Tropical Gardening: Reduce pollution with plants inside and out

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE

    Bromeliads are among many “cast iron” plants for indoor and outdoor gardens.

Volcanic haze, or vog, is considered a pollutant in large enough concentration. Fortunately, trees help minimize the negative impact by absorbing and filtering out unwanted sulfur and other compounds found in volcanic emissions.

Incorporating plants into the office and home also can help. When it comes to reducing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen to the environment, plants are a must.


The more the better!

“Interiorscaping” is essential in homes today. With condominiums, apartment living and smaller yards becoming more common, one of the best ways to enjoy nature is by making it part of the indoors, especially on hot summer days. Even if you are lucky enough to have a home with a yard, interior landscaping brings it all together.

Plants are an inexpensive way to beautify the house in a professional way. If you are short on cash and your home needs a few extra pieces of furniture you can’t afford or if you want to try a little gardening but don’t want to get grubby, then indoor gardening is for you.

The secret to successful gardening in the home is selecting the right plant for the right place and then caring for it properly. Local nurserymen or garden supply dealers can give you some help in selection as well as plant care.

Here are some tips that will keep your green thumb green.

If you are just starting a houseplant project, start with the right container.

Wooden tubs are excellent since wood prevents rapid drying out of the soil. Jardiniere usually lack drainage holes, which might cause a watering problem unless you are growing plants that prefer or tolerate wet conditions such as papyrus.

Clay pots are fine and can be painted to blend with the colors in the home. Brass and copper are ideal for table and mantle arrangements. But, as these containers are usually small, pay careful attention to supplies of water and fertilizer. Too much or too little can be fatal to many plants.

Soil is very important for houseplants. Since they must survive on a very small amount, give them the best soil mixture available.

There is no perfect mixture. However, a longtime favorite for many homeowners is a blend of one part peat and one part coarse garden soil or cinder and one part vermiculite or sponge rock. These might come already mixed for you at the garden supply store.

When choosing houseplants, select varieties that will withstand adverse growing conditions such as low light intensity and dry air. To be satisfactory, houseplants must do more than merely survive under indoor conditions. They must maintain an attractive appearance with a minimum of care.

Air conditioning and gas appliances, as nice to have as they are, can be rough on houseplants.

Consider such plants as bromeliads, aglaonema, aspidistra, dracaena, monstera, peperomia, philodendrons, nephytis, sansevieria, bird nest fern, Boston fern or Rhapis palm. These plants don’t seem to mind low light intensity or warm, dry rooms. In fact, they are sometimes called “cast iron” types.

Plants that will grow in high light include asparagus ferns, strelitzia, crotons, aralia or panax, philodendron, Wandering Jew and sansevieria. Plants that will tolerate drier soils are bromeliads, jade plant, pandanus, peperomia, sansevieria and pothos, aloe, sedum and cactus. Many palms are ideal for a bold tropical effect in the home.

Foliage plants need a bath. Plants take on a healthy luster with an occasional leaf washing. If leaves are heavy with grime, use slightly soapy water, a soft cloth and a gentle touch. Rubbing too hard will cause injury.

Slightly dusty foliage will sparkle if polished with a flannel cloth. Plant polishes are available at the garden supply stores. But before you use them, be sure to read the directions.

The proper watering of plants is more important than giving them a bath. Too big a drink or none at all spells disaster. In general, most houseplants require a thorough soaking, and then must be allowed to get a little on the dry side but not too dry.

Plants also like their food served at regular intervals. The best suggestion on feeding plants is to follow the directions on the container. Use a houseplant fertilizer in liquid, tablet or powder form, but with any type, go lightly. Too much can easily burn tender roots.

Here are some guides on diagnosing home plant problems.

Brown tips or burned margins to leaves can mean too much fertilizer, or you let the plant roots dry out, or you let the plant become burned by sun or dry winds.

Yellowing and dropping of leaves can indicate gas fumes, overwatering, poor drainage or poor soil aeration. Small leaves suggest tight or heavy soil mixture, lack of fertilizer or not enough moisture.

Weak growth or light green color on otherwise healthy foliage perhaps indicates too much light, lack of fertilizer, root rot or poor root systems. Yellowing, wilting or soft-weak growth can mean too much heat or root injury.

Small leaves and long internodes are signs the plants are growing with too little light or the temperature is too warm.

White, cottony masses on leaves or stems can be mealy bugs or cottony cushion scale. A soap bath will help. Brown spots or streaks on the leaves can mean a bacterial or fungus disease. Disease control will depend on the type of bacteria or fungus.

Sanitation is the best prevention. Removing diseased leaves will help. Several fungicides are available at your local garden supply. Again, follow label directions.

Since house conditions are usually less than ideal, it’s a good idea to change plants once in a while. Don’t expect a plant to live forever inside.

Many indoor gardeners have a special corner in the home for houseplant R&R. If you don’t have this kind of “plant hospital,” then replacing tired old plants with new ones occasionally will keep your interior garden in top shape.


Individuals with home garden questions can call the UH Master Gardener help line at 322 4892 or 981-5199 for answers.

Several books also are available at local garden shops to assist you. Sunset’s “Western Garden Book” is a good start.