Published on March 2, 2016

Indoor plants are on trend – but what should you choose and how best to keep them alive?

It’s an almost universally accepted truth that plants are good for us (they are), but what many don’t realise is that even NASA agrees.  Back in the 1980s, an unlikely alliance of NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America studied indoor plants as part of the NASA Clear Air Study, to determine if plants could help purify the air in NASA’s space stations.

The results (laid out in NASA speak here) showed that yes – certain air-filtering plants naturally remove toxic agents. Nice for astronauts, but useful too for those of us back here on earth; in fact, the findings led researchers to suggest home owners add at least one plant per nine square metres of floor space.

But which plant to choose? Those following interiors trends may know that cultivating indoor plants has its own popularity peaks and troughs, and that even the plants themselves go through popularity bursts. Not convinced? Think about your Grandma’s garden: it was probably filled with agapanthus, a plant which screams ‘daggy’ today.

Indoor plants are also susceptible to falling foul of trends. Take figs: according to one Sydney Morning Herald writer, these low-maintenance plants may look beautiful but it’s time for a change (they suggest trying bird of paradise instead).

So what’s in now? According to one keen horticulturist, Leon Spratt, recently voted Young Leader of the Year at the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia awards, succulents are huge. “They’re low maintenance and have a splendid colour range,” he says.

Terrarium containers are also on trend. “They come in many sizes and designs and help to create small themed gardens with rocks, moss and succulents,” says Spratt.

Spratt also recommends the string of pearls plant (Senecio Rowleyana), hanging from a basket in the kitchen, or the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia). ”It’s an easy care option which suits those with busy lifestyles,” he says.

3 indoor plants that go above and beyond

1. Aloe Vera

This medicinally marvelous succulent made NASA’s list for its ability to remove benzene and formaldehyde, although the downside for pet owners is that Aloe Vera can be toxic for both dogs and cats.

2. Philodendrons

Lush, dramatic looking philodendrons do well as indoor plants, as long as you put them in a brightly lit spot. The “Xanadu” is a hugely popular philodendron variety in Australia, although those following NASA’s advice might want to see if the Seolloum, Elephant ear or Heartleaf varieties are available, as those all remove formaldehyde from the air (again, keep your pets from eating these).

3. Ferns

While not as popular as they once were, ferns make great indoor plants. Boston ferns make NASA’s ‘clear air filter’ list for a couple of chemicals, and overall, ferns don’t need much attention: although if you’re living in a cooler Aussie climate make sure your ferns get lots of filtered light and plenty of water.

Indoor plants DOs & DONT's

DO: Remember to water!

The general rule is “if the soil feels dry to touch, add water”. Self-watering pots (which hoard water for when the plant needs it) are another good way round this; they’re easily purchased at most nurseries.

DON’T: Put plants in front of an air conditioner.

They’ll dry out in a flash.

DO: Check with your nursery how much light they’ll need.

Not all plants need endless sunlight, in fact, too much can sometimes be detrimental.

DO: Think about your floors.

Water stains on carpets or floorboards will take away some of the visual pleasure of a good indoor plant, not to mention, hurt your hip pocket.  Go for a correctly sized saucer underneath pots and use raised feet to keep the whole thing off the floor.

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