Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Plants add more than decor element

Plants are an integral part of any interior design. They add a source of vitality, freshness and allow spaces to look finished. Have you ever watched those interior design shows and competitions on TV? Invariably, you see the designers use plants as a finishing touch.

Caring for plants, like petting a cat or walking a dog, also lowers stress and blood pressure. Having green and blooming plants around comforts and helps prevent the blues.

Just as outdoor plants can be used to highlight featured areas or cover up problem areas, houseplants can be used in the same way. A key point to be made here is to know what your decorating style is before selecting plants. If you want to showcase your grandmother's heirloom teacup collection in an antique armoire, you probably don't want to use cactus. Something light and frilly, such as a trailing ivy, delicate bridal veil or an airy fern would be a better match. Or if you have a modern, contemporary design and want to add a focal point, a large-leaved, bold Philodendron monstera or a multi-level grouping of bromeliads might be a more appropriate choice than a grouping of fluffy azaleas and ferns.

Green and flowering plants improve the aesthetics of our homes and offices. To some, that in itself is enough reason to have them around. But the benefit of having plants around goes far beyond décor. Adding plants to any living or working space is actually making your environment healthier.

Indoor air quality has been an area of concern in commercial settings for years. "Sick Building Syndrome" -- defined as an acute incidence of indoor air pollution that can occur in closed or poorly ventilated offices has become an issue in residences as well. Poor air quality is blamed for "nuisance" type health conditions, all the way to serious life-threatening health issues.

In a joint study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ACLA), plants were put to the test. Inside a Plexiglas box, many plant species were isolated while toxic pollutants were injected into the chamber. The results were compelling.

Simple plants like Philodendron, Spider Plants and Golden Pothos were labeled the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules. Gerbera daisy plants and mums were best at removing benzene.

Plants do not replace properly functioning air systems. But, these little natural ‘air purifiers' can sure be a key component to your indoor air quality plan.

Many plants thrive on neglect. Start out with a low maintenance variety like the Sansevieria or a Golden Pothos. You'll be amazed how they can change a room. Just in case you need a brush up on plant care, here are some pointers from the Society of American Florists.

Most plants come with care instructions specified for the type of plant. The Society of American Florists provides these additional general guidelines to keep most green houseplants thriving:

Keep plants in medium-light locations -- out of direct sunlight. Natural light is best, but some plants can also thrive in office fluorescent light. Most flowering potted plants should be placed in areas with the most light in order to maintain good flower color and promote maximum blooming.

Foliage plants typically tolerate lower light levels and can be placed in reduced-light areas. Plant soil should be kept moist at all times. Plants should not be allowed to dry out or wilt. Be careful to avoid over-watering. Don't allow plants to stand in water, and avoid getting plant leaves wet. Keep away from excessive heat or cold.

Plants should be kept in a cool spot (between 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit) for best performance. They should be kept away from direct sunlight and heating or cooling vents. Don't place directly under ceiling fans, or on top of televisions or radiators. (Appliances like televisions give off heat, which causes plants to dehydrate.)

Top 10 plants for removing formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air:

Common Name Scientific Name
Bamboo Palm Chamaedorea seifritzii
Chinese Evergreen Aglaonema modestum
English Ivy Hedera helix
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera jamesonii
Marginata Dracaena marginata
Mass Cane/Corn Plant Dracaena massangeana
Mother-in-Law's Tongue/Snake Plant Sansevieria laurentii
Pot  mum Chrysanthemum morifolium
Peace Lily Spathiphyllum
Warneckii Dracaena warneckii