Sep 112010

Recently, I had a visitor to my humble office (and when I say humble, I really DO mean it!) who remarked on my lack of indoor plants. She thought it unusual that a gardening organisation such as ours operated in a plant free environment, and felt obliged to tell me so. Looking around my office, I realised it was indeed bare of foliage, a fact that had not bothered me (or even occured to me) until she pointed it out. She then proceeded to inform me of the myriad of benefits of indoor plants, many of which were unknown to me, despite claiming to be an expert in all things plant related. Needless to say, at the end of our conversation, I scuttled straight out to my local SGA Certified Garden Centre and picked up some funky and functional indoor plants, and I reckon by the end of this article, you will too!

The Air That We Breathe (and why the indoors is icky)!

On average, every Australian spends around 90% of their time indoors, be it at work, at home, at the shops or the local pub, a figure that I found astonishing but it did explain my total lack of tan! But, if you think that’s frightening (the 90% thing, not my pale white skin), consider this – a number of studies have found that the air indoors (where we spend most of our time) is generally more polluted than the air outside (where we spend about 10% of our time)! This is due in large part to the presence of a variety of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air indoors.

VOCs are present in a number of common office and indoor items including carpets, paints, wall panels, wood products and furnishings, and can be pretty bad news. Including such baddies as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and toluene, VOCs decrease the indoor air quality and are a significant contributor to “sick building syndrome”, a term used to describe a range of symptoms thought to be caused by the office or home environment. The CSIRO estimates that the health cost of poor indoor air quality could be as high as $12 billion annually, the losses occurring through increased absenteeism and reduced productivity in the workplace. All in all, it’s a serious business, but one that can be significantly rectified by plants (is there anything they can’t do?). Indoor plants play an important role in the reduction of VOCs and the improvement of indoor air quality, as well as making our homes and offices look nice!

How Plants Protect People From Poison

Ok, it’s a fairly lofty claim, but plants indoors can significantly reduce both VOCs and carbon dioxide from the air, meaning cleaner, greener, happier and more productive homes and offices. But how do they do it? Well, the removal of VOCs from the air indoors is not actually done by the plant, but by millions of micro-organisms in the soil (as I keep telling everyone, soil is THE greatest thing on earth!). In fact, an Australian study has shown that potting mix alone was able to remove some level of VOC’s from the air, although the amount removed significantly increased with a plant in the pot (due to the increased level of soil microbial activity that comes with having a real plant in the pot). This same study has shown that just three indoor plants in 10m² of office space can go a long way indeed to improving indoor air quality.

As well as the super soil micro-organisms removing VOC’s, plants themselves are responsible for removing carbon dioxide from the air, which not only saves the planet, but acts to make staff less lethargic and all round better staff members! And forget pigs in space, how about plants in space? NASA have trialled indoor plants in spaceships to help remove CO² and airborne microbes and keep astronauts focused and feeling fine (which is a good thing when you’re at the helm of a spacecraft!). If it’s good enough for NASA spacecraft, it’s definitely good enough for my office!

So, let’s have a look at some readily available indoor plants, their light requirements, and their ideal positioning in the home or office:

Issues Indoors

Just like their friends outside, indoor plants can suffer from a variety of issues that can affect their health, well being and appearance, with the most common affliction being ‘love’. Yes, that’s right; many of us kill our indoor plants with love, either by overwatering or overfeeding them. Indoor plants are best fed no more than twice a year, and watering needs to be monitored at all times. One of the best ways to do this is by whacking your indoor plants into a self watering pot, one that regulates the uptake of water into the soil. This way, over and under watering are no longer issues, and indoor plant ownership becomes a far less stressful endeavour.

It is also recommended that the leaves of indoor plants are periodically wiped with a damp cloth, on both the upper and lower surfaces. This helps remove dust that can build up and clog plant pores, removes any insects or eggs that may be present, and keeps the plant foliage looking shiny and healthy. Yup, it’s a tad tedious, but worth it in the long run. Keep an eye on your indoor plants, especially over winter, as potential pest problems can present themselves in the cooler months. And remember to rotate your plants every now and then (yes, turn them around on the spot) to keep growth nice and even, and promote healthier, happier, better looking growth.

On a Serious Note

Loads of indoor plants can be extremely harmful (often fatal) if ingested by pets, so it is advised that all house plants be kept out of reach of puppies and kittens especially, but also adult dogs and cats.

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