Posted in lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 health benefits of keeping houseplants plus easy care varieties to choose

Currently we have lots of trays of seedlings all over the windowsills in our house as we get our baby plants ready for life outside when the weather warms up (hopefully some time this month!). To make way for them, we’ve had to reposition some of our many houseplants so our space is looking a little bit cluttered right now! I’m sure it won’t be long until the little plant plugs are transferred into our garden beds and the indoor plants can have pride of place again. In today’s Monday Matters I’m going to be sharing some of the joys of keeping houseplants, including 7 ways they’re beneficial for our physical and mental health. I’m also going to give my suggestions for some easy care varieties that take minimal time and effort and still look good.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

We have a range of different houseplants which we’ve accumulated over several years. A few of them have been grown from cuttings (such as our Christmas cactus which bizarrely decided to flower at Easter this time) but most have been bought quite cheaply from local garden centres. You can see a small selection of them above which I’ve grouped together just for the photograph! We love our plants because they look good, but recently I’ve learnt more about the excellent health benefits that come with them which I want to talk about today:

improve your mood

There’s a reason why people take flowers and plants to hospitals when they visit – they’re great for cheering us up. Whether it’s beautiful scented flowers or interesting and colourful leaves, plants are lovely to look at and can radiate a feeling of positive energy and make us feel much happier. They’ve also been shown to reduce negative thoughts and emotions such as sadness, anger, fear and stress. In addition, all houseplants require some basic maintenance and this can create a feeling of being needed which is particularly useful during periods of low mood associated with some mental health conditions.

boost your productivity levels

Various studies have found that working in a space containing greenery is great for productivity. Having a few potted plants on your desk improves cognition (AKA mental processing) and also makes you able to concentrate for longer periods of time. This is good news for office workers and students who want to increase their performance and get more done, more quickly.

reduce fatigue

Fatigue is a serious issue for many of us resulting in feelings of tiredness and exhaustion, irritability, poor motivation and concentration, lack of appetite and weakened immune system. Whilst plants can’t completely cure modern day fatigue, they can certainly help to improve some situations and causes. At work, they can create a more calming and informal environment, offering reminders of the joys of nature. At home, they can create a relaxing atmosphere where you feel more content. Plants may also help to relieve symptoms such as headache and aching joints.

Having a plant filled home has even been shown to help alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (AKA Winter depression), one of which is chronic fatigue. Although one of the main treatments for SAD is to try to get as much natural light as possible, studies have also found that exposure to plenty of greenery through indoor gardening can improve our mood and as the plants are often near to or in the window, the individual can benefit from light exposure as they tend to each of their pots.

lower stress and anxiety levels

Looking after houseplants can be a great mindful activity where the focus is shifted to the here and now, helping you to forget about all (or most) of the everyday stresses and strains of modern life. Starting from reading up about the plant and then potting the specimen in a cute new pot before finding the perfect location for it. Then you have maintenance tasks such as regularly checking the soil to see how moist it is, looking carefully at the plant to find out if it’s completely happy where it is, or is showing signs of underwatering or lack of exposure to light etc. Removing any dead leaves or flowers or checking a book or online article to find out more about the plant if it appears to be struggling.

One study conducted in Japan has even found that just gazing at a plant for a short amount of time can significantly reduce anxiety levels. I think to get the most out of your observation though, it’s important to really look and appreciate it as a living thing. So, for example, you could pay attention to the leaf shape and structure, the colour of the stem and the leaves, the shape and height of the plant, how it smells and how it feels – glossy, bumpy, spiky etc.

better air quality

A recent NASA study discovered that houseplants can help clean the air we breathe by reducing toxins. Apparently there are lots of pollutants in our home that you probably didn’t even know about. Sources include cooking, cleaning products, poor ventilation, some building materials, home furnishings, heating systems and damp. The air purification ability of the plants depends which varieties you choose, how big they are, how big the room is and how many you have but about 5 decent sized plants in a medium sized room should make a difference.

