“How to Grow Fresh Air” is the title of a book I rediscovered in my library and it happens to be most timely. The Great Procrastinator just realized that it is October, the earliest freeze date for Zone 5 was yesterday according to the Old Farmers’ Almanac and my herbs and houseplants are still outdoors.

I try to grow rosemary indoors; it is essential to my kitchen and so is French tarragon. Neither plant is hardy in this climate and not always available in the grocery stores. I have tried growing basil, cilantro and parsley in my kitchen windows and they seem to survive for a while, but don’t always overwinter. If I happen to vacation in the winter I always seem to come home to dead plants.

Houseplants that were moved outside for the summer and that need to come inside sometime soon include a Boston fern, a Sanseveria (snake plant) and a peace lily or two. Besides their decorative value houseplants help cleanse indoor air of many of the toxins that pollute our homes. Despite our best efforts, modern building materials, cleaning agents, gas stoves and office machines contribute to indoor air pollution. Most of us cannot live without creating some or all of these indoor pollutants. but the good news is that we can introduce houseplants that absorb carbon dioxide and other chemicals, and make oxygen. They can make our indoor environment healthier, safer and more pleasant.

Wolverton’s “How to Grow Fresh Air” lists various sources indoor pollutants including adhesives, ceiling tiles, floor coverings, photocopiers, various paints, stains and varnishes, as well as, indoor smoke. The gases that can be emitted by these substances include formaldehyde, xylene, tolene, acetone, benzene, ammonia and methyl alcohol.

The good news is that many houseplants help remove these gases in buildings and some fifty of them are rated in Dr. Wolverton’s book. Ferns, including the Boston fern, are top of the list and so are various palms. Peace lilies are rated highly and, a surprise to me, the moth orchid. Sansevieria trifasciata, also known as snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (not politically correct, I’m afraid). Dieffenbachia, Philodendron, Ficus trees, even Lily Turf, all help purify indoor air. Some are easier to grow than others or have varying light requirements.

The point is, there is an indoor plant for almost everyone and, No, plastic plants, no matter how realistic looking, won’t do the job. Some scientists insist that plastic plants contribute to the problem; contrarians argue that the soils and water for some houseplants can trigger allergens. I vote for the air-cleaners, and so does my squirrel family. They once managed to demolish a fake Christmas tree with lights that I “planted “in a pot outside my kitchen. I learned my lesson and will look for a real potted tree this year. This may sound cruel, but I feel I have been abused by Alphie and his squirrel family and my plan right now is to decorate that tree with crocus and other small bulbs with maybe a cluster of tulips at the top and then sit back and watch the fun.

If you have other questions about your garden or landscape, feel free to contact a Master Gardener volunteer at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034. You can also check out the many horticulture webpages at the U of I Extension’s website by visiting http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/ . And be sure to like the Master Gardeners’ Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/ColesCountyMasterGardeners.

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