If you want to experience more calm and happiness, adopt a houseplant. Don’t believe us? Scientifically speaking, evidence suggests that caring for plants can help you reach peak chill. For instance, in a 2015 study, participants who transplanted an indoor plant experienced lower stress levels and blood pressure than people who worked on a computer task.
Plus, in today’s always-on screen culture, caring for a living thing can be a much-needed break from endless scrolling and 24/7 news. “You might hear the phrase ‘plant care is self-care’ among plant parents, and I think it is something that holds true,” says Alessia Resta, the plant influencer behind Apartment Botanist and the author of Plants Are My Favorite People, a new book about plant care. “Besides the more obvious fact that you get to slowly and physically care for plants, you are also slowing your body down, resting your mind, and nurturing a living thing.” Getting your hands dirty, checking on your plants, and watching their leaves unfurl—all of it can help you stay present and in the moment.
If you’re nervous about keeping plants alive, don’t stress, says Eliza Blank, founder of plant retailer The Sill. “People say to us all the time, ‘But I’ll just kill it! Plants hate me,'” she says. “We promise, they don’t. Being a plant parent takes a little practice just like anything else, but the benefits of greenery are worth it. The more you get to know houseplants, the easier caring for them becomes.”
Here, Blank and Resta share houseplant tips for beginners to help you start creating your own indoor plant wonderland.
You may be swooning over those rare, white-and-green-leaved monstera plants above—but if you’re just starting out, it’s better to begin with plants that don’t need high levels of care (or cost hundreds of dollars). “Snake plants, pothos plants, philodendrons, and ZZ plants are incredibly low-maintenance and easy to grow indoors,” Blank says. Plus, the snake plant and ZZ plant are succulents, and plants from that family will still thrive even if you forget to water them once or twice.
Mind your environment
Different houseplants need varying levels of light and water—and like any plant, yours may need some care to adapt to their environment. “My experience dealing with some harsh East Coast winters is that most plants will need extra TLC during those hard times,” Resta says. “If you have a growing collection, I recommend a warm mist humidifier to help. It’s saved me during cold winter days.” Pay attention, too, to the amount of light your plants receive; some, like aloe, will grow happily on a sunny windowsill, while others (such as ferns) prefer indirect sunlight.
When you feel ready to expand your plant collection, look for an unusual variety for the fun factor. Resta is a fan of variegated plants, aka those with different colors on their leaves. “The variegated plants are special to watch because when their new leaves unfurl, the white variegated (the lack of chlorophyll) patterns are always different and a surprise,” she says. Distinct shapes, too, will look good. “Right now I am digging the Ric Rac Cactus, which has ric rac- or fishbone-shaped stems that trail down as they grow,” Blank says. “It’s a tropical cactus, if you will, native to southern Mexico. It produces the occasional night-blooming flower, but I love it for its unique zigzag stems.”
Stick with it
Finally, know that even master gardeners experience setbacks with plants, so if you run into a problem or two, that’s normal. Try to look at challenges as an opportunity to learn more about your plants—and remember, if you keep caring for the little plant world you’ve created, it will return the favor. “Exposure to nature is restorative,” Blank says. “You know how when you’re feeling a little low, a walk in the park can change your outlook? Studies show that by getting in touch with nature— be it forest bathing or indoor gardening—we can mitigate the modern condition. Our stress is reduced, our mood gets a little boost… who can’t use that?”
Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash.