A plethora of bright colours, soothing smells and medicinal properties: nature offers a wealth of benefits to our wellbeing. Taking a walk in the park, immersed in greenery and cleaner air, or an outing among the hills or close to water can soothe frazzled minds and bring us back to a sense of self.
Unfortunately, technology has reduced time spent outside in favour of more screen time. Back in 2019, a study of 16,853 adults across 15 countries in Europe and North America found that more than half of respondents (52%) spent only one hour or less a day in nature – even though 90% of them said they would enjoy spending more time outside.
Our disconnection with nature has been highlighted through studies showing how works of fiction, song lyrics and poetry document our shift away from nature since the 1950s. There is also a term called Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by author and journalist Richard Louv, which posits that our lack of contact with nature is diminishing humans’ use of their senses, along with attention difficulties, obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses.
For some, national lockdowns have meant less time spent outside; others, with the countryside on their doorstep or a nice park, have enjoyed more time in the great outdoors – and the benefits of this are well-documented, such as an increased sense of wellbeing, better physical health and improved cognitive functioning. A UK study even found that more exposure to nature increased community cohesion – leading to substantially lower crime rates.
However, some people don’t have a garden or park nearby…the good news is that growing houseplants can give your wellbeing a serious boost, too!
In this article we’ll explore the benefits of growing plants inside your home. (Some of them will surprise you.)
Patients with depression prescribed houseplants
Research has shown that growing indoor potted plants can help reduce stress. Some doctors in Manchester, UK have prescribed houseplants for patients suffering from anxiety and depression, while evidence has shown horticulture therapy to be useful in the management of mental health and also has been posited as being helpful to patients with dementia.
Increase work productivity
Can a plant really help increase productivity among employees? Yes: various studies have shown this to be the case. In one case, having plants in the office resulted in a wellbeing score increase of 15% and 6% higher productivity. Separate research showed that anger and hostility decreased by 44%, and 38% less fatigue in offices with a little greenery; another study found employee productivity rose as much as 15% with the introduction of just a handful of plants into the work environment.
For people working from home during the Covid lockdowns, having plants around might just stave off that mid-afternoon slump.
Speedier recovery from illness
Can plants really help us recover from an illness? Research has shown that people recovering in hospital in a room with blooms had lower blood pressure, and less pain, anxiety, and fatigue than those without flowers in their room. It’s no wonder that we often take flowers to a recovering patient in hospital.
Increase your sense of compassion
Nurturing a plant can increase our sense of empathy and also remind us to take better care of ourselves too. The therapeutic effects of growing plants have been shown in schools with children encouraged to tend to school gardens, resulting in increased compassion and empathy.
Bring in positive energy
Overall, evidence shows that plants can have a hugely positive effect on our health and wellbeing. Because they’re alive, they’re also believed to bring in positive energy. While this may or may not be true, it’s no secret that since they have so many positive effects on our own mood, our energy levels will probably increase as a result of that. The aesthetic value of plants also improves our environment, which can also increase positivity and offers an improved perception of the world around us.
Flowers simply make you happy…
Doesn’t the sight of a beautiful flower simply make you smile? Flowers are known to improve your mood and increase your positivity levels. Treat yourself to a bunch of flowers for the home or a flowering plant, and get a general sense of wellbeing and joy!
How to grow plants indoors
Growing plants indoors can be a very rewarding hobby. Each plant is individual and will have its preferences, such as being in a sunny spot inside your home, or requiring plant food every so often. If you don’t have a natural gift as a ‘green-fingered grower’, here are some general tips to help you turn your indoors into a green, leafy haven:
1. Pay attention to your houseplants
Get to know your plants; if a houseplant isn’t happy, it will signal that it needs a little tender, loving care. Look for drooping leaves or leaves turning yellow or brown and starting to drop off. Drooping leaves indicate that your plant needs water. A well-watered plant’s leaves look plump and green because they contain a healthy amount of water whereas if a plant is thirst, the leaves will start to feel crisp at the edges.
Be careful that your plant isn’t giving mixed signals. Drooping leaves could also mean you’re your plant is over-exposed to direct sunlight, is diseased or is suffering root rot (from overwatering). Either move the plant to a shadier spot or stop watering it – the quicker you rectify the issue, the more likelihood you have of saving it.
