In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2009
Regional Report

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This rootbound houseplant needs trimming and repotting.

Refreshing Houseplants

Spring is a wonderful time to be outdoors gardening, but don't forget houseplants, which provide all sorts of benefits beyond an attractive splash of greenery. For example, research shows that hospital patients with plants to look at it recovered better than patients who stared at bare walls. Even a picture of a plant provided more benefit than nothing at all!

Houseplants "clean" the air by absorbing various indoor air pollutants. Think of all the things we use or are surrounded by daily that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Carpet and other floor coverings, drapes and blinds, drywall, paints, varnishes and glues, upholstery, chemical cleaning products, nail polish and remover, computer and photocopier equipement, plastic bags, and much more. The average building "outgases" such a brew of compounds that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists indoor air quality as one of its top five public health threats.

Practice "green" living and incorporate eco-friendly building components as you are able, but in the meantime, add a few "low-tech" houseplants to your interiorscape. Many palms, such as areca and lady palm, appear on the lists of "good air cleaners." However, I find palms difficult to keep green and healthy in Southwestern aridity. My home just doesn't offer sufficient humidity. However, other good purifiers that grow easily even in our arid conditions include corn plant, dracaena, dumb cane, peace lily, schefflera and spider plant. If you have difficulty growing houseplants, try a pothos, which is usually quite fuss-free.

Check for Rootbound Plants
The above-ground portion of a houseplant is only as healthy as what's happening below ground. Containers trap roots within a fairly limited space. When roots reach the barrier of the container wall, they start wrapping around themselves, forming a dense snarl of roots.

Examine houseplants for any of these signs: excessive yellow or dead leaves; wilting; minimal fresh growth; hard, caked soil that dries out shortly after watering; white salt deposits on top of the soil or around the rim of the container; and roots sticking out the drainage hole. If your plants exhibit any combination of those symptoms, it's a good bet that it's rootbound and needs to be repotted in fresh soil.

Remove the plant from its pot. Untangle the web of roots and cut off the excess. It may be necesssary to "score" through the mass with a sharp, sterile knife, scissors, or pruning shears to loosen the tangle. Don't be afraid to remove a lot of roots. Your plant won't remain healthy or be able to put out fresh growth otherwise!


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