Houseplants Can Make You Happy

Study: Caring for plants improves quality of life.

October 13, 2008
watering houseplants

Learning about houseplants and then caring for them improved self-rated health and quality of life for a group of seniors living at a low-income assisted-living facility, according to a study appearing this month in the journal HortTechnology. This study suggests that sprouting a green thumb is a not only a gratifying and affordable way to feel good, it can foster successful aging.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension researchers invited 18 assisted-living residents to join a class to learn about indoor gardening; the participants were between 75 and 102 years old. The group attended four two-hour interactive classes, and were given a plant to take care of after the course was over. Interviews at the end of the four-week course showed that the subjects felt more control over their lives and felt healthier and happier than before it started. Five months later, the patients continued to feel that way. The biggest areas of positive improvement occurred in relation to the phrases “There is really no way I can solve some of the problems I have,” and “There is little I can do to change many of the important things in my life.” Before the classes started, residents took a neutral stance on those statements; five months out, they strongly disagreed.

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Researchers believe that caring for a houseplant engendered such positive effects because the participants experienced the responsibility of taking care of something other than themselves. Some of the senior citizens involved in the study told researchers the plants were like companions; some noted it had been a long time since they had to take care of something. This suggests houseplants can bring positive vibes not just to older people, but to anyone who is lonely. And there are lots of other reasons to bring plants into your home: several studies have linked houseplants to the reduction of stress and indoor air pollution. Other research published this month suggests that hospital patients have a better recovery if there’s a houseplant in the room. If you don’t have a green thumb, try this advice to take advantage of the power of houseplants:

• Never cared for a plant of your own before? Start with a spider plant, rubber plant, or snake plant. All are difficult for first-time growers to neglect to death.

• Improve your quality of life and indoor air quality by raising indoor plants known to clear airborne toxins in your home. Champion air-scrubbers include Boston fern, Sweet Chico and dwarf date palm. But also consider locally-grown plants native to your region; you'll reduce the chances of introducing an invasive species to the area, and cut the emissions generated by transporting plants long distance.

• If itchy eyes and sneezing plague you, stay away from certain houseplants that can trigger allergies for sensitive people. Frequent offenders are weeping figs, ivy, and palm trees. And don’t overwater—not only is that bad for the plant, it can promote the growth of allergy-inducing microorganisms. For most houseplants, the best watering strategy is to soak the soil until water drips out the drainage holes at the bottom of the plant. Don’t water again until the soil on top feels dry.