Garden Docs: Seeking air-cleaning plants for mom

<strong>Elsie writes:</strong> My mother is recovering from an illness and a friend told her it would be beneficial to have some "air cleaning plants" in the house. I am not familiar with these types of plants. Can you explain how they clean the air? In addition, can you recommend a few plant choices that I can plant in an attractive container? (The potted plant will receive some bright morning light from a nearby window.)

Here is a simplified explanation of how plants clean the air:

Air cleaning plants breathe in "dirty" air and trap pollutants within their structures. Then they exhale

oxygen-rich air in addition to keeping humidity at proper levels that aid in keeping allergies at bay. (A few examples of the pollutants in our homes are found in carpets, furniture, plastics and cleaning products.)

There are several beneficial plants that fall into this description and some are known to do a better job than others, plus being not so fussy about available light and water.

I have a feeling that you would prefer an air cleaning plant that is fairly easy to grow and adds a decorative feel to your mother's home. Here are two possibilities: 1) Corn plant, Dracaena fragrans, is an upright plant with corn-like leaves to 3 feet in length and 4 inches wide. It will tolerate lower light and only needs to be watered when the ? to 1-inch top of the soil is dry; 2) Spider plants, Chlorophytum comosum, are usually used indoors as hanging plants and are admired for their clumping, long, blade-like leaves that cascade into new offsets that form new plants. At one time this was a favorite houseplant that was seen in many homes. It is not particular about water but do water when the top inch of soil is dry. Beware of allowing any houseplant to sit in standing water, so empty the tray beneath the plant after watering.

<strong>Liz asks:</strong> Do you have a favorite rose that is fragrant and disease resistant?

I have many favorite roses, but one in particular is "Yves Piaget," a deep pink hybrid tea, that is planted by the front walk, emits the most heavenly fragrance, has shiny leaves, is not too thorny and is disease resistant. The huge peony-like blooms keep their color during the hot summer temperatures and the blossoms have taken "a hit" just now with the extreme low temperatures.

AARS, American Rose Society, gives it a rating of 7.6. It was introduced in l989.

<strong>Summer writes:</strong> We always hung mistletoe during the month of December and now I am wondering if it is safe to continue the tradition, since I was told it was poisonous.

Since mistletoe is much used for Christmas decorations, it should be kept out of the reach of young children since all parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the berries.

The small flowers are inconspicuous and greenish. The berry-like fruits are pinkish-white and covered by a sticky pulp. These attractive berries are filled with toxic amines. A "tea" brewed from the berries has caused fatalities, and both children and adults have died from eating the fresh berries.

<strong>David asks:</strong> What is the name of the shrub that is covered with soft reddish-like fruit this time of year? I have seen it used as a hedge along walks and it seems to be a hardy choice for difficult sites.

You have described the strawberry tree shrub, Arbutus unedo, and it is a fine choice for a hedgerow as long as it is planted far enough from walkways, as the fruit drop can be messy and slippery. It prefers full sun to partial shade and has a tolerance for alkaline soil and heavy clay soil. It is moderately tolerant of wet soil but I have seen it do reasonably well as long as the shrub is not sitting in constant saturated soil.

As an added bonus, the shrub bears small, pinkish-white, urn-shaped flowers in late autumn simultaneously with the fruits produced by the previous year's flowers. It is also known for its tolerance to drought conditions — once established.