Green goodness

Featured Sliders / HER Community / Home Essentials / Lifestyle / Stories / March 16, 2021

Enthusiasts tout therapeutic benefits associated with caring for houseplants

Story by Molly Morris
Photos by Liv Paggiarino

Longfellow’s Garden Center employee Haley Weis handles a houseplant in one of the greenhouses on the property.

Meet Drama Boy, a finicky peace lily that demands watering or wilts in protest. Then there’s Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla, a rufibarba calathea named after a song about pronouns on the educational series “Schoolhouse Rock.” And don’t forget the twins, Andy and Mandy, identical marble queen pothos that preside over the china cabinet in Haley Weis’ California home.

“They’re my babies,” Weis, a self-proclaimed “plant person,” said, her voice increasing an octave or two with excitement.

“My husband laughs at me so much,” Weis, 23, said. “Whenever a philodendron or something puts on a new leaf, I’m jumping up and down, I’m squealing, I’m running to go get the humidifier to help it grow faster. I’m making a big deal out of it — I’m stroking it. It just excites me when they’re happy and they’re growing.”

Weis isn’t alone in her love for houseplants.

The interest in more greenery in the home has been blossoming for a few years, according to Leana Fitzgerald, the general manager of Busch’s Florist and Greenhouse in Jefferson City.

But after a year filled with more dark moments and uncertainty than we’re used to, adding touches of living, breathing color seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

‘Emotional wellness’

Fitzgerald noted Busch’s saw about a 10-15 percent increase in houseplant sales last year, which she attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With people spending more time at home, Fitzgerald said, the desire to beautify their space became more prominent.

“I do believe there is some emotional wellness to that. Plants make your home feel more like home,” she said. “They also clean the oxygen in the home, and I believe that affects our soul a little bit.”

Just the act of caring for a plant — watering, adjusting its light exposure, trimming or repotting — is “healthy for your heart, soul, mind, body — everything,” according to Alice Longfellow.

Longfellow’s Garden Center district manager Alice Longfellow unpacks succulent plants.

The division manager at Longfellow’s Garden Center in Centertown, Longfellow’s entire life has been spent among plants. She grew up in a family of greenhouse owners in Maine, and after moving to Missouri in the 1980s, she started Longfellow’s Garden Center, which is now a division of All-n-One Outdoor Solutions.

“Truly, this is a very therapeutic hobby not just for your mind and relaxation, but this is a living thing,” she said. “It takes care.”

That care is one of the reasons Weis, who is also an employee at Longfellow’s, has become such a dedicated plant parent.

“It keeps your mind off yourself and onto something else that needs your attention,” she said. “But it’s not going to just demand all of your time. From a mental health standpoint, it’s just something to keep your mind occupied — something healthy and rewarding and alive.”

While she grew up gardening with her mother, Weis got her first houseplant about three years ago from her mother-in-law.

“I got that one and then suddenly there were 10,” she said.

Now with about 45 plants in their three-bedroom home, Weis said plants are good companions — not as needy as a pet but still require care and responsibility, a “low-commitment commitment,” as she put it.

A collection of houseplants is on display at Busch’s Florist and Greenhouse.

On trend

Like Fitzgerald at Busch’s, Longfellow noted an increase in pandemic-era plant ownership, particularly among young people and green-thumb newbies who were looking to — quite literally — turn over a new leaf with extra time on their hands at home.

It used to be just “little old ladies” talking about gardening, Longfellow said, noting the excitement she has had introducing her lifelong passion to a new generation of plant enthusiasts.

“That’s one of the differences between growing plants and other hobbies — it’s something that’s always changing,” she said, adding trends within the hobby also adjust from year to year.

Longfellow and Fitzgerald were quick to credit social media with the spike in houseplant interest and in specific plants. Fitzgerald added it’s not uncommon to see requests for certain plants at Busch’s after they have “had a moment” trending on social media.

For example, she mentioned more customers looking for spiral eucalyptus after seeing pictures of it on social media hanging from shower heads. The steam from the shower is said to release the oils in eucalyptus, which has benefits ranging from stress relief to improving respiratory health.

“Social media is directly affecting how people respond in the marketplace,” Fitzgerald said. “So the gal who is plant crazy anyway and loves being home with plants and taking care of them might be spreading that energy through social media.

“We are really influenced by that, and we see plants on there and we think ‘Will that make me feel better?’ I think it does make them feel better.”

A collection of houseplants is on display at Busch’s Florist and Greenhouse.

