Recent studies have proven that having indoor plants can actually be beneficial to your health. This isn’t necessarily very hard to believe, and most of us already have faith in their powers. They add color and life to our homes, create a feeling of unification with nature, and diminish levels of carbon dioxide while constantly replenishing our rooms with fresh oxygen. With all these wonderful qualities, why don’t we all own indoor plants? Well, unfortunately some of us are unable to keep these plants alive for long enough to justify having them in our homes.
And while just regular houseplants are visually appealing, psychologically soothing, and physically beneficial, in an off-grid situation, you also want to take advantage of your indoor space to grow things that you can actually use and benefit from in more ways than one.
Natural Air Purifiers
In an off-grid situation, you may find yourself stuck indoors for days at a time, whether from inclement weather, the results of a natural or man-made disaster, or because of the effects of a breakdown in society. The air in your home can quickly become stale. A study by NASA (yes, the space people!) showed how low levels of chemicals in synthetic construction materials were present in the air of Skylab (and are in your home because we use these same construction materials as consumers).
In 1973, NASA scientists identified 107 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air inside the Skylab space station. Synthetic materials, like those used to construct Skylab, give off low levels of chemicals. This effect, known as off-gassing, spreads the VOCs, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, all known irritants and potential carcinogens. When these chemicals are trapped without circulation, as was the case with the Skylab, the inhabitants may become ill, as the air they breathe is not given the natural scrubbing by Earth’s complex ecosystem.
In an off-grid environment where forced air isn’t introduced into your home from something like a central unit or whole-house fan, you’ll want to use natural means to keep the air clean. The plants listed below are a small sampling of those that can do that, and may also serve for other uses. The rule of thumb is one 10 to 12-inch potted plant per 100 square feet for optimum air purification. (Please note that anyone can have sensitivities to anything, so if you or a family member are particularly allergic to a type of plant, then of course, don’t use it.)
- Aloe Vera: Aloe vera is not only an excellent treatment for burns or other skin maladies, it actually reduces formaldehyde from the air.
- Areca Palm: A general purpose air-purifier. The areca palm is one of the top performers in this area.
- Bamboo Palm: Removes formaldehyde and is a natural humidifier, if you live in a dry climate.
- Boston Fern: Claimed to be among the best houseplants for air purification, it too is a natural humidifier.
- Corn Cane: This plant does well in low light and low water situations, and is know for removing many toxins from the air.
- English Ivy: You’ll have to control this prolific grower, but it’s known for removing all sorts of carcinogenic toxins from the air such as benzene and formaldehyde. It’s also reported to be great for those with asthma and allergies.
- Snake Plant: NASA states that this plant will absorb toxins such as nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde. It doesn’t need much watering and can handle low light levels.
With such great health benefits that plants provide, physically as well as psychologically, it’s worth taking a few minutes to read about how to keep your indoor plants alive and well, especially if your thumb is as brown as mine (I can kill a silk plant in a matter of days). Here are a few suggestions to help your plant live longer.
Air: As most of us know, plants don’t breathe oxygen, which makes them the perfect human counterpart. In fact, the oxygen that we breathe is expelled by plants. A plant breathes in carbon dioxide and “exhales” oxygen. When that oxygen enters our lungs and is absorbed into our blood stream, it travels throughout our body and works as fuel for many of our major organs. The harder our body works, the more oxygen we use. In turn, every cellular activity produces waste matter, which is carbon dioxide. As little as we realize it, we need our houseplant as much as it needs us! In order for a human life to flourish, it only makes sense that we need to be in spaces rich with oxygen. Likewise, a plant should be in an area that is rich with carbon dioxide. Put your plant in a room that will have a lot of use—maybe a room that you usually visit in, beside your favorite couch, or near the family dinner table. This will ensure your plant has plenty of carbon dioxide to keep it lively, and in turn, it will provide you with oxygen in the areas you need it most.
Areas of high activity in the house will benefit from plants as they remove the toxins from the air.
Water: Needless to say, plants need to be watered just as much as humans need to drink water. Research the type of plant that you have decided to have in your home and water it accordingly. What is lesser known about plants and their water consumption is that plants require a certain humidity level. Most human homes become uncomfortable when they are extremely humid, as it becomes hard for humans to breathe when there is too much moisture in the air. However, plants need to breathe their moisture as much as they need to drink it. The average human home has a relative humidity level of 30 percent, whereas most plants need a relative humidity level of 60 percent. A plant’s need for humidity can vary, with desert plants obviously needing a much lower relative humidity level while tropical plants need a very high level. With a little research, it’s easy to find the right level for your particular plant. A simple way to nurture your plant with moisture is to keep a spray bottle nearby. In addition to normal watering routines, a light mist from a spray bottle will send water straight through the plant’s stomata, the pores on the surface of plant leaves that absorb water necessary for the plant to function. Keeping plants clustered together is also helpful for their absorption of humidity, as most plants release a certain amount of humidity during their normal daily processes.
Food: The most important part of the “feeding” process for a plant depends on your plant type. Most plants require an adequate amount of sunlight in order to jumpstart the process of photosynthesis and create food. The best way to get to know your plant is research. Take a look online and visit a local nursery to inquire about your plant’s specific needs. Most houseplants are generally low maintenance, but to be sure, it’s best to ask the experts! Houseplants sometimes get neglected when it comes to the feeding part. Outdoor plants are spoiled with compost, but often houseplants don’t always get this additional care. It’s important to keep your indoor houseplant soil rich with fertilizer. Use the soil from your garden that you’ve mixed compost into, or buy a slow-releasing fertilizer specifically for your potted plants. Another trick you can try is mixing coffee grounds into the soil. This can give extra nutrients to your houseplant in the form of nitrogen. Remember—each plant has specific needs, and it’s strongly advised to consult with a knowledgeable source before choosing a fertilizer. After all this hard work and research, you don’t want to smother your plant with love! Too much care can be just as dangerous as not enough. By over-stuffing your pots with fertilizer, you may be killing your plant.
Remember, when you’re living off-grid, you’re trying to live synergistically with your environment, which includes your houseplants. They need to be (and can be!) assets to your living situation, not a liability. By incorporating them into your home’s eco-system, you’re providing your family with fresh, clean air, but these plants need nurturing as well. With a little bit of TLC and effort, your houseplants can not only survive, but thrive!
©2013 Off the Grid News