If you’re struggling through a stressful workweek, you may feel like you have no time to lower your stress. You’re juggling multiple tasks while your attention springs from one event to another. This is typical as we try to get through the avalanche of work that piles up. By Friday, we’re burnt out and ready for a change. But deciding what that change is can be tricky. Yes, you can plop in front of a screen with a show or video game, but that may only increase our stress. Yes, there’s shopping at the mall but shopping costs money. This is why I always fall back on an old reliable standby to destress from work: playing with my houseplants.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When I say “playing” with my houseplants, what I mean is fiddling with them. I arrange their pots on shelves and stands for a new look. I clean up their dead leaves and water their soil. Lastly, I transplant whatever looks pot bound. The plants reward me with not only a fresh look for my room, but a simple, relaxing endeavor.
The relaxation part is a subconscious event. It’s not anything I consciously think about as I’m doing it. But I gradually feel a sense of “coming down” from the hectic pace of my workweek. I slow my behavior toward a task that doesn’t have a big end goal. There aren’t a million things to do with houseplant care. It’s actually really simple. And that’s the playing part. Play has low goals, isn’t complex, and happens at a comfortable pace.
Science Says Fifteen Minutes Is Enough
What’s interesting is my little visit with a houseplant here and there reaps big rewards. Researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki helps us see why. He conducted a small study with young men in their twenties who transplanted plants during a break from stressful, computer-oriented work. The subjects worked for 15 minutes with a Vining Pepper Plant (peperomia dahlstedtii) over the course of three days. Their sympathetic nervous systems and blood pressure were monitored. He also measured these systems while the subjects worked at a computer task.
You can guess the results. During the plant-related task, the sympathetic nervous system activity was about four points lower than the computer-related task. Blood pressure lowered by six points. By contrast, sympathetic nervous system activity and blood pressure were both higher during computer-related engagement. Subjects reported feeling much more comfortable, soothed, and natural when working with the plants. They felt much less comfortable, soothed, and natural when working on the computer. It’s not too surprising. But this study scientifically proves the value of playing with houseplants, even for a brief time and with little experience.
Which Plant to Play With?
This weekend, see if you can make time to fiddle with a houseplant. Saturday morning always work for me. And the ritual doesn’t have to be long. It seems 15 minutes will do. And if you don’t have a houseplant, this study offers a good reason to buy one. You can spend as little as fifteen dollars, if you’re willing to start with a small plant in a four-inch pot. A pothos or snake plant are good choices. Set near a north or east-facing window and water every seven to ten days. On the weekends, take your time checking on it. Trim its brown leaves off, dust it with a damp cloth, turn it so another side faces the light. You may enjoy this soothing little activity so much that you’ll want to grow another and another and another until you create your own special plant playground.
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.