Another social media darling, succulents — with their wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes along with the simple maintenance required — are one of the top houseplant sellers at both Longfellow’s and Busch’s, thanks to their trending status.

Other top sellers are mother-in-law’s tongue, also known as the snake plant, which is an easy-to-grow plant with tall, thick sword-shaped leaves; fiddle-leaf fig with its large violin-shaped leaves; and ZZ plants that have wide, dark green leaves and tolerate neglect and low-light conditions.

While demand for houseplants has continued to grow, Longfellow said, the pandemic has put a damper on supply.

“(The demand) is high, and I wish I was selling tons and tons of them; it’s more that I can’t get them,” she said. “The supply is depleted. We’re not selling tons of plants because we can’t get what the public is looking for.”

Longfellow and Fitzgerald both cited a decrease in shipments during 2020. With many plants grown in warmer parts of the United States, like Florida, California and Texas, as well as some South American countries, the pandemic and the various lockdowns that followed created numerous hurdles for the plant and flower industries.

Getting started

Fear not, plant-parents-in-training: Supply has improved some since this time last year, and while every social media-fueled plant dream may not yet be achievable (the trendy monstera philodendron and ruby rubber plant, for example, are still hard to find and will likely come with a slightly higher price tag), there are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in green goodness.

Fitzgerald recommended the hardy peace lily as a good place to start.

The low-maintenance plant features large, dark green leaves and small white flowers that bloom a few times a year. It doesn’t require much light and can survive a bit of neglect. Forget to water for a few (or a lot of) days and it wilts? No worries. A couple days after a good watering, it should pop back up, which Fitzgerald said gives a boost in confidence to the plant owner as well.

Budget a little tight? Also not a deal-breaker.

Longfellow said starting plant parents need only basic supplies like a watering can and potting soil. Decorative pots tend to be pricier, but small, simple ones start at less than $5 at Longfellow’s.

She noted while you easily could spend upwards of $1,000 to create a showy, Instagram-worthy plant paradise in your home, a commitment of $25-$50 is all that’s needed for your plant dreams to take root.

“You can do it relatively inexpensively,” Longfellow said. “That’s what’s neat about it. It’s not an expensive hobby, and it’s so rewarding to see them growing and changing.”

If potted plants are still a bit more of a commitment than you’re ready to tackle, consider bringing some fresh-cut flowers into your home, something Fitzgerald said can offer a burst of color and joy to your space.

“Just walking into your home and seeing them there makes a difference,” she noted.

With travel and visiting friends and family off the table for many months, she said gifting bouquets or vases of flowers is a simple way to show a loved one you’re thinking of them.

“When people were really sad, that was making a huge difference. People have even called and told us that ‘You just don’t know how this made my day,’” Fitzgerald said about floral deliveries. “It’s something to look forward to.”


Preparing an outdoor garden this year?

As it transitions to spring in Mid-Missouri, now is the time to get some fresh air and start planning an outdoor garden.

New at gardening? Debra Rademan, a retired horticulturist and the greenhouse manager for the Central Missouri Master Gardeners group, offers the following tips for starting a vegetable garden.

Find a spot: Vegetables require six to eight hours of full sun per day with good drainage. If you don’t have an area that meets this first requirement, consider container gardening, or contact the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department at 573-634-6482 about renting a garden plot. Share the plot with friends!

Start small: If you are gardening at home, consider an area about the size of a small car. As you succeed, you can enlarge from year to year. Choose one or two crops the first year, and add more as you feel comfortable.

Test: Take a soil sample to see what nutrients are needed. Call the University Extension office in your county for information on how to do this.

Prepare: If there is vegetation in the area, treat it with a non-selective herbicide, remove dead vegetation, then dig. Dig the area with a fork or shovel to a depth of 12 inches, breaking up soil clumps. Work in 3-4 inches of compost the first year and 2-3 inches every year after.  While doing this, work in the nutrients recommended by your soil test, following its instructions. Smooth with a rake.

Choose your vegetable: A good information pamphlet is found here. It has information on varieties that grow well in Mid Missouri, comments on each to help you choose and recommended planting dates. While you are at it, cruise through the website to find other pamphlets that go into greater detail on the vegetables you choose and ones you could try next year. Don’t worry if preparing the garden bed takes you into summer; there are plenty of late summer and fall crops.

Plant: Follow the instructions on the seed package for planting depth and spacing. It will also tell you how long it will be until harvest and other useful information.

Weed: Weeds use nutrients and water your vegetables need, so use that hoe to keep them at bay. Or, use weed barriers to keep them from germinating. Newspaper and cardboard are free weed barriers.

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Molly Morris

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