Practicing self-care through plant care
Plants aren’t just a one-trick peony. They can be typically viewed as a common household decoration, but taking care of them can provide people with mental health benefits.
According to data from the 2020 U.S Census, plant parents spent 18.7% more on gardening supplies than they did in 2019. This totals to $8.5 billion more compared to the year prior. With many people joining the plant community, many are expressing that taking care of houseplants can be a way to improve their mental health and feel a closer connection to nature.
Due to the pandemic, many people have been working from home, causing people to bring the stress they experience at work into their households. Many studies have shown that a few houseplants can help with relaxation and alleviate the stress we get from working on computers all day. The National Center for Biotechnology Information showcased how taking care of plants reduced stress in subjects who just completed doing work on their computers. They concluded that, “…the subjects felt more comfortable, soothed, and natural after the transplanting task than after the computer task.”
Data that has been collected about the mental benefits of nature can be traced back to a theory called biophilia. This word was first used in 1973 by psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, in “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.” The term was later used again by biologist and writer, Edward Osborne Wilson, in his book that was published in 1984 titled, “Biophilia.” Wilson’s version of the word is defined by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. as, “…the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living things.” By allowing plants to thrive within our homes and our indoor environments, we are able to feel the natural connection to nature. This is what provides us a feeling of relaxation and mental benefits.
Katheryn McGurthy is a psychology professor at Fullerton College and owns and cares for a handful of orchids. She was even inspired to purchase her current house because of the trees and the space it had for gardening. She explains that changing your current environment with houseplants can be a method to reduce stress at home. “We can feel like we even have something, especially during this pandemic, in our space that is living and alive can maybe even decrease the sense of loneliness for some,” she says.
Being a plant parent isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Plants require care, some more than others. When a plant is showing signs of problems such as turning brown and crunchy or yellow and squishy, it can cause owners to stress out and give up on the plant entirely, especially for first time plant owners. McGurthy explains, “People that are putting too much into the success of plants, meaning that they feel this great sense of failure when the plant gets hurt or when the plant is dying because of something they feel like they did wrong, can experience stress. Some plants are just bad choices.”
Health Education Coordinator at Fullerton College’s Health Center, Kelly Salazar, is a houseplant lover herself. She was inspired to collect plants by a former coworker of hers. From then on, she continued to take care of house plants in her office and in her home. Despite not considering herself to have a green thumb and not being successful with every plant, she keeps a few leafy plants in her home such as a money tree and a snake plant. “It’s trial and error and I do my best to keep my plants alive and thriving,” she says.
Despite Salazar feeling a little stressed when she first began learning about the watering practices for her plants, she noticed a change in the overall feeling of her home when she began to purchase plants. “I do feel like, from an aesthetic standpoint, that I love to see the plants in my spaces. I think it brings an element of nature inside and for me, nature is calming,” she says.
The belief of plants having the ability to change the feeling within an environment can be further explained in a study that was conducted in 2007 by the University of Twente, located in the Netherlands. The goal of this study was to prove that changing your environment by introducing natural elements can reduce stress and can change your overall mood. Within this study, researchers compared 77 different hospital patients who were in rooms with or without houseplants. They found that, “indoor plants in a hospital room reduce feelings of stress through the perceived attractiveness of the room.”
Owner of two plant stores called Latinx With Plants in Los Angeles, Andi Xoch, has found stress relieving qualities in taking care of plants. She was inspired to start her pop-ups, which later led her to opening stores, by a friend who runs a store called Black People With Plants, also known as @blackwithplants on Instagram. She also turned to opening pop-up shops when her father was in the hospital and experiencing health issues. She explains being involved in the plant community has allowed her to bring more people together to share their experiences and relieve some stress. “When people started coming in…that allowed them to have access to the garden, to me, the plants and have a one-on-one conversation. It was almost like therapy. Everyone would tell me, ‘This is really helping me out,’ or ‘This is helping my partner,’” she says.
Xoch explains that taking care of plants has even satisfied her need to nurture another being. When she started taking care of her plants, she felt happier from taking on a mother-like role. She, along with many other people, describe their plants as “plant babies.” People feed them, water them and even talk to them like they are humans. On Xoch’s Latinx With Plants website, she has a section called, “plant parenthood.” This allows people can purchase gift cards for other people to use in her store, emphasizing that purchasing a plant is like adoption. “It was very special that it wasn’t just a buying opportunity for a plant, but an adoption opportunity,” she says.
Ashley Torres is the manager at the plant store Raising Plants OC and a grad student at UCI. Along with that, she considers herself to be quite the plant parent. She explained that she took care of about 250 plants before cutting down to 150 houseplants just a few months ago. She owns plants ranging from philodendrons to a variety of pothos plants. Torres has noticed more people coming into the store to purchase their first ever plant and has seen an increase of the community’s online presence a few months after the pandemic hit. She says, “I think with the stresses of grad school and COVID-19, it really brought people into the plant community.” She goes further and explains that taking care of plants can become like an addictive hobby. Seeing plants grow and thrive offers a sense of accomplishment for a lot of people, which encourages them to get more.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed with your first houseplant adoption, Torres recommends that beginners start off with small to medium sized hardy plants. She recommends leafy and green plants such as zeezee plants, snake plants, pothos plants and heart leaf philodendrons to start you off on your journey as a plant parent.