Beginner’s Guide to Air-Cleaning Plants

If you’ve been on Pinterest or Instagram in the last year, you’ll have seen the explosion of houseplants artfully placed around people’s homes. In a trend that has been very much hand in hand with the growth of the wellness sector, plants have become big news. And it’s not surprising really. The impact of nature on our mental health has been well documented over the years, and studies have shown that bringing plants in can have a positive impact. Plus, in a generation of renters, plants cause less damage than hanging up pictures, or having a pet. Succulents and leafy plants have been especially popular thanks to their architectural shapes and easy maintenance.

However, getting started can feel like a big hurdle. I also know I’m not alone in having killed multiple plants in the attempt to start! So, I teamed up with Botanic in York, to create a guide to air cleaning house plants. After all, why choose a plant that is merely pretty when it can also improve your air quality? Most of these tips are given with the small space in mind too, so no matter what your space looks like, there are plants out there for you!

What makes a plant “air purifying”? In honesty, most plants should improve your air quality. However, some do this much better, and can filter out particles produced by furniture, cleaning products and electrical items. NASA have made a graphic, shown at the end of this post, that shows the key toxins to look out for, and the plants that remove each of the toxins.

Choosing a Plant

First things first, you need to choose your space -don’t start with a plant and then realize you have nowhere to put it! Is it going to be on your windowsill, desk or maybe by a bed? Aloe vera is the best choice for an easy-to-keep window plant -it loves the sunshine, and requires limited water. Plus, if you cut off a fat lower leaf near it’s base, you can harvest its gel, a famous skin-soother. Pop the leaf in the fridge to keep it cool and fresh. Snake plants are great for the bedroom as they produce lots of oxygen at night, and are happy in sun and shade. They grow upwards, so take up little width despite being a medium sized plant. 

Peace lilies are easy to keep plants that produce pretty flowers and, alongside Snake plants, are rated as one of the top ten air purifying plants. In dark conditions, the Chinese Evergreen is a great choice.

For squeezing plants into really limited spaces, consider moving upwards. Devil’s Ivy can be hung or placed on a shelf, where it will trail downwards. Another good choice of trailing plant would be a Spider plant, which has the additional benefit of removing formaldehyde from the air. Just remember to remove the new growth or you’ll end up with lots of spider plant babies! These can be disposed of, or potted to grow as a new plant.

Caring for your Plants

One of the biggest pitfalls is watering. Annoyingly, the symptoms of both over- and under-watering plants can look pretty similar, with limp leaves being produced. Exact watering rates vary between plants and time of year, but generally succulents and cacti require less than leafier species. It is generally better to give one good watering, rather than frequent misting, which can lead to root rot. Air plants kept in bathrooms or other humid spaces might not need watering at all. Otherwise, placing in water for half an hour once per week before leaving in an aerated place should be suffice. If you ever overwater your plant, move it to an aerated space, and poke holes in the soil with a skewer or chopstick to increase drainage rate.

You will also need to think about feeding your plant, as being in a small pot means they can’t obtain lots of nutrients from the soil. Most supermarkets, garden centers and plant shops will sell feed, which come with dilution instructions. An organic seaweed-based feed is a great source of nitrogen. Many plants will require feeding once a month in spring and summer only, as they go into dormancy over the winter months.

Pruning is also a consideration. Always remove yellowing, dead or damaged leaves, and deadhead flowers. To keep growth even, quarter turn your plants every week, especially if their light source only ever comes from one direction. Succulents will require occasional repotting, so purchase a small bag of compost for jobs like this. You can also cut off propagules -the new plants that grow from the original -or even a leaf. Leave on a window for two days, and then lay on (not in!) compost so that roots will grow.

Hopefully this guide has given you the tools to get started on bringing nature into your home, regardless of size of your home. Send me photos of any plants that you have to show me how you’ve been getting on!