Social media is jammed with dreamy images of perfect people with perfect houseplant collections, but the truth is just one houseplant can heal you from the stresses of the day. There are a lot of myths in those images anyway, some of which I’ll write about in a future post. In the meantime, consider choosing and growing one wee houseplant to reap its destressing benefits.
Which Houseplant is Best?
Not too long ago, I wrote a post on the five easiest houseplants to grow. These are the low-maintenance, starter houseplants that nearly anyone can keep alive. They’re tough and forgiving of most conditions. While these plants are enormously useful and I love all of them, I actually recommend, if you’re going to grow a plant for the mental health benefits, you choose a houseplant that makes your heart soar. That way you’ll be more inclined to take the time to care for it.
My First Houseplant
When I was in my early twenties, I roomed in a house with three other women. Above the sink on the window ledge was a glass block with a hoya vine in it. It was a beautiful variegated variety, though at the time I had no idea it was Hoya carnosa ‘Tricolor.’ I just knew it was gorgeous. I asked my roommates who owned it but no one claimed it. So I started caring for it.
About a year later when I moved out, I took the plant with me. It was a part of my life for the next 15 years (before the cat chewed it away), through three different homes, all kinds of good and bad events, sadness and happiness, triumphs and losses, and all else. All the while, the plant grew new stems and showed off its pretty pink, green, and white colors.
What that plant offered me the most though was stability. During the most stressful times of my life, I could always come home to it. It didn’t care whether I’d had a good day or a bad day, it was just there for me. It didn’t care whether I’d been at my best or worst. The plant simply gave me its beauty and silence. It softened the hard edges of my life.
Your First Houseplant
So if you’re interested in trying your hand at growing a houseplant, I encourage you to visit a nursery and buy the one plant you fall in love with. Which one takes your breath away? Which one sends a surge of wonder through you? Find the one you will always want to look at. As I’ve said looking at plants is a significant way to reduce stress. So which plant do you want to look at after you’ve had a tough day? That one is the one to adopt and give a forever home.
How to Decide
But with little to no experience, what if you don’t know which one makes you happy? Well, you must be drawn to one plant in particular. And if it’s a high-maintenance plant like a String of Pearls or an orchid, that’s okay. You’re only choosing one. And if you only choose one, then you won’t be overwhelmed if it takes a little extra care. That care builds your relationship with it and the ritual of loving the houseplant will ultimately heal you.
But you have to put in the time. If the plant needs a lot of light, then buy a grow bulb and turn it on for a few hours a day. If the plant likes a dry environment, make sure to put it in a sunny window. Get the right soil and container and set it in the right conditions. If you’re unsure about what those are, check out the internet. Google of course is a wealth of information. And if you’re too pressed for time with that, you can always contact me through this website.
Quieting the Mind
The point is to incorporate a little green life into your world. Use it as a momentary refuge. Turn off your screens and visit it in silence. Let your soul leave the chaos and chatter of the hectic modern world. As you look at it, remember its innocence and simplicity. Smile. Breathe a deep breath. Study its unique attributes. Its arrangement of leaves, its overall form, its colors. If it’s not a cactus and your hands are clean, gently touch its leaves. Yes, like petting. How do the leaves feel? Does it smell at all? It might smell like freshly watered soil. Take in its little green wonders. Relax into the moment. All it takes is one houseplant to heal. Then you’ll be a bit more ready to deal with real life again.
Photo by Veronique Trudel
If you’d like some greenery in your home or office but your only talent for plants is killing them, don’t despair. House plants that don’t mind low light and little water do exist. They won’t take it personally if you ignore them for a while. And like many plants, they’ll still clean the air, soften your surroundings, and offer the relaxing beauty we often crave when indoors. Here are the five easiest house plants to keep alive.
Pothos (Epipremnum) grows in a cheery mound with spade-shaped leaves that gently spread into trailing strands. For a bushier look, snip the strands’ ends but for a hanging basket effect, let the plant creep as it likes. Pothos loves indirect light and the darker variegated varieties tolerate the lowest levels. Also, they like to dry out between watering. They can go for up to 10 days without water. And just as in their native Polynesia, they thrive in warm conditions, about 60 – 80 degrees, so pretend you’re on a tropical island and enjoy these verdant lovelies!
Snake Plant (Sanseviera)
Snake Plant (Sanseviera) shoots vertically up in long fleshy blades, almost like a grass for giants. The yellow-green cultivar is most common but for the lowest maintenance, choose Black Coral. It’s dark and dreamy. The blades grow up to three feet tall with bands of silver and light green cutting through the smokey blackish leaves. The dark quality means it holds more of a particular kind of chlorophyll that catches low-intensity light. So, if you set it a few feet from a window and soak the soil every few weeks, you’ll keep these African natives upright and happy.
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra) certainly lives up to its name, though you won’t hear a clang if you knock on it. It’s just difficult to kill, not only tolerating low light but rare watering as well. Plus, the upshot is if you live in zone 7 or higher, you can grow it outside. But don’t expect Cast Iron Plant to grow quickly. In a way, it exists rather than grows. The Japanese native sends out upright leaves from rhizomes slowly, making fuller, more established plants on the costly side. Inside the home, place it in a north-facing window, water only when the soil is dry to the touch, and let it be a delightful cauldron of inky green.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) sports the glossiest green leaves, which, with their corrugation and graceful fountain-like habit, makes for an enchanting, relaxing sight. But the Peace Lily’s super power is its air-cleaning abilities. It neutralizes carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde, those nasty gases that come from wood adhesives in furniture and fuel-burning appliances. It also likes indirect light and again, only water when dry to the touch. If it gets a fair amount of bright indirect light, it will bloom in elegant white spathes that resemble its lily-like name.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) knows how to soften the edges of a room. Its dense habit creates a lush oval of foliage bit by bit and isn’t fussy if neglected. The darker varieties can tolerate lower levels of light and will outright scorch in direct sun. But that’s what makes them so low maintenance! It wants only occasional watering, whenever the soil is dry or every two to three weeks. What it really likes is warmth, never below 60 degrees, and to not sit near a door or drafty window. Otherwise, these beauties can get brown edges. If they wilt, that means you’ve watered too much. So, set them in a cozy spot and don’t do much except admire their evergreen ways.
How to Grow the Easiest House Plants
Overall, these house plants are really tropical plants that often grow on the floors of forests so think warmth, moist air, and indirect light. An organic potting mix should suffice for soil. Apply an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. Some plants, like Peace Lily and Chinese Evergreen, even if grown by a window, may not flower. It depends on how far north you live and local weather. If you want flowers, try putting a broad-spectrum or “grow” bulb in a common desk lamp and positioning it near the plants for a few hours every day. In weeks, pretty blooms will emerge and offer bright cheer. Otherwise, all of these plants will simply provide lovely greenery during the times you’re stuck inside but yearn for a bit of nature.