Try gardening to boost your mood!

Getting through the winter months may seem like a difficult task at times, with dry air and short days, but it is about to get better!

“Seasonal depression is a medical condition that affects more than half a million of Americans every winter.”

I bet you’ve heard of the “winter blues” before. I sure have, as many of the people I encounter every day have run away from the northern states for good or do so every winter (the so-called “snowbirds”). It is not only for the inconvenience of shoveling snow or physical problems that get worse in the cold.

Seasonal depression is a medical condition that affects more than half a million of Americans every winter. It seems to be related to the less availability of sunlight, which alters the mechanisms that regulate mood, sleep and hormones in our bodies, leading to tiredness, sadness, weight gain, lack of motivation, among other symptoms. As other types of depression, this disorder is treated by means of pharmacological and lifestyle therapies that are initiated and guided by medical professionals.

Recently, horticulture has been introduced as an activity that may be used as a form of therapy, as it has shown to provide a mindfulness experience to those who practice it. Think about it. From the task of checking every single plant to determine if they need watering, to the meticulousness of pruning, gardening requires a good amount of concentration, responsibility and dedication. It is an activity that provides with the rewarding experience of seeing the plant thrive. Is an activity that puts you closer to light and even outdoors. It gives you a boost of confidence as you admire the fruit of your efforts and you learn a new skill. It beautifies the space around you and purifies the air you breathe. And now, in the era of social media, it connects you with people who share the same interest. Sounds like an all-around fantastic mood booster, doesn’t it?

It does! And there has been a lot of research in this area.

“Nature contact and mood benefits: contact duration and mood type”

Let’s look for example at the study published last year in the Journal of Positive Psychology “Nature contact and mood benefits: contact duration and mood type”. In this study, the researchers compared two group of students, one who sat in an urban park for just 5 minutes and another who sat in a windowless lab. The first group showed significant increases in positive emotions compared to the second group.

Another example was the 2014 study conducted in University of Exeter Medical School in England which found that moving to greener areas was an immediate mood booster. This was similarly proven in a study from Stanford University in which participants who walked for 90 minutes through a green park on campus, versus strolling next to a loud nearby highway, exhibited “quieter” brains and were less focused on negative aspects of their lives, compared to how they felt before the walk. This was also an almost immediate benefit of exposure to nature.

And the benefits go beyond mental health.

“greenspace exposure provides a wide range of health benefits…”

A study with the strongest level of evidence have been able to combine the findings of smaller research papers into a one, big conclusion: greenspace exposure provides a wide range of health benefits, with statistically significant reductions in blood pressure, heart rate, production of cortisol, development of diabetes and even a reduction in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

There are also studies that show that having a plant in a room, whether it is at home, at work or even hospitals, improves stress, anxiety and even tolerance to pain. Even nature pictures promote short term memory, as concluded in a 2016 study which stated, “among a growing number of interventions, nature exposure offers a quick, inexpensive, and enjoyable means to provide a temporary boost in executive attention” in older population.

In a world that has become as fast-paced as ever, it is easy to miss the opportunity to receive all the benefits that nature has to offer. What all these studies prove, is that it doesn’t matter how little or how many plants you have around you. Even small doses of green will make you healthier, happier and more productive.

My invitation is to bring greenery into your home as the cold months approach. You may find that you outlook of live may improve significantly by caring for plants.

Not enough light? No problem!

Check out our recommendations for low light indoor plants.

Let me start by saying: plants love light. They require light for photosynthesis which is the process by which they turn carbon dioxide and water into their food and the oxygen that gets released back into the environment.

I particularly love the simplicity of the process. But is it? I must confess it felt a little discouraging when I purchased my variegated rubber plant and brought it home to place it in a bright spot in my living room, just to find that, although bright, was not even close to be bright enough for it and the plant started losing all of its leaves.

As a new plant enthusiast, I started doing some research online about what could have happened and how to fix it. And generally, it comes down to the very delicate balance between light and water. First, I tried giving more water only to find the remaining leaves turning yellow and brown due to overwatering. Then I realized I needed to find a more suitable spot for it. That’s the story of how it went to the porch and it has truly been happily ever after.

