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5:54 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

How to care for houseplants - and why you should

Courtesy photo<br>Indoor plants create healthy living environments.

Courtesy photo<br>Indoor plants create healthy living environments.

Now that the house is divested of its festive holiday façade, back to its ordinary self, and seeming somewhat blah, our home could use something new, fresh, and even something exciting. To fill those needs, it's time to bring in new houseplants; they definitely add an indoor winter pick-me-up to our living spaces. I'm always impressed that a fresh, vibrant, strategically placed houseplant can bring so much life to a family room, bedroom or office.

We all know that fresh air is a must to ensure good health, but getting out in winter can be challenging for some folks and keeping a window open can let in too much cold air. As we tightly seal our homes to reduce heating and cooling bills, our indoor air quality can become a serious health issue. The solution is indoor plants, which are the simplest means of creating healthy indoor environments. On cold wintry days they bring welcome warm touches of life to enclosed, stuffy rooms and soothe us by their visual impact.

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, pathos, Chinese evergreen, ferns and English ivy are attractive low-light plants.

Whichever types of plants your rooms dictate, shop for them now. At this time of year, the best selection of houseplants is in abundance on garden center shelves.

Customers often ask me which houseplant food is best. Bright green results are seen with Bonides "Liquid Plant Food" used at half the recommended strength every time indoor plants are watered. Supplementing with "Atlantis Fish Fertilizer 2-4-0" in the middle of the month when plants are actively growing will help satisfy those really hungry blooming plants and ferns. Most fish fertilizers smell like dead fish so the deodorized Atlantis is a must for a pleasant indoor experience! Be wary of plant foods heavy in salts as they can build up dangerous levels of minerals. Whichever fertilizer you choose, remember that using it consistently is the key to great looking houseplants. If you are keeping some of those holiday plants, remember that they require the same fertilizers as other houseplants.

The secret to stunning houseplants that gleam with healthy good looks is "Leaf Shine with Moisture Guard." Indoor plants really don't care for winter and indoor heating. Heated air is unbearable for the leaves of many plants we like to keep in our living spaces. This spray-on plant shine not only brings out the gleam of houseplants, but also prevents them from losing moisture through their leaves. For those of you who struggle in the houseplant arena, this single tip will bring those brown thumbs to a comfortable shade of green.

Remember, because most houseplants are tropical plants that naturally grow in thick jungle layers, they like to be root bound in their containers. When plants 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.

If you travel and leave your green friends at home alone, I recommend adding "Soil Moist" polymers to the potting 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 plants. Polymer crystals 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 far outweigh the time you put in sustaining them. The results are an esthetically pleasing, healthier, happier environment.

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I'm happy to tell you that despite a soft economy, Watters has been able to keep its staff fully employed and still raise over $47,000 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 buying local, you have a direct affect 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 www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."