Inside interior stylist Hilton Carter’s sunshine-filled home in Baltimore, Maryland, you’ll find more than 280 plants lining the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and peeking out from every nook. “Surrounding yourself with nature will instantly make you feel more relaxed,” says the author of Wild Interiors and Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants. “You see the shifts, changes, and nuances at work in plant life. A well-cared-for plant fills your home with positivity, light, and vibrancy.” In other words, becoming a proud plant parent can drastically improve your health.
Research backs up Carter’s intuition, showing a positive correlation between contentment and plant parenting. In fact, a study at Kansas State University showed potted greenery (as opposed to cut flowers or no plants at all) to be downright curative in the hospital rooms of post-op patients, resulting in lower blood pressure and heart rate and less pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
For Carter, part of that restoration comes from regularly watering and caring for his plants. Routine is ritual in this case, helping him carve out time to drop into his inner calm. “I set the mood,” he says. “I light some candles, put on music, then water each plant. I take my time going up a ladder for my hanging plants. It’s not traditional meditation, but these are the most zen moments of my day.”
The upside is you don’t have to be a bona fide greenery guru to reap the same benefits: Carter’s plant-care practice can be adopted by anyone, whether you have two plants or twenty.
See also: Ways Plants Enhance Your Yoga Practice
Plus, certain flora can add more than just a pop of color to your home: It can even be healing. A snake plant or devil’s ivy purifies the air in your bedroom while you sleep, and ferns in the bathroom boost humidity, which is good for your skin. Here, Carter shares a few additional ideas for fostering your green thumb, whether or not you’re well versed in sprucing up your space.
Buying a new plant?
Before selecting a plant, scope out where it will live, paying special attention to light exposure—that’s going to be the most important factor in its survival, Carter says. Lifestyle plays a role, too. If you’re forgetful or not home often, a plant that can withstand weeks of neglect (a succulent or cactus) is a better choice than something that needs to be watered every few days, such as a fern. Tight on space and time? Air plants need just a weekly five-minute soak and aren’t confined to a pot.
Pot smartly with an all-purpose potting mix, which sufficiently nourishes most plants, except cacti and succulents, which need fast-drying soil to survive. Plan to change the soil once a year (around New Year’s Eve, perhaps), and flex your creativity by potting in an upcycled basket or old ceramic bowl, making sure to drill drainage holes to avoid root rot.
Spend time connecting with your new flora or even bestowing them with names, says Carter, whose four fiddle-leaf figs go by Frank, Treezus, Clavel, and Lil’ Baby. Put on some soothing music and talk to each plant, stroking its leaves and taking it in from every angle so that you can troubleshoot common problems. Need a cheat sheet? Yellow leaves are a sign of overwatering, while thirsty plants develop brown tips, and fading hues can be a sign of too much direct sun, Carter says.
Already a proud plant parent?
Establish a meditative caregiving routine, like the one described in Step 3 above, and set aside time to focus solely on your greenery. Rotate plants every two months to give a better balance of leaf growth. Every three months, gently clean and wipe leaves with a little dish soap and a wet soft cloth to remove dust and allow for more light to reach the plant.
Feed your flora. Water your plants all fall and winter, but fertilize them with plant food from your local nursery only in spring and summer, when plants tend to lose nutrients through the warmer months’ increased watering schedules. A simple at-home plant-food hack that Carter loves: Mix banana peels into the soil to avoid waste and nourish your potted pet.
Propagate! If a friend has a plant you like, ask for a cutting, which is exactly what it sounds like: a quick snip that includes some stem. Submerge the cut end in a few inches of water until roots sprout. Once they’re four to six inches long, fill a pot that’s two inches taller than the root system with soil and bury the bottom third of the cutting, then watch it grow.
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