First we have to understand that filtered light is very different than unfiltered light, and that the closest a plant is from a window and the more view of the sky it has, the more light it is going to get, the bigger and greener it is going to be, generally speaking. But sometimes we simply don’t have the perfect spot, and for those like me, who have started a sizable plant collection, we quickly run out of windows.

The following is my fail-proof list of low light – friendly plants that can still add that touch of green that we would like to have in every space while staying pretty and healthy:

1. Pothos:

This plant tolerates low to medium light very well. Under brighter light conditions, Pothos will have more variegation on its leaves but will survive just fine and look great just close to a window.

2. Monstera:

This showstopper is commonly found on the ground in the rainforest, so it tolerates very well low to medium light conditions while providing with their ever popular large, fenestrated leaves.

3. Snake plant:

Also known as Sansevieria, this plant can handle low to medium light and does not like direct sun, as it burns its leaves. Perfect as a statement plant in a corner of your living room or bedroom.

4. Dieffenbachia:

Commonly known as dumb cane plant, it literally lives behind a wall with no view of the sky at my house and it is happy and thriving. Very decorative with its green leaves with white streaks. Remember to be careful with children and pets, as its leaves are toxic if chewed.

5. Calathea:

I love calatheas for their beautiful foliage that appears to be hand painted and has touches of purple and pink, lines or spots, you name it! As they are native to tropical forests, they are used to, and in fact prefer low to medium light conditions. Direct sun will make its leaves brown and crispy in the edges.

6. Aglaonema:

Also known as Chinese Evergreen, this is another timeless ornamental plant that lives behind a wall in my house as it is perfectly happy with low light conditions.

7. Pilea peperomides:

The Chinese money plant, friendship plant, pancake plant, is simply too cute to pass! It is easy to care for and does very well under low to medium light conditions. Proximity to a window will suffice.

8. Fittonia:

This is another plant with beautiful foliage that does well under low light conditions. I keep it on a bookshelf that is rather dark, along with a rabbit foot fern, snakeplants, pilea, pothos, basically the low-light gang!

9. ZZ plant:

This is probably the easiest plant to care for. You can throw anything at it and it still will look perfect. Low light, medium light, little water, a lot of water. It doesn’t matter. It will survive.

10. Ferns:

As a tropical plant, ferns do well under the canopy, close to the ground, in high humidity and rather dark areas, such a bathroom. Like any other plant though, some light is required for photosynthesis.

It is important to remember that, although these plants do well in low light conditions, if you have just brought home your new plant baby, give it a chance to acclimatize before placing it under low light: check the soil, water if it is dry and put it next to a window in its original nursery pot for at least a week before repotting and bringing it to its definitive spot. These important steps will minimize any consequences from the shock the plant goes through due to change in conditions and will help it adapt much better to its new home.

Transform your space with lush greenery

As a dedicated plant parent, I have had the desire to explore different ways to bring greenery into my home, from the ready-to-go, statement plant, to cuttings for propagation. Big or small, there’s something about green that I just can’t get enough of!

And one of the most exciting ways for me has been to find the perfect statement plant to instantly transform dull spaces into a small jungle, whether it is a dramatic corner piece with large foliage, or the perfect centerpiece in a living room.

These are my top picks for fully grown, tall and full plants that promise to add a wow factor to your living spaces:

1. Monstera deliciosa:

This household name is not gratuitous. A fully grown monstera brings huge, deep green, dramatic fenestrated leaves to the table. It is also a climber, and given the proper support, can reach very high points. It is also a rather low maintenance plant, which makes it the ideal plant for anyone, experienced or inexperienced in plant care who’s looking to transform a newly decorated room with a large pop of green.

2. Ficus lyrata:

Also commonly known as Fiddle Leaf Fig, this ever popular plant has large, leathery leaves and grows to be quite high. The most experienced plant parents out there rave about their beauty and for years has been in the top list of indoor trees for interior decorators. It is a little more demanding in its care but its beauty is well worth the effort.

3. Ficus benjamina:

The Weeping Fig is a great option for those looking for instant height for a bright corner, ideally next to a window. This is a stunning plant for indoor use, provided you give it enough view of the sky, otherwise it may start shedding its leaves.

