Spending time outdoors to stop and smell the roses is one of the great joys of spring. Nature is coming into bloom outside your window, but don’t overlook the benefits of bringing some of the outdoors inside your home. Research shows that owning houseplants is linked to good health and can even boost happiness at home.
Peter Clarke, owner of Clarke’s Garden and Home in Greenport Village, has been working with plants for more than a decade and points to some well-documented NASA science to make the case for the houseplant.
“There is research that determined which plants were best at cleaning indoor air and removing many pesky chemicals simultaneously,” he said. “Apart from the health aspects of more oxygen and cleaner air, there is a greater sense of well-being in homes that have a variety of houseplants.”
Many modern applications of indoor growing might suggest fancy lighting or filtration systems, but for a low-tech approach, nothing beats these old standbys, which are easy to keep alive and bring an air of freshness into your home.
Commonly known as red-edged dracaena for its striking color, the dracaena marginata prefers brightly lit rooms, and won’t mind if you forget to water it once and a while. “This easy-to-grow plant is common as a houseplant,” Clarke said. “It can tolerate drying out and does not want to be regularly watered until it’s dry, but at that point it should be thoroughly watered. Never allow the plant to sit in water.”
The dracaena marginata can reach four to five feet, putting on height with age by branching out and growing fine, narrow leaves. It does not want to be in rooms less than 65 degrees and should be fertilized in the spring and summer when the plant is in a growing phase. Pet owners should also note it is potentially harmful to cats and dogs.
For the gardening challenged, the peace lily (spathiphyllum) is among the easiest houseplants to care for. It thrives in low to medium light, so it’s even good for an apartment with few windows. Considered a tropical plant , it has long, shiny leaves that are highlighted with green spathes that turn white once it’s in full bloom. “Most tropical plants from the humid zones prefer more humidity in the air than our homes provide,” Clarke said. “To improve humidity levels, you can place a room humidifier in the room with your plants, mist the plants regularly and place pots on top of a humidity tray.”
The peace lily likes to be kept consistently moist and does not tolerate drying out. Feed it a half-strength fertilizer solution in spring when the plant begins to flower to help it grow, and keep it away from pets.
The swordlike leaves of this tough plant come in many sizes and colors. Snake plants can range from small 4- to 6-inch specimens to large pots with three feet of foliage. They tolerate bright, indirect light and should be moved with the seasons for optimal sun exposure. “East-facing rooms are best [because there’s] strong morning light,” Clarke said. “Light is less intense in the winter and plants can be moved closer to the light source. In summer, plants are best suited for placement across the room from the light source.” Snake plants (sansevieria trifasciata) can dry out between waterings, although it’s important to water thoroughly when they are completely dry.
This easy-to-grow flowering houseplant features waxy, heart-shaped leaves and its signature stamen helps the flowers last longer. Laceleaf (anthurium) take highly to well-drained soil and bright, indirect light. It comes in miniature sizes up to full-grown specimens in large pots with a size of two to three feet and can tolerate drying out temporarily if you forget to water.
The lady palm (rhapis excels) is slow-growing and makes an ideal floor plant because of its grand size. Its dark green, fan-shaped leaves emanate from a bamboo-like stem, giving off vacation home vibes as you sit on the sofa. “It will enjoy an east-facing spot with as bright, but indirect, light as possible,” Clarke said. It can achieve heights of up to five or six feet — though that can take several years, so buy the size you want to take home with you. Keep evenly moist and feed it a half-strength fertilizer solution in summer months to keep it thriving.