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9:31 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Healthy houseplants make healthy households

Courtesy photo<p>
Houseplants are natural air filters capable of removing up to 70 percent of indoor air pollutants. Environmental scientists recommend having one large plant per 100 square feet in our homes and workplaces.

Courtesy photo<p> Houseplants are natural air filters capable of removing up to 70 percent of indoor air pollutants. Environmental scientists recommend having one large plant per 100 square feet in our homes and workplaces.

As we head boldly into the new year, the holiday decorations are boxed, bagged and stored for another season. Our tree and once-fresh wreaths and garlands are bagged and by the curb for pickup. As the poinsettias lose their foliage, they are added to my compost pile.

Now that the house is back to its ordinary self after its festive holiday façade, our home could use something new, fresh and exciting. To fill that requirement, it's time to strategically place houseplants for an indoor winter pick-me-up. I'm always impressed that a fresh and vibrant new houseplant can bring so much life to a family room, bedroom or office.

Indoor plants are soothing because of their visual impact. On cold wintry days they add warm touches of life to enclosed, stuffy rooms. As we make our homes tight to reduce heating and cooling bills, our indoor air quality becomes a serious health issue. We all know that fresh air is a must to ensure good health, but getting out in winter can be challenging and keeping a window open lets in too much cold air. The solution is indoor plants, which are the simplest means of creating healthy indoor environments.

Physically beneficial, houseplants are natural air filters capable of removing up to 70 percent of indoor air pollutants. They're so effective that environmental scientists recommend having one large plant per 100 square feet in our homes and workplaces.

Houseplants absorb large quantities of airborne formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and benzene. The plants most effective at removing these air contaminants are spider plants, mums, snake plants, English ivy, scheffleras, philodendrons, ficuses and corn plants. All are common houseplants, readily available in sizes to fit every budget.

Light is the key to most great-looking houseplants. Of course, an Arizona room or foyer with many windows or a skylight will grow rich green plants, but the limited light of most bathrooms or hallways calls for special plants. The cast iron plant, philodendron, pothos, Chinese evergreen, ferns and English ivy are attractive low-light plants.

Whichever types of plants your rooms dictate now is a good time to shop for them. The best selection of houseplants is in abundance on garden center shelves.

Customers often ask me which houseplant food is best. I recommend my water-soluble, "Blooming & Rooting" plant food, used at half the recommended strength every time indoor plants are watered. Supplementing with fish emulsion in the middle of the month when plants are actively growing will help satisfy those really hungry blooming plants or ferns. Be wary of plant foods heavy in salts and the mineral buildup that subsequently occurs. Whichever fertilizer you choose, remember that using it consistently is the key to great looking houseplants.

The secret to stunning houseplants that gleam with healthy good looks is "Plant Shine." I think of it as a plant hair spray, and it's almost as easy to apply. It keeps plants looking as though they have just come through a cleansing, refreshing shower.

Remember that houseplants like to be root-bound in their containers because most are tropical plants that naturally grow in thick jungle layers. When they finally become difficult to water because so many roots have filled the container, it's time to transplant. I recommend graduating to a container the next size bigger. Most important is to use a good quality potting soil. The soil alone can turn a "brown thumb" killer into an exceptional houseplant gardener, proud to show off "green thumb" results.

If you travel and leave your green friends at home alone, I recommend adding "Soil Moist" polymers to the soil mix. These super-absorbent clear crystals hold 200 times their weight in water and significantly reduce the need for frequent watering of potted plants. Traveling gardeners find these crystals really handy for peace of mind while away from their indoor gardens. They actually can extend the need for watering to two-week intervals.

Houseplants thrive with minimal care. The benefits you'll derive from keeping houseplants in your home are well worth the effort. The results are an esthetically pleasing environment and a healthier, happier you.

For more in-depth coverage of local garden topics listen to my weekly radio show, "The Mountain Gardener," from 11 a.m. to noon every Saturday on KQNA 1130 AM or 99.9 FM with rebroadcasts from 6 to 7 p.m. each Friday. Guest interviews, Q & A sessions and more are part of this locally produced garden show specific to Northern Arizona. Let me know what you think of the program.

I'm happy to tell you that even with the soft economy, Watters has been able to keep its staff intact and still raise more than $51,000 for Watters Garden Center charitable causes. In addition, Lisa and I have been able to continue helping our church, something that is very important to us. None of this would be possible without our loyal customers. By keeping your business local you have a direct effect on local businesses and indirectly make our community a better place to live. Thank you!

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."