4. Schefflera:

The Umbrella Tree is a very low maintenance option that has the additional benefit of air purifying properties. Its leaves grow in clusters that resemble an umbrella and it can does very well with filtered, medium light. Indoors, can reach heights of about 6 feet, and outdoors can be twice as much. Not the best plant if you have pets, as its known to be toxic to small animals.

5. Rhapis excelsa:

The Lady Palm, like Schefflera, is a perfect beginner plant given its low maintenance nature and air purifying properties. It has fanned branches that grow both tall and full in foliage bring a tropical appeal to any room.

6. Ficus elastica:

The Rubber Plant is a show-stopper thanks to its beautiful leaves that can be found in different color such as pinks and yellows in the variegated variety or ruby red, among others. It grows very fast and it prefers brighter spots, right on a window.

7. Licuala grandis:

This palm with glossy, fan-like fronds is beautiful and elegant. It is commonly used as a statement piece outdoors, but it does great when potted and placed indoors as well, as long as it is placed in a bright, sunny spot.

8. Strelitzia reginae:

The Bird of paradise grows in long stems with large leaves and are a staple of tropical climates. It thrives in bright locations and can reach about 5-7 feet in height when used indoors. It is not pet friendly as it can cause stomach issues if chewed.

9. Dracaena:

Care-free, tall, slender and with striking spiky leaves. Perfect in a corner, even in medium to low light conditions. They can be found in different varieties with different color foliage. They also possess excellent air purifying abilities.

10. Fishtail palm:

Tall, bushy palm that brings the tropical feel into any room. It likes bright, indirect light but lower light conditions suffice. It also prefers high humidity. They can get really tall, which is perfect for spaces with high ceilings, like atriums, foyers, etc.

Tips of the trade to become a successful plant parent

Like everything, there is a learning curve. But I can’t think of many things more satisfactory that to see a plant grow and thrive, no matter how difficult it may seem.

One of my first cuttings, the Whale Fin Sansevieria, was lost due to too much water.

As a relatively new plant parent, I have experienced the loss of several plants to my lack of experience and abundance of “love” (AKA over-watering). And what I expected to be intuitive, was really not so much.

If you ask me now, I do think that as you gain more experience, you learn to know your plants and their needs based on the way they look, their leaves, the soil. But I could’ve used some reading at the very beginning. However, at this point I have gathered a decent amount of information to share with those out there who either are getting into the “green movement” or have been unsuccessful in caring for a plant.

Location and Light are very important when choosing where to place your newest plant.

1. Start simple: nobody wants to get into plant parenthood with all the enthusiasm and fail. I feel that the choice of the first plant you’ll own is important, as a hardy plant will give you all the satisfaction while you learn while a finicky one might make you want to quit for good. My first piece of advice is to invest in a hardy, fully mature plant.

2. Analyze where you want to place it: The choice of plant also will depend on your vision of where it would go, as the amount of light you will provide dictates the right type of plant. If you have prime real estate (next to a window), most plants will thrive. If you are looking into placing it in a bathroom, you need plants that thrive in humid environments. If you are looking into brightening a rather dark corner, you will need a plant tolerant to low light conditions.

Visiting your plants 2-3 times a week allows you to learn how to care for each plant and develop your own care instructions.

3. Visit your plant 2 to 3 days a week: This step is key to start learning how to care for your plants without the need for an instruction manual. As you look at it, you’ll start noticing whether the leaves are perky or droopy, green or yellowing, with or without disease, and you can start making a relationship between the condition of the plant and the humidity of the soil. If the plant looks unhappy and the soil is soaked, you’ll know to water less and vice-versa. If the leaves are falling off or rather, they seem to be growing desperately in the direction of the nearest window, you’ll understand it needs more light. If you feel committed enough, you can put these observations in a little journal for future reference. By looking at them frequently enough you will be able to trouble shoot before there’s any kind of irreversible damage. And in time, you will also experience one of the most rewarding parts of plant parenthood: finding new growth.

Never give up! Continue trying until you succeed.

