As many yearned for a new hobby, rewarding responsibility, or simply a distraction during the early days of the pandemic, many people decided to become houseplant parents. Houseplant sales soared in 2021 and video tutorials on caring for them became popular.
What started as a pandemic pastime is here to stay. And experts aren’t surprised.
Caring for a plant, and maybe several, is a relatively low-time commitment, and the mere presence of a plant can have aesthetic and physiological benefits that can improve your workday.
Productivity, mood, and mental health
People with plants in their workspaces reported feeling more productive and had a 12% faster reaction time on computer tests compared to those without plants, according to a study from Washington State University. Having plants around the workspace also reduces stress as measured by blood pressure readings.
As anxiety, depression, and burnout have become increasingly common in our work-from-home life, maintaining plants can be a calming habit.
Studies show a correlation between being around greenery and mental health, including lower anxiety and stress. And exposure to greenery both indoors and outdoors during the pandemic was found to have a positive mental health impact.
“Once you start in these [plant] practices and recognize the positive impact it has on mood [and] mental clarity … you just want to do it more,” says Don Rakow, a horticulture expert and associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University.
Connecting with nature
Americans on average spend 90% of their time indoors, but those who spend more time in nature report more vitality and life satisfaction, according to Rakow. Houseplants can help act as a stand-in for being in green spaces.
The color green itself is a calming color, says Christopher Satch, professor at the New York Botanical Gardens and creator of The Plant Doctor. He also notes that the fragrances of some plants can act as aromatherapy which can boost mood.
“[With plants], we are bringing that nature back into our lives,” says Satch. “Watching them grow and thrive provides a sense of optimism,” noting that it may instill a desire to be more active in combating the current climate crisis or to act in more sustainable ways.
Creativity and camaraderie
Maintaining plants can further spark creativity and bring a sense of accomplishment, especially for people who may be using what they grow for cooking purposes. And if someone is in a lull or struggling with any aspect of their mental health, the simple act of maintaining a plant can instill a sense of daily purpose.
“You can actually harvest what you grow,” says Satch. “I find it very rewarding.”
For those taking the next step and moving their planting outside, gardening more regularly can also affirm community building with neighbors.
Where to start
For those looking to incorporate plants into their lives, start small.
“Even just one plant is enough to make a difference,” Satch says.
Starting with one to two houseplants will require a couple of minutes of watering a week and won’t cost a fortune, Rakow says. For those with ample light coming from their windows, a flowering plant like an orchid or African violet can be a good start. For low lighting spaces, try a pothos or philodendron. Be sure whatever plant you choose is safe for homes with small children and pets. For guidance on caring for plants, including optimal watering times, the internet has a myriad of resources, or you can visit your local plant shop.