A word of warning though: Never rely completely on plants to clean your air. Simple solutions such as using chemical free cleaning products, removing mould, opening windows, choosing low odour paints and finishes etc. should be first on your list.

help to make rooms more comfortable

Plants can completely change the environment in a room, making it a more pleasant place to be. As well as the aesthetic benefits, plants can help to raise the humidity level as part of their respiration process and photosynthesis. A room which is more humid can help relieve dry skin conditions such as eczema and lessen symptoms of colds and asthma. Large houseplants can be useful for absorbing sound in a noisy environment so are ideal for rooms with hard floors. They can also provide a screen from unattractive aspects of a home such as plug points and trailing wires or help to give a pleasant dappled shade if placed beside a bright and sunny window.

therapeutic effects

The benefits of getting close to nature are widely studied, with research showing that spending time in a green space can have a huge positive impact on wellbeing. Going outdoors is beneficial but you can also enjoy nature from inside your home if the weather is preventing you from wanting to step foot outside or if anxiety or depression are making things extremely difficult for you. Having some potted plants is a great way of getting started and they can be enough to provide you with a routine of having something to give care and attention to, without being too onerous and overwhelming whilst you are struggling with your mental health.

Having an array of houseplants has also been shown to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is believed to be due to the mindful activities of watering and nurturing which make us feel needed and evoke a sense of purpose within ourselves and a feeling of joy from believing that we are making a difference to the world.

And one more thing…

Aside from these great health and wellbeing benefits, houseplants look fantastic too, providing cheap and cheerful d├ęcor for your home. The different shades and textures of greenery itself offers great appeal and if you choose a range of striking pots and containers these can also add extra visual interest. We particularly love our recently acquired areca palm and the cute pot and stand. The extra height means that we can have the plant on the floor in the corner of our living room. When it gets bigger, the foliage will also hide the plug points and the cables along the skirting board too!

Easy care plants for beginners and busy people

There are so many different plants to choose from that it can feel overwhelming when you go to the garden centre. For beginners, I recommend starting with plants which can withstand sporadic watering, can tolerate a range of different positions in the home, and only need feeding every now and then. Here’s my favourite minimal care house plants:

  • spider plant (Latin name: Chlorophytum Comosum) – easy to look after and as it matures it creates trails of little baby plants that look amazing. Plus, it is really good at cleaning the air by reducing toxins which are emitted from everyday items in the home.
  • mother in law’s tongue (AKA snake plant or Latin name: Sanseviera) – if you think you might forget to regularly water your plant, this one is for you! This is probably the toughest houseplant I know. We have three now as we divided our original one down as it got a little big for the pot. A great one for the bedroom too as it releases oxygen into the air during the night.
  • rubber plants (Ficus Elastica) – create visual interest with the big, leathery, glossy, oval leaves. Also high on the list of plants which eliminate toxins from the air (according to NASA).
  • areca palm (Dypsis Lutescens) – a popular household plant which is good for releasing moisture into the air – a bonus for anyone who suffers from dry skin in the winter time
  • cacti – a huge variety of types available so choose one that you like the look of – some even have little flowers but these only grow in ideal conditions and if regularly fed). You can get some in miniscule pots and others in bigger containers – you can even get some that come with the decorative ceramic pot already installed, meaning that you don’t even need to think about getting a tray or container that’s the right size.
  • Chinese money plant (Latin name: Pilea peperomioides). Mine is pictured above and although I haven’t made my millions from having it, it has attractive circular shaped leaves and an interesting dark brown trunk like stem.
  • Aspidistra – also known as the cast iron plant due to it being almost impossible to kill! This has upright, lance like leaves which are quite a dark shade of green. Apparently, the plants were extremely popular in the Victorian times as they could be placed in relatively murky hallways and still survive!

Whichever plant of plants you choose, it’s good to experiment and if you fail on your first attempt and find your prized plant looking a little worse for wear, see if you can revive it and if not, learn from the experience and have another go.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading about the benefits of keeping houseplants and it has prompted you to consider getting your own plant baby to look after. If you have your own beloved plant or are on the hunt for one, let me know in the comments. Also, if you have a garden, like we do, you might want to check out this post which is all about the wellbeing benefits of gardening.