I have a new addiction: houseplants. It all goes back to some research I came across a few years ago from NASA, about how certain houseplants can improve air quality. The study found that theytake in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen (as all plants do), and they filter out toxins in the air. These plants can neutralize formaldehyde, benzyne, xylene, and other chemicals, pulling them out of the air that we breathe.
I was intrigued. And since, as I mentioned last week, I’ve also gotten into vegetable gardening, cultivating indoor plants would keep my nascent green thumb honed through the winter.
I started doing research on the easiest plants to maintain (After all, I did say my green thumb was a relatively new talent), and a week or two later, I’m obsessed! I’ve become the kind of person who gets up early to be the first person at plant sales, who trolls garden shops and home centers for new planters. I’ve even created a Pinterest board called Houseplants Obsession.
Although plants themselves are as green as can be, soils and plant foods can be laden with chemicals, and it’s easy to get wasteful by buying new planters and other accessories. Before I got too embroiled in my new passion, I wanted to make sure I was being as environmentally responsible as possible. Here’s how.
- Choose plants with a purpose. About a year ago, I wrote about five houseplants that offer more benefits than just looking pretty. From a natural air freshener to a skin soother, these plants certainly earn their position in the window. I’m starting with air-improving plants from the book How to Grow Fresh Air, which is by B.C. Wolverton, one of the scientists behind the NASA study. Beyond air purification, you can use houseplants in place of curtains to offer some privacy, grow cooking herbs on a windowsill, or raise some flowering houseplants that can be used as a table centerpiece in place of cut flowers.
- Upcycle containers for planters. One thing I learned quickly is that those black plastic pots in which most plants are sold are unattractive and cheap-looking, so transplanting them to a prettier container is a must. Planters range in size and materials, from inexpensive plastic to beautiful but pricey ceramic. It’s cheaper and more environmentally responsible to upcycle, repurpose and reuse what you have on hand or what you can obtain second-hand. I’ve planted a small succulent garden in a chipped mixing bowl, found some gorgeous planters at yard sales and thrift stores, and even used my daughter’s outgrown rain boots to plant some cheerful marigolds for the porch. I found a list of 35 creative planters that proves that just about anything can be a planter, from a desk to a milk carton.
- Pass along old pots. As for those ugly plastic garden-center pots, while they’re recyclable, it’s savvier to reuse them or pass them along for someone else to reuse. I usually take mine to a cooperative garden in my city, wherethey’re always happy for extra containers to use for their plant sales or raising seeds. You could give yours to a school with a garden program or even donate them to a local farmer. I do keep a couple of small pots to use in my garden shed, as a scoop in my soil bag.
- Use chemical-free soil, fertilizers, and food. Organic Gardening’s houseplant guide suggests seeking out plant food that is made from natural ingredients like seaweed or fish meal, and when it’s time to re-pot, avoid soil that has fertilizer included. If your plants get a pest infestation, there’s no need to douse them with chemicals. Chances are there is a less toxic remedy that you might already have at home — water and rubbing alcohol, for instance, are two substances that can rid a houseplant of certain infestations.
- Catch greywater for watering. It’s easy to collect enough otherwise-wasted water for your houseplants, particularly since most of them don’t need much watering. Keep a bucket in the bathroom or near the kitchen sink and put it under the faucet to catch the running water as you’re waiting for it to heat up. If you do this regularly, you’ll probably even collect enough water to irrigate your outdoor plants as well!
- Grow your own from cuttings. Get together with other houseplant–loving friends to swap cuttings that you can propagate and grow yourself. Be sure to do a little research on the technique so that you don’t kill your new plant. By growing your own plants from cuttings, you’re saving the resources used by commercial nurseries to grow, water, and fertilize a plant you would have purchased.