2. Make sure your plant hasn’t outgrown its pot.
The pot you use for indoor plants should be just a little wider (a few inches) than the roots of the plant. Also check online to see if your plant is of the slow- or fast-growing variety. If the species of plant tends to grow quickly, aim for a slightly larger pot – up to four inches larger than one for a slower growing plant.
Most plants should be repotted annually. Spring is usually a good time to do this, as the winter months take their toll on plants and the additional nutrients from new soil will help them thrive throughout the year. If you’re not sure whether to repot your plant, check to see if the roots are growing through the bottom of the pot – that’s a sure sign that it needs a new home.
3. Give them enough sunlight…but not too much
All plants need some sunlight – they thrive by transforming solar radiation into the energy they need for survival. However, some plants will not do well in direct sunlight and will wilt and die in the window; the sun’s strong rays cause them to become dehydrated. The reverse of photosynthesis is photoperiodism, where some plants actually need periods of darkness in order to spurt a growth cycle. Plants that do this include Kalanchoe and Christmas Cacti. There’s a great article on this here.
If this happens and you catch it quick enough, you can reverse the plant’s fate around by pruning any dead leaves and water deep into the roots to nurture them back to health from their foundations. Check each plant’s needs online and place them accordingly within your home.
4. Use the right soil
The soil you use can make or break a houseplant. Often, an ‘all-purpose soil blend’ will do but plants, originating from many different climes, have a preference to which soil you use, and choosing the right one can mean the difference between a plant that thrives in your home and one that limps on through the seasons. It’s useful to get to know the different soil varieties and purchasing one specifically for your type of houseplant.
5. Give them a treat
Most houseplants need some fertilizer if they’re to reach their full potential, so don’t forget to give them an extra treat once in a while. Make sure you add plant food during their growing periods – during the spring and summer – rather than when they’re resting. As a general rule, feed them the extra nutrients every 10-14 days, every second watering. Find out more about watering and feeding houseplants here.
What not to do
If you have trouble keeping indoor plants alive, read the following. We’ve listed some of the common mistakes that people make. Here are some of the things you should avoid doing if you want to keep your plants healthy:
It’s easy to think that you’re doing your plants a favour by watering them every day but you could be killing them. Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes to make with houseplants; it can rot their roots and quickly cause them to wilt.
Leaving them in a same pot
Most of us are guilty of this: never changing a plant’s container and refreshing the soil. This will cause the roots to encircle the plant pot as the plant grows, which will lead to them becoming entangled and restrict the amount of water getting to them. Eventually the roots will dry out altogether.
Don’t give plants the cold shoulder
Try not to leave plants in cold, draughty places such as poorly insulated windows and near doors to the outside that are in regular use; this will quickly kill off your plant.
Too much sunshine
On the other hand, too much sunshine can be detrimental, too. Try not to leave them in a sweltering window in the height of summer. Both too-intense sunlight and exposing them to sunshine for long periods can harm indoor plants. A sign that this is the case is if the leaves develop bleached or darker spots; the soil might also become very hard, too, and bone dry to the touch.
Remember to carry out your own research on the plants you select for your home; each will have specific care instructions to ensure it thrives indoors.
Best indoor plants for health benefits
Rubber plant, bamboo palm, golden pothos (also known as Devil’s ivy – see plants that can be toxic to pets and children, below) and peace lilies are great for cleaning the air.
Jasmine flowers and gardenia are believed to help improve the quality of your sleep.
Mint can help keep out the critters – the pungent smell repels insects.
Boston fern, areca palm – these plants are known to be good humidifiers, so they’re ideal if you suffer from dry skin. Increased water in the air can also help reduce sinus problems and ease cold symptoms.
English ivy – this plant is said to be anti-inflammatory (possibly helping reduce pain), antioxidant, antiviral and anti-arthritic.
Feverfew – these plants have been found to relieve pain. Adding its leaves to tea has traditionally been used as a remedy for headaches.
Are all plants safe for children and pets?
* If you have pets and/or children, choose your indoor plants carefully; some of them can be toxic to little lungs. Start off with a spider plant, which is safe to use in any home.
Plants that could harm the health of your children or pets include English Ivy, Devil’s Ivy (also known as Pothos) and other ivies, some lily varieties and Aloe Vera.
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