Grow your own Indoor Sanctuary

Indoor plants continue to experience popularity and that’s not looking to wane any time soon. Interest in creating an indoor jungle has been growing steadily and then went ‘off the chart’ during Covid when so many people found they were stuck at home and not able to connect with nature beyond their front door. Plants certainly helped make the isolation much more bearable and had a positive impact that went well beyond their physical beauty. Much has been documented about the positive effects of being in contact with nature and that simply taking a break from our screens to look at greenery helps reduce eye strain.

Additionally, in times of stress, the act of caring for something ‘outside of ourselves’ such as plants, pets or other humans helps with our mental well-being. Another positive is that plants specifically are also doing a very good job of purifying the air inside our homes, buildings and places of work.

Many of the by-products of our modern way of life, things like carpets, adhesives, paint, upholstery, varnishes, solvents as well as building materials (such as particle board) give off volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) at room temperature. Activities like cooking, heating a room or photocopying also release VOCs and most of these are invisible and without odor. The impact of these VOC’s ranges from low to dangerous and potentially fatal (especially if experienced over a prolonged period of time. This is even more significant if individuals are already chemically sensitive or suffering from asthma.

However, there is some good news. Plants can help. Many popular indoor plants have otheir origins in a rainforest environment where soil nutrient levels are poor. In the rainforest, plant and animal matter breaks down quickly and as it does an array of chemicals are released into the rainforest air. Hungry plants devour these chemicals, and they will do the same with indoor pollutants in our homes and workplaces (provided we given them enough light and care). And the more plants, the better the results.

However, keep in mind that there is no such thing in nature as an ‘Indoor plant’ and most plants require a lot of light to grow well (and keep them away from heaters and air conditioner vents).

Plants for low light situations include:

· Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra spp.) This plant really is ‘tough as old boots’.

· Mother-in-law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) A rigid succulent plant with lovely variegated foliage that is an extremely hardy indoor plant.

· Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) This flowering plant will grow well without much light, (however flowering will be improved with more light).

· Pothos / Devils Ivy (Epipremnum spp.) A super hardy trailing ivy like plant.

Plants for bright light situations include:

· Monstera spp. and Philodendron spp. – Can tolerate moderate light levels

· Dracaena fragrans also grows well in moderate light levels.

· Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) A great long-lived indoor plant, which can also be grown successfully outside in a sheltered environment.

Care for your indoor plants

· Dust: One of the challenges with indoor plants is an accumulation of dust on their foliage. I wash mine in the bathtub (with cool water) but a milk and water solution on the leaves is also effective (and makes the leaves shine).

· Humidity: Some plants prefer humid conditions and others dry. A Maidenhair fern grows well in a bathroom with high levels of humidity if there’s also lots of light.

· Potting up: If the plant seems too big for the pot and the leaves aren’t healthy and shiny the plant may need potting up. Choose a pot the next size up, gently tease out the roots and backfill with new indoor plant potting mix and water in well.

· Regularly check your indoor plants for unwelcome guests. Sap sucking pests can breed rapidly indoors in the absence of their natural predators. However once spotted they can be effectively treated with some eco-friendly products. Most issues can be resolved by a couple of applications over the course of a few weeks (but in the meantime it’s a good idea to quarantine any sick plants, so you don’t infect all your indoor plants). Some options for pest control include insecticidal soap sprays, Neem oil, Horticultural Oil and sticky traps. Talk to your local horticulturalist about which options are best for you.

· Feed with a quality foliar or liquid feed such as Verigrow to keep your plants happy and healthy.

· Plants are really a bit like us in that they will become weak or ‘stressed’ if conditions are not favorable (inadequate light, too much water, too little water, temperature extremes or not enough nutrient). So do your research first, so that you are giving your plants just what they need.

Please note: Many popular Indoor plants have toxic parts (sap, leaves or fruits/flowers) and may not be appropriate if you have cats, dogs or young children that like to chew on plants. Please do your research first. Happy planting!

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