4. Be flexible: Even after careful consideration and a lot of research, you may find that your plants don’t succeed in a given environment. Allow yourself to be flexible and change things up. Find a new spot, try fertilizing, take it outside for a couple of days, if weather allows. Talk to them! Try cleaning the leaves so they can utilize better the light they get, repot it. There are many different things to try that may help.

5. Utilize resources online: There has never been a better time to own a plant than today. With very friendly, vast plant communities all over social media, there’s always someone willing to share their experience and expertise with those who need a hand. This resource has served me very well and I have made plenty of plant pals all over the world!

6. Don’t give up! And if it all fails, still, don’t give up. Get another plant, give yourself another chance. I promise you will not regret it! Caring for plants has become a very important part of my life, one that brings me back to “here and now”, one that connects me with the source of it all, mother nature, one that has served as a mean to unwind.

Easy-care, low maintenance, indoor plants for beginners

If you are experiencing a green fever and have been wanting to immerse yourself in caring for plants, you are not alone.

Plant parenthood has become a trend, and a very positive one, I might say.

Plants provide with health and well-being to those who care for them. From purifying the air, to bringing the joy of seeing them grow strong, plants have become a staple of wellness and natural beauty in hundreds of thousands of homes and offices around the world.

So, if you find yourself wondering which plants to get if you are a beginner, this guide is for you.

Easy-to-care-for plants will instantly transform your living space without having to worry about your lack of experience. I have gone through that process myself and these are my recommendations for first-time plant parents:

1. Sansevieria:

I have a few different types of sansevieria and they all are very easy to care for. They tolerate low light conditions and I water them every 3 weeks. >> See Sansevieria

Pro tip: a few plants share the same water requirements, so you can afford to have several without having to worry about them dying on you. I have my sansevieria and cactai on a schedule and I put an alarm on my calendar to water them.

2. Monstera adansonii

This is another plant with medium light requirements, highly ornamental, fun to watch grow and to propagate! I water it about once a week or if I see the leaves a little droopy. >> See Monstera Adanasonii

3. Monstera deliciosa:

Similar to the adansonii, it does well indoors, I water it about once a week and I try to provide it with medium to bright indirect light. The lushness of its leaves truly transform the space were you place them. >> See Monstera Deliciosa

4. Cacti:

Like the sansevieria, they need infrequent watering and mine are doing very well on medium light conditions (close to a window, not right on it). They are on the same watering schedule as the sansevieria, every 3 weeks. >> See all Cactus

Pro tip: they would certainly prefer more than less light. Put them closer to a window when available.
Pro tip: as the sansevieria, these plants rot when overwatered. Don’t be afraid to stick with the plan and water every 3 weeks.

5. ZZ plant:

I love this plant because of its waxy leaves. They never loose luster! I water mine every 2 weeks but even when neglected, it always looks fantastic. They are a perfect centerpiece! >> See ZZ Plant

6. Jade Aurea:

This is my newest acquisition, I find it gorgeous, always seems happy, I water it once a week and it likes bright indirect light. Even when forgotten for a few days, it has maintained its beauty. This is a tough one! >> See Jade Aurea

7. Pothos:

This was my first plant ever and has been with me for about 3 years and going strong! It can tolerate low light conditions, I water it about every 2 weeks and it has been perfectly happy, vining beautifully! >> See Pothos

8. Dracaena:

It has several different varieties, some of them with hints of red which are actually my preferred ones. They don’t like bright light which make them perfect for low light conditions. They also like to be watered infrequently, which I do about every 2 weeks. >> See Dracaena

9. Dumb cane:

Along with pothos, one of the first plants I owned and has survived happily for more than a few years. Does well in medium light conditions and gets watered about once a week or even longer. I wait for the soil to be dry before I rewater. >> See Dumb Cane

One thing I’ve learned as I care for more and more plants is that different light conditions and weather, change a lot the water needs. The above plants are very sturdy and overall tolerate dry soil very well. However, I try to walk around and visit all my plants every 2 or 3 days to say hello and look at the leaves, make sure they look happy and healthy. Sometimes they seem too droopy and I know I either gotta water them or move them closer to a window. Soon, you will learn to know them well!