Some of us are born with it, but not all of us have harnessed the skill of being a plant parent. Babies and kids can scream or tell you when they need something, but I’m expected to just read my plant’s mind when it’s thirsty or isn’t getting enough sunlight? Please. Like with most things, practice makes perfect. In the case of cultivating a green thumb, it’s not something that I want to give up on because plants can make your life better. According to an article by Melissa Breyer on treehugger.com, “5 health benefits of indoor plants” (a source that might be a little biased), indoor plants transcend trends and should be considered a necessity. Treehugger.com goes on to say that in addition to helping us breathe, indoor plants:
- Help deter illnesses.
In the great outdoors, plant roots tap the groundwater table for water which then evaporates through its leaves in a process known as transpiration. Studies show that this accounts for about 10 percent of the moisture in the atmosphere! The same thing happens at home, which increases the humidity indoors. According to Bayer Advanced, studies at the Agricultural University of Norway document that using plants in interior spaces decreases the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs. And other research reveals that higher absolute humidity is conducive for decreased survival and transmission of the flu virus.
- Clean the air
NASA has spent a lot of time researching air quality in sealed environments, which makes sense. “Both plant leaves and roots are utilized in removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed buildings. Low levels of chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves alone.” When talking about the relationship between plants and space travelers, NASA notes that plants, “provide nourishment for the body when eaten as food, and they improve the quality of indoor air. The NASA researchers recommend one potted plant per 100 square feet of indoor space.
- Boost healing
Bringing flowers or a plant while visiting a hospital patient may be verging on cliché, but so effective are plants in helping surgery patients recover that one study recommends them as a “noninvasive, inexpensive, and effective complementary medicine for surgical patients.” The study, conducted at Kansas State University, found that viewing plants during recovery from surgery led to a significant improvement in physiologic responses as evidenced by lower systolic blood pressure, and lower ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue as compared to patients without plants in their rooms.
Another technique to decrease recovery time, as noted by Texas A&M University, is horticulture therapy in which patients are tasked with taking care of plants. The patients who physically interact with plants experience a significantly reduced recovery time after medical procedures.
- Increase productivity
A number of studies with both students and workers reveals that studying or working in the presence of plants can have a pretty dramatic effect. As with simply being in nature, being around plants improves concentration, memory and productivity. Being “under the influence of plants” can increase memory retention up to 20 percent, according to a University of Michigan study.
Meanwhile, two Norwegian studies found that worker productivity is greatly enhanced by the presence of plants in the office. “Keeping ornamental plants in the home and in the workplace increases memory retention and concentration,” notes Texas A&M. “Work performed under the natural influence of ornamental plants is normally of higher quality and completed with a much higher accuracy rate than work done in environments devoid of nature.”
A few must-know tips if your gardening knowledge is extremely limited
Us humans have a great relationship with plants, but how can you master the art of being a great plant parent? It’s all about developing daily habits to check on your plant’s health.
Water is Life
Earthlings are so notorious for being reliant on water. Ugh, so annoying! Some plants need to be watered more regularly than others, and until you find the sweet spot, monitor your plants daily. Oh yeah, you can also overwater your plants, and that’s generally the problem that most people have as new plant parents. Make sure the pot for your plant has at least one drainage hole in the bottom.
Proven Winners, the #1 plant brand®, put together these quick tips for watering your plant:
- Be sure your pot has drainage holes
- Water only when the top of the soil is dry
- Water until water comes out of the drainage holes
- Don’t allow your pot to sit in standing water
Potting soil is the new dirt
Opt for potting soil for your plants rather than dirt. Believe it or not, but plants do not like dirt very much. Dirt is dense and compact, and your plants never root in well. According to The Family Magazine, “Potting soil provides the proper balance of water, air and pH to allow a plant’s roots to grow deep and healthy. Potting soil doesn’t actually even have dirt in it. It consists of peat, bark, fertilizer and other materials that help disperse moisture evenly throughout the media and around the plant’s roots.”
For that an added dose of health, add fertilizer to your plant’s regimen. It doesn’t have to be too complicated. You can purchase fertilizer that can just be added to water so you get two birds with one stone.
That sweet sunshine
Make sure you understand your plant’s light requirements. This can easily be checked on the plant’s tag from the store. There are four different light requirements that can be listed on your plant’s tag. Guide to House Plants has this handy guide:
- Sunny (direct) location:
- Within two feet of a south or south-facing window
- Window sills flooded with sunlight
- A sun room
- Bright (indirect sun) location
- Within 4-5 feet of an east or west facing window
- 3-5 feet from any window that faces south or southwest
- Any place where the sun shines into a room for several hours
- Partially shaded (low light) location
- An east-facing window where the morning sun shines into the room for only a few hours. Morning sun is cooler than afternoon sun, so you don’t have to worry about overheating your plant
- At least 3-5 feet away from a window that faces south or southwest
- Directly in front of a north-facing window gives a plant low-to-medium light intensity
- Shady location
- More than 6 feet away from a south- or southwest-facing window
- Hallways, staircases, and corners of rooms
- Near windows that are shaded by trees
Okay, but how do you know definitively if your plant is getting too much or not enough light? Guide to House Plants says:
How do you know when your houseplant is not getting enough light?
- Growth is spindly, with long spaces between leaves
- New leaves are smaller than existing ones
- Lower leaves turn yellow and fall off
- No growth or slow growth
- Flowering plants fail to bloom or bloom poorly
- Variegated leafy plants turn a solid green
- New shoots reach out and grow toward the light
Here are some signs that your plant is getting too much light:
- Brown scorched patches on leaves
- Leaves look faded or washed out
- Plant wilts at midday
- Leaves become dry and fall off
Armed with the basic knowledge of plant parenting, head to the local greenhouse to find some healthy plants you can watch mature into adulthood. Maybe one day you’ll even be a plant grandparent.