreen 
doesn't have the chance to adjust to changes in light before 
the plant slowly starves itself. By January, February or March, 
the leaves dry up, and the plant dies. This sudden death is by 
far the most common complaint about growing rosemary indoors. 
Here's what to do: Gradually adjust the plant to lower light. 
Place it in partial shade for two to three weeks, then in 
deeper shade for another two to three weeks before bringing it 
indoors. When plenty of new growth appears, the plant is ready 
to go into the house.

Soil, Fertilizer and Water

After light, proper soil is the next most important factor in 
producing healthy herb plants. With few exceptions, herbs 
require excellent drainage, especially during the winter 
months, when transpiration rates are lowest. When roots are 
confined in a pot or planter, water and air cannot move 
easily. To improve drainage without sacrificing nutrients, add 
sharp sand or perlite to a good sterilized compost-based mix. 
Most herbs do well in soils of pH 6 to 7.

Many people incorrectly think that herbs grow better in poor 
soil. Flavors are stronger when culinary herbs grow outdoors 
in gardens. But in the confines of a pot, supplementary 
feedings with liquid fertilizer or organic fish emulsion are 
necessary. Feed herbs once a week when plants are actively 
growing, but not when dormant.

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Watering is not a trivial matter with herbs. In general, water 
less often and more thoroughly, and only when the soil is 
actually dry. When the soil is dry to the touch, add water 
until it comes out the bottom of the pot. If the water doesn't 
come out, pots have a drainage problem. First, check that the 
holes aren't blocked; if not, you may have to repot with soil 
that has better drainage.

Pests and Diseases

Herbs are susceptible to common pests, including whiteflies, 
spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and thrips. 
Inspect herbs regularly.

If your herbs are in portable containers, control pests by 
dipping the whole aboveground part of the plant into a pail of 
insecticidal soap. Swish vigorously for a minute or two to wet 
all leaf surfaces (hold your hand over the pot to prevent soil 
loss). Dipping once or twice a week for three to four weeks 
will clear up most problems.

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