Q: I live on a busy street and worry about the pollution inside my apartment. I love having houseplants for cleaner air, but my cat ends up eating them or using the containers as a litter box. Please help me with ideas.
A: You have a great idea with using plants for cleaner air. They do make a difference, and I'm sure your cat appreciates clean air as much as you do. Plants do a great job of absorbing pollutants, including formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide. And there's the added bonus that plants return oxygen to the air.
But I understand that cats (and dogs) might like those plants a little too much. Some common houseplants, including aloe vera, bird of paradise, Chinese evergreen, and several kinds of lilies, are toxic to pets. The ASPCA has a helpful website for more information, so check it out.
Here are some ideas for encouraging your plants and your cat to get along. For large-scale plants in pots on the floor, mulch with river rock over the soil. Your cat won't be able to dig in it. Use big pots that your cat can't knock over, and choose a tree or palm that doesn't have very low-hanging branches. If your cat likes to climb, however, consider avoiding these large plants.
Take inspiration from the plant walls that are popular now. Make or buy a grid of shelves to hang high on the wall, or use the highest shelves of a bookcase.
Decorate with a collection of pots of all sizes, and fill with pet-friendly flora, such as spider plants, ferns, air plants, mosses, prayer plants, and more. Double-check the toxicity to be sure, because although ferns are safe, and so are some mosses, "moss fern" is toxic to pets.
Another idea is to make a plant chandelier. Hang a vintage chandelier from your ceiling using sturdy bolts or the help of a contractor. No need to wire it, as this is just decorative. Choose trailing plants in lightweight or plastic pots and hang them from the fixtrue.
Finally, consider putting out a few plants just for your cat. He'll enjoy a catnip plant and maybe a tray of cat grass (look for seeds at a pet store) on which to relax or eat. With this distraction, it's possible your cat will leave the other plants alone.
Good luck and tell me what you create.
Jennifer Adams is a designer, author, and TV personality.