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Indoor Plants a Plus

Indoor plants boost psychological well-being.

It’s important for green, leafy plants to be included in any interior, whether it's north or south of the Equator. But at this time of year, when weather can make it less comfortable to spend time outside in nature, because it’s getting to be winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s essential to take stock of the plants in your home and office and to do whatever you can to make your green, leafy friends happy and healthy.

Plants are likely to live their best lives when they have comfortable amounts of sun, water, and nutrients, and when they are groomed (otherwise cared for, for example, weeded or trimmed) as needed by their species. Design can enhance plant well-being via grow lights, sun shades that let healthy amounts of light through windows into the space, automatic watering systems, and well-designed indoor planter boxes, for example. The specifics of “support programs” are dictated by the particular plant species.

The sorts of plants selected for use should align with the “brands” being conveyed—this terminology is a little unusual in the context of homes, but what are the messages we want to send about ourselves and the place-related experiences we endeavor to create but a personal brand? A potted Norfolk pine that can double as a Christmas tree sends a different sort of message to visitors than a bank of delicate, hard-to-sustain orchids, for example.

Whatever plants you select for interior spaces, efforts to sustain indoor plants can easily be justified by what science has taught us about how human minds function in areas with plants.

Seeing green, leafy plants has been shown to boost our cognitive performance, mood, and ability to get along with others and reduce our stress levels, for example. Looking at plants also helps us restock our mental energy levels after we’ve depleted them doing things that require mental focus or concentration, such as knowledge work. We also feel better physically when we can see plants, which is definitely handy in colds, flu, and sunburn seasons.

Looking at green, leafy plants has also been linked to enhanced creative thinking, and that can be useful whether you’re writing the next great novel in your home office, getting together a new outfit from clothes in your closet, trying to develop a successful advertising campaign, or figuring out how to continue a conversation at a family party that your cousin Josh seems determined to end via his ill-timed references to new haircuts and similar potentially touchy topics. So keeping a plant alive in your home or office over the winter or summer is time well spent.

When you’re working green, leafy plants into your world, it’s important to edit the assortment presented carefully. First, the vegetation that will have the most positive effects on our brains is green and leafy, not spiky like cactuses, for instance. Second, more and more is not necessarily better and better as plants go. The best effects are achieved when people can see a couple of plants a few feet tall from wherever they’re sitting indoors—more plants can lead to a visually cluttered space that ups our stress levels.

Artificial plants can encourage the same sorts of positive outcomes as living ones, as long as those artificial plants are really lifelike—the features of “real” plants are many, and we don’t have to list them here. If you are honest with yourself, when you look at an “artificial” plant, you can tell if it is truly realistic: for instance, if you feel the need to reach out and touch a leaf to determine if it’s real. Artificial plants won’t clean the air in your home, however, as living plants will.

As you ponder end-of-year gifts for family and friends, consider plants, a gift that’s good for psychological well-being (although not as tasty, in most cases, as chocolates, I admit).