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Brighten your wintertime mood with houseplants
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Brighten your wintertime mood with houseplants

Aesthetically pleasing houseplants can add a little nature to indoor living spaces and help make the cold, dreary months more bearable.

“They brighten the mood,” said Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulturist. “They make people feel better.”

Plants add humidity to dry interiors

Humidity is low during wintertime. Dry skin, chapped lips and static electricity on certain surfaces in the home are all symptoms of dry winter air.

“Houseplants can help alleviate that a little bit and, to some degree, give you a little more moisture in the air,” Mullins said.

Plants emit moisture as a product of photosynthesis, he explained, acting as natural humidifiers.

Relax with a green hobby

While plants filter out dust and toxins and release oxygen, recent studies have shown that “other than increasing humidity indoors, the effect on air quality is actually quite small,” explained Dr. Josh Kardos, a horticulture instructor at Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

“A single indoor plant in a room has essentially no impact,” he said. Kardos explained people would need many plants to see any kind of measurable effect on indoor air quality.

Instead, the real benefits are subjective—harder to measure, but still important. They can have a calming, relaxing effect, and provide a hobby, Kardos said.

“Plants can help with mental health by giving people something to care for and providing a sense of purpose and accomplishment.”

Kardos, whose introductory class on indoor plants is always at capacity with more students on a waiting list, said he witnesses this when students email him pictures of their plant collections, illustrating their joy for growing plants.

“My students are so proud of the fact that they’re not only keeping their plants alive, but the plants are growing and even thriving.”

Plants aren’t fussy

Several indoor plant varieties are low-maintenance and forgiving when it comes to their growing requirements, Mullins said. Even those without a green thumb can have success cultivating these plants.

“There’s something for everybody,” he said.

Christmas cactuses have beautiful blooms that add pops of color to an environment, Mullin said. Like their name suggests, they bloom during winter months and “are one of those kinds of plants that probably will do best if you just leave them alone.”

Peace lilies are another flowering option and grow well in low to bright light and some humidity. Pothos, a trailing vine with heart-shaped, variegated leaves can add dimension and drama. The ZZ plant, with its wide, dark green leaves, is hardy and tolerates low light.

Other recommendations include spider plants, whose long, grassy leaves thrive under a variety of conditions, and rubber trees and snake plants, which can add visual interest and height to any space.

“If you don’t believe me, just try it,” Kardos encouraged. “Buy one or more of the easy-to-grow indoor plants, and see if you don't feel more relaxed and find more enjoyment with them in your environment.”

Calming effect

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology discovered that tending plants lowered blood pressure and reduced psychological and physiological stress. Participants reported feeling soothed and comfortable working with plants compared to working on a computer.

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