In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2013
Regional Report

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Orchids make stunning houseplants.

Three Healthy Reasons to Grow Houseplants

Improve Indoor Air Quality
Houseplants enhance indoor air quality by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by paint, carpet, building materials, furniture, and household cleaners. University of Georgia researchers tested 28 houseplant species for the ability to remove five common VOCs. Results showed five plant species with "Superior Removal Efficiency." Hemigraphis alternata, Hedera helix, Hoya carnosa, and Asparagus densiflorus were effective against all five pollutants, and Tradescantia pallida removed four.

Results also showed seven plants with "Intermediate Removal Efficiency": Ficus benjamina, Polyscias fruiticosa, Fittonia argyroneura, Sansevieria trifasciata, Guzmania sp., Anthurium andreanum, and Schefflera elegantissima. Because of variations in effectiveness, researchers recommended growing multiple species to maximize VOC removal. As a guideline, grow at least one houseplant for every 100 square feet of floor space.

Of the 12 plants listed above, Asparagus densiflorus (asparagus fern), Tradescantia pallida (purple heart), and Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant or mother-in-law tongue) are the easiest to grow in the Southwest's typically low-humidity homes. They also thrive outdoors, should you want to set them out for a period of fresh air and bright light or propagate them as outdoor plants. Asparagus fern and purple heart make attractive groundcovers, and snake plant often blooms outside.

Reduce Stress
Various studies point to the value of adding foliage plants to indoor work environments. When comparing plant vs. no plant spaces, beneficial results included lower systolic blood pressure readings, increased productivity, improved concentration, faster recovery from stress, and improved sense of well being, which included fewer complaints of fatigue, headache, dry throats, and other physical symptoms.

Be Happy
Research studies from Rutgers University show a range of positive results attributed to flowers, including increased life satisfaction, reduced depression, positive moods that lasted for days, and enhanced memory in the elderly. I imagine any flower would bring smiles, but I like long-lasting orchid plants, many of which are now less expensive than a bouquet. I recently spied blooming moth orchids sale priced at $4, the cost of a cup of fancy java. Phalaenopsis (fal-en-OPP-sis) show off pretty, moth-like flowers that bloom for weeks. According to the Orchid Society of Arizona, moth orchids are fairly fuss-free if given consistent moisture and bright light (no direct sun) in an eastern, western, or shaded southern window. Night temps of 60 to 65 degrees F and day temps of 75 to 85 are preferred. They like that 15 to 20 degree swing between night and day.

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