The humble houseplant, you buy them at DIY stores, supermarkets, even garages and often for pennies. Maybe you view them as commodities or accessories to your lifestyle, but houseplants, just like their wild cousins are not accessories, they are living organisms and they need care, attention and yes, love to thrive.
My houseplants have become like friends
Like many of you, over the years I have picked up a houseplant at IKEA, knowing on some level that my home looks and feels better with plants in it. But I confess that my ability to look after my plants has not always equalled my initial excitement of buying them. That changed when I moved into my new build house three and a half years ago and its all-white sterile environment was crying out for something living and yes – green. So, I went back to IKEA to buy my mandatory houseplants and this time, I was determined that they wouldn’t die in my care.
Overtime I started to realise that not only did I want them to survive, I wanted them to flourish and my interest began to extend beyond watering them once a week. I noticed if their leaves looked pale and put them closer to the light, I re-potted them when they grew too big for their containers and fed them with plant food to give them some extra nourishment. When my cats started to eat their leaves I grew quite protective and it wasn’t long before I realised that looking after them made me happy and making sure they were o.k mattered to me.
If you’re a houseplant newbie, start with succulents
I have added to my houseplant collection over the last couple of years and expanded into succulents. I wanted to have some greenery in my office and having never owned succulents before, I have to say that they’ve been a joy to take care of. One of my pride and joys is a money plant or to give it its botanical name – Crassula Ovata – which I nurtured from a tiny cutting. I also have a beautiful Easter-flowering catctus with the most wonderful veined leaves and bright red flowers at you guessed it- Easter! Last year, I was devastated when I came back from holiday to find its parched leaves looking floppy and wrinkled. Although I managed to nurse it back to full health, it didn’t flower this year, teaching me yet another lesson about plants in that they are sensitive beings just like us.
Feed your need to nurture and take care of them when they’re sick
This summer, I bought a succulent from Kew Gardens and it sadly became infested with little black flies. I was advised to wipe the leaves with alcohol, which I did, but I nearly killed the plant. So, I rushed off to the library and took out the brilliant Plant Love by Alys Fowler to try and find out what was going on. It turned out that I had overwatered it which weakens the plant and makes it susceptible to pests. I followed Alys’ advice, cleaned off the leaves with water, covered the soil with grit to stop the flies laying their eggs and repotted the original plant into three pots. For the last three weeks, I’ve been nursing them back to health and I’m glad to say they are recovering. Whilst this may all sound a bit over the top, it actually makes sense because looking after living things satisfies our innate human need to nurture, giving us purpose, making us happy and boosting our mental health.
Indoor plants are brilliant for our physical health
Another great reason to have houseplants is that they clean your air and filter out toxins. Research has shown that plants filter out ‘volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs) which are found in glues and flame retardants in our soft furnishings and carpets. They are even present in the cosmetics we put on our skin. Healthy houseplants also pump oxygen back into our homes – they really are miraculous little beings!
No office should be without plants
Studies have also shown that having plants in your office leads to increased health and lower employee absence. One Norwegian study showed that workers in offices with plants saw fatigue reduced by 30% , coughs decreased by 37% , dry throat by 25% and dry or flushed skin reduced by 23%. Even looking at plants, or being near them can result in a significant reduction in tension, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility. This is called the ‘Biophillic Effect‘ and is a very real phenomenon which has its origins in ancient Greece. ‘Bios’ is the Greek word for life and ‘Philia’ means ‘a love of’. Biophilia = the love of living things. The fact is as humans we evolved in Nature and we are hard- wired to feel soothed and uplifted by it, even if we see it only in the modified form of a house or office plant.
Houseplants are your gateway to the wild plant kingdom
When you live alongside plants in your home, you begin to forge a connection with them and to understand how life on Earth really does work. When you see the slow and sometimes fast stages of growth you start to feel part of the wonder of life itself, realising that you and a plant are actually quite alike in your needs to survive and flourish. Owning houseplants can be your gateway to a much deeper and more profound connection and love for wild nature. To me, houseplants are miraculous, so to get you started, here are my top tips which I’ve found useful over the last 3 years being a houseplant mama.
My Top Tips for taking care of houseplants
- Start with succulents. They are easy to care for and have beautiful and interesting textures and leaves
- Try not to overwater your plants. Most houseplants die from over watering not under-watering. Note that houseplants need less watering in the winter
- Get yourself a book on Houseplant care. Different plants have different needs so it’s wise to read up on them. Your library should have some good ones
- Group houseplants together so they can form their own microclimate in your home. In the wild they would grow side by side and even touch each other, try and mimic that for them
- Re-pot them if they come in tiny pots. Their roots need room to grow and to search out nutrients and water. You can tell if a plant is pot-bound if you take it out of its pot and its roots are wound tightly round in a circle
- Open windows next to your houseplants to let oxygen into their environment
- Turn plants every so often towards their light source (window) to stop them leaning in one direction
- Oxygenate their roots by putting a metal skewer or bamboo chopstick into the soil and break up any compacted compost. Roots need to breathe and rot in soils that are flooded with water or compacted
- Touch the leaves of your plants – they enjoy it and react to it. They would be brushed by animals in their natural environment and it strengthens their leaves
- Pay attention to their leaves and the veins on them – they will often tell you when they need watering
If you want to know more about the positive power of plants, email me today about my talks and workshops on re-connecting with Nature for mental health firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay Well – Natasha x