November 30, 2021

Gardening: Benefits of indoor plants include improved air quality and work efficiency

Hand holding three marigold blossoms

BY Mike Hogan

Original posting in The Columbus Dispatch

Indoor plants bring joy to gardeners and non-gardeners alike, but there are also practical reasons to incorporate plants into all types of indoor spaces. In addition to the aesthetic improvements that plants make to indoor spaces, they can also improve air quality by removing carbon dioxide, particulates and airborne volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).

Research has also shown that plants can have positive psychological and emotional effects on the inhabitants of indoor spaces.

Plants improve workspaces

When incorporated into offices and other workspaces, plants can reduce employee sick time by 14% and improve work productivity and speed, according to the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture. Research has also shown that plants can help make workers more creative and productive while helping them to stay calm, engaged and motivated.

I have four plants on my desk with more than a dozen more scattered throughout our office. Plants should be a part of every happy and productive workplace.

Students benefit from indoor plants

Incorporating indoor plants into classrooms can have positive effects on learning and student health, resulting in fewer absences. In a study in Holland, students in classrooms with plants showed a 7% reduction in health problems, an increase in creativity and 20% higher test scores.

Research conducted in classrooms in the United States showed a 10% increase in test scores when plants were incorporated into classrooms, according to the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture.

Teachers also report that students misbehave less in a classroom containing live plants.

Plants can have a particularly calming and relaxing effect on children. One study showed that when plants were incorporated into a child’s play area, symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder were less severe.

Choosing houseplants

If I have convinced you that you should increase the leaf canopy of your home, office or classroom, you may be wondering which houseplants to purchase.

Although there are hundreds of different plants that thrive in indoor environments, there are some that are very reliable for both their ability to adapt to seasonal changes of indoor environments and to brighten up and add color and visual interest to ho-hum decor.

Plants such as bird’s nest fern, pothos, dracaena, mother-in-law tongue, spider plant, philodendron, fiddle leaf ficus, peace lily, dieffenbachia, schefflera, and many different succulents and sedums will thrive in indoor environments with little care.

Some plants can be dangerous when ingested by children or pets, so parents might want to avoid incorporating plants such as amaryllis, English ivy, pothos, philodendron, poinsettia, sago palm, umbrella plant, jade, many varieties of lilies, monster deliciosa, and mistletoe.

When purchasing plants inspect them carefully for insects, mites or disease and reject any plant that appears unhealthy. After you bring new plants home, isolate them from existing plants and watch for any signs of insects or diseases.

Caring for houseplants

The amount of water a plant needs depends on the characteristics of the plant and the environmental conditions of the home, office or classroom.

Larger plants and plants with larger leaves will require a greater amount of water and should be checked more often than smaller plants or plants with smaller, finer leaves.

Check plants frequently to ensure that the potting mix is kept moist but not completely wet. And never allow the potting mix to completely dry out. One method for determining if a houseplant needs to be watered is to stick a finger up to the first knuckle in the potting mix and feel whether the soil is wet below the surface. 

For a more accurate test, a battery-operated moisture meter can be used to determine when plants should be watered.

During winter months when we use furnaces and heaters to warm indoor spaces, the indoor environment can become too dry for many houseplants. A common sign of insufficient humidity is browning and withering of foliage. In this instance, plants can be moved into the kitchen or bathroom where air tends to be more humid. 

An alternative would be to use a spray bottle to mist both the top and bottom surfaces of the plant’s leaves every few days.

Wherever you spend your time indoors, consider adding houseplants to the environment to improve your health and mood.

Mike Hogan is an associate professor at Ohio State University and an educator at the OSU Extension.