"Houseplants do amazing things," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside  nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Back in the late 60’s when I was finishing up my undergraduate studies houseplants were all the rage. In the trade we referred to them as foliage plants and had it not been for the draft and the Vietnam War my path might very well have been through the vast foliage growers of Encinitas California where range after range of greenhouses were packed with ferns, palms, golden pothos, snake plants, philodendrons, Swedish ivy and of course spider plants.

Walking through a greenhouse with all these plants was much like having your own oxygen tanks. It was invigorating to breathe the air with the elevated levels of not only oxygen but also humidity and generally good vibes from all those little photosynthesis factories. You just knew it was healthy to be in this kind of environment.

Fast forward 50 or so years to 2015. The homes we live in now (and the offices we work in) are so well insulated and hermetically sealed that there is very little air exchange. Add to that all the synthetic materials that we use to build with and decorate our homes with and you have a recipe for a very unhealthy environment to live in.

In fact, it can be so bad that there is actually something called the “sick building syndrome” where people get headaches and virus infections and develop allergies to all the compounds in the air.

The main culprit is something called a VOC or volatile organic compound which can be emitted from carpeting, particle board, plastic furniture, cleaning compounds and a plethora of other sources that are prevalent in most homes and offices. The good news is that plants filter these VOC’s out of the air. They are literally a living air filter and that is a very good thing.

Houseplants are not always the easiest plant to grow due to low light and lack of humidity and general neglect from home owners but a few simple tricks will help you be successful.

When first bringing home a new plant be careful not to over water it. The plant needs to adjust to its new environment which is almost always darker and drier.

Keep plants as close to windows as possible as the light intensity diminishes rapidly as you move away from the light source.

Invest in an inexpensive moisture meter which will tell you when to water. Most home owners kill house plants by over watering.

Watch for insects like scale, mealy bugs, white flies, spider mites and aphids and don’t let them get out of hand. Fertilize more in the summer and less in the winter with a soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro.

Keep foliage dust free. Repot as needed but remember that most houseplants don’t mind being a little pot-bound.

This is an excellent time of year to select some new plants for your home. Garden centers have good supplies during the winter months and they can assist you in selecting the best and easiest varieties to grow for your home.

Some varieties need high light and others will almost grow in the closet. Just like in the garden, it’s important to put the right plant in the right place. So go find yourselves some new air filters to decorate and make your home healthier. You will breathe a lot easier.

Educational opportunity: coming up Saturday October 24th, 2015, at 10 am will be our annual class on selecting and growing house plants. Reserve a spot by calling the nursery at 425-334-2002 or registering online at our website

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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