Use These Fragrant Plants to Freshen the Indoors

Updated November 3, 2010

Consider these four options to get ride of stale air in your home during the winter months.

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Now that the winter season is upon us, our tightly shut windows are keeping stale air in and fresh, cold air out. However, homeowners don't have to live with stuffy interiors.

Houseplants become especially important during this season because they help filter impurities from stagnant air. There are several plants available in the Northeast that not only revitalize the oxygen in a room but add fragrance as well.

In Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., the most commonly available fragrant plant is the paperwhite narcissus. Sold in garden centers as bulbs, or potted in the grocery store, Narcissus tazetta papyraceous may survive the winter when planted in D.C.-area gardens but not the colder parts of the region. In general, most grow this bulb as an indoor annual.

Paperwhites are highly fragrant and easy to grow. All they require is a dish or vase that contains an inch or two of pebbles or marbles for the bulbs to rest on, and enough water to constantly cover these pebbles and touch the bottom of the bulbs. Roots will soon form and when kept in a sunny window, the bulbs will quickly sprout, grow and flower.

The biggest problem with paperwhites is that while they flower, they often flop over. This is easily dealt with by planting the bulbs in the bottom of a tall, wide glass vase. The container will hold the stems upright as the plants grow.

Another fragrant plant that's widely available in our area is the winter-blooming jasmine, Jasminum polyanthmum. This vine is frequently trained to grow over round hoop supports, although sometimes it's sold in hanging baskets.

Jasmine is usually available when it's already budded and ready to bloom. All that's required to keep it healthy and fragrant is a sunny window in a cool room. The flowers last longer if the plant doesn't dry to the wilting point, and cooler temperatures contribute to a lengthy period of bloom.

For fragrance and edible fruit, you can't go wrong with bringing home a citrus plant. Calamondin oranges (Citrus x microcarpa) and Meyer lemons (Citrus x meyeri) are the most familiar citrus for growing indoors, and usually flowers in the winter while also bearing fruit. Meyer lemons are the larger of these two plants; on a sunny day they'll fill a room with their sweet perfume.

Citrus plants do well when grown in a south- or west-facing window. Keeping the soil evenly moist, and fertilizing regularly throughout the winter will help ensure they remain healthy. Paperwhites, jasmine and the citrus typically are available in December and January, which works well for holiday gift giving and decorations.

C.L. Fornari is a writer, garden consultant, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to creating beautiful landscapes and successful gardeners. She gardens on Cape Cod, blogs at, and offers other garden articles at

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