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Indoor gardens can help you breathe

Peace lily, spider plant, fern, pathos, ivy, aloe. Do you have these houseplants in your home?

Add dracaena (including lucky bamboo), ficus, eucalyptus and philodendron, and you will have a list of effective air cleaners for your home and office.

NASA, when researching life support systems for space stations, found that these common houseplants are excellent at removing pollutants from the air.

Of course, we don't live in space stations, but we do have more toxic gases where we live and work than we did several years ago. Not only are our homes more air-tight than they used to be, the materials in them — such as plastics, particle board, pressed wood and carpet — produce lots of gases. NASA's research showed that houseplants were able to remove up to 87 percent of harmful gases within 24 hours.

Some of the plants listed above are especially effective in certain ways. The peace lily is a good choice for your bathroom as it significantly reduces airborne mold spores and absorbs the acetone and alcohol found in many grooming products. It also loves the more humid atmosphere. Eucalyptus plants have tannins that improve breathing and help prevent congestion, so perhaps you'll want one in your bedroom.

Spider plants and pathos are powerful for clearing the air of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Because they release a lot of moisture into the air, Boston ferns not only clean the air, but humidify it, too. English ivy's specialty is absorbing benzene, which is often emitted by office equipment and paper products.

Although other plants can be helpful, too, avoid bringing toxic plants indoors, such as oleander, foxglove, nightshade and creeping Charlie. They are poisonous to eat, so should not be around pets or small children.

Whether foliage plants or ones that bloom, plants help to make people calmer and more optimistic. African violets, for example, while not on the list for their air-cleaning ability, stimulate creativity and the release of endorphins.

Corporations are realizing that being surrounded by greenery enhances productivity as well as creativity, and contributes to a more pleasant working atmosphere. Studies show that hospital patients who face a window where they can see plants recover faster.

It is recommended that you have 10 to 15 plants in an 1,800-square-foot area to be effective. Also, it is a good idea to place those plants within the 6 to 8 cubic feet of areas where you work, sleep or spend most of your time.

Some people avoid having houseplants for fear they will kill them. Most houseplants, though, thrive on "loving neglect" — in fact, overwatering is the number one killer. If you need further assurance, you might want to buy a moisture meter. When inserted into the pot's soil, it will indicate whether the plant needs water.

Light is another consideration. The plants mentioned like low light, meaning they do not need or want direct sun. In most cases, being near a bright window or even having artificial light will make them happy.

Observe your plant, read about it, and in general, become well acquainted. Repot it every year or two to give it fresh soil, and your living air cleaner will serve you well for many years. A book I recommend is "The Houseplant Expert" by Dr. D.G. Hessayon.

Coming up: Chris Hubert will teach a class on grape pruning for the backyard gardener from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Participants will learn terminology, how and when to prune, and year-around care. The class will conclude with an outdoor demonstration, so dress for the weather. Cost is $15. Call 541-776-7371 to register.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.