House plants are worth the work

House plants are worth the work
Jack Erickson is a sophomore with a major in biology and a minor in science writing.

Whoever said plants are too much work for the reward of having them has obviously never considered a plant’s true potential.

Tending plants in your home has been linked to increased happiness, reduced stress and anxiety and an increase in life satisfaction. It’s true that owning a plant comes with a level of responsibility, but taking care of one may help you take care of yourself.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as green thumbs or brown thumbs — and if there is, I believe it has a lot more to do with practice and patience than natural talent. Compared to cats and dogs, or even reptiles and birds, plants are significantly less work. I’d compare the level of work and responsibility to that of a fish.

Some people find themselves either neglecting their plants or “caring too much” for them. People often tell me they kill plants because they forget about them or they overwater them. They say plants are too temperamental. Have patience, and you will see that plants must have patience too.

A common misconception among beginner gardeners is that overwatering means pouring too much water into your plant at once, but really, overwatering means you are watering your plants too frequently. If your plants are in pots that can drain, never be afraid to add too much when your plants get thirsty. They will drink what they need and drain out the rest.

An easy way to not overwater your plants as a beginner — or a college student who has very little time on your hands — is to first do a quick Google search on how often you should water them. From there, set reminders so you remember when it’s watering time. Once you become more comfortable with what a healthy plant looks like, you’ll be able to tell when they are in need of a drink just by looking at them.

People harness another plant misconception by assuming plants are self-sustainable. In their natural habitats, plants can survive by themselves, but in your home or dorm, they require more care and responsibility. Just as if you didn’t feed your fish for a few weeks, you might find yourself with a dead plant on your hands if you neglect to water it.

When you keep your plants alive, not only do you get the satisfaction of taking care of a healthy plant. You also get enormous health benefits from air purification. Plants “breathe” in the opposite way we do. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, while they breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. In doing so, they also remove harmful toxins in the air, like benzene and formaldehyde.

Having green plants in a space has even been shown to decrease levels of anxiety. Although some studies have shown that fake plants can also decrease levels of anxiety,  they do not provide the same health benefits, levels of satisfaction or sense of responsibility as real plants do. If you have zero minutes in a day, then a fake plant may be a good choice, but I believe if you have even one minute, the rewards of taking care of a plant outweigh the work.

There is a large bias against plants. It’s true that plants do not work how we work, and they sure don’t look like us either, but that has never stopped us from loving our pets who don’t look or work exactly like we do. Like animals and humans, plants send electrical signals in response to touch, heat, light, sound, water, nutrients and hormones. They need water and sunlight. They need to breathe. They can even communicate with each other and form close relationships like we can.

Ultimately, plants are more similar to you and I than you might first think.