The last week of January is the time to notice your houseplants. The Christmas decorations are but a memory, the guests are long gone and your home needs a breath of fresh air. Yes, you'll actually breathe easier with living plants in your winter-tight homes. Houseplants absorb dangerous carbon dioxide, release fresh oxygen and scrub the air of other indoor pollutants such as benzene.
Houseplants also can solve some interior design dilemmas. Here are ideas to put the easiest-to-grow houseplants to work:
Use an indoor palm to lighten a dark corner: The parlor palm is hard to kill and is an inexpensive variety that will survive in low-light situations. Use it in a dark corner with a plug-in canister light hidden behind the pot. Aim the canister light upward to cast foliage shadows on the wall. Now the palm not only freshens the air, but also adds wall texture and lights up a corner.
Bring the eye upward with trailing pathos: If you have room above your kitchen cabinets or on top of an armoire, you have a place for pathos. This tough foliage plant has heart-shaped green leaves with yellow and cream markings and a trailing habit that makes it flow effortlessly from a basket or cabinet top. This is one of the few houseplants that will survive not only low light but forgetful watering as well.
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Show off your granite countertops with a blooming orchid: Mini cattelayas are tidier versions of the long-blooming, easy-to grow cattelaya orchid; the colorful exotic blooms draw the eye and the attention to any design detail you want to showcase. Set a pot of blooming orchids inside a china bowl or ceramic soup tureen and you have a living centerpiece for a dining room table.
Orchids love the high humidity of bathrooms and kitchens and a small orchid plant blooming in the powder room is one way to draw attention away from a lack of guest towels.
Collect and display modern art - by buying a Sanseveria: This drought-resistant succulent plant has long, lance-like leaves that arise from a central whorl. The pointed tips and green and cream markings have earned this houseplant the common name of "snake plant," but you'll hear cheers instead of hisses if you position this lean and lengthy houseplant on top of a pedestal under a ceiling or spot light. It is the right style of pot that turns this plant into a living sculpture. Check out nurseries for contemporary copper, aluminum or shiny black pots.
Now, hide the ugly plastic pot that your sanseveria comes in by slipping it inside the larger showy pot. It is the combination of the sleek lines of a cool pot and the architectural quality of the linear leaves that makes sanseveria the perfect houseplant for minimalist or contemporary interiors. Plus, it's easy to grow as long as you don't overwater.
Banish the bugs
If you've given up on houseplants because past failures have bugged you, consider these tips:
n Mulch the soil of your houseplants with marbles, corks or pretty rocks. This keeps those tiny fruit flies from laying eggs and starting a generation of pesky gnats that flit about your homes interior.
n Wash every houseplant as soon as you bring it indoors by wiping the foliage with a mild soapy water wash. The type of liquid soap used for hand washing dishes is fine for most plants.
n Watch your watering. Allowing a plant to dry out can make it more susceptible to spider mites, which show up as fine webbing or yellow leaves.
Keeping a plant too moist encourages molds and mildews. Always provide good drainage and don't allow your houseplants to sit in the water that collects under pots.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Please send a SASE for a personal reply. She also can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.
Marianne Binetti will speak three times at the Tacoma Home and "Theme and Pocket Gardens for Small Spaces" at 2 p.m. both Feb. 2 and 3.
She also will host the "Gardening with Ciscoe" radio show Feb. 3 at the Tacoma Home & Garden Show. Attendees are invited to ask gardening questions.