On my bad mental health days, my houseplants serve as a reminder of the empathy and compassion I should have for myself.
I started collecting an array of greenery about a year ago. Since then, I’ve picked up a host of different plants — some of which flourished, while others, admittedly, didn’t survive past the 6-month mark. (I’m looking at you, majesty palm plant.)
Regardless of their survival rate, my leafy friends not only became sources of gorgeous blooms throughout my space — they also remind me to take care of myself, too.
Whenever I do a walk-through of watering my plants or spritzing their leaves, it also offers an easy-going reminder to hydrate myself.
Last week, when I sprayed liquid fertilizer on my fiddle leaf fig’s new baby leaf, I thought about how easy it is for plant owners to instantly pounce on the opportunity to nourish new foliage, sprouts, or leaflets.
But when it comes to taking care of myself, it isn’t always as point-blank. For those who experience conditions, like anxiety or depression, simple tasks, like drinking water, eating, or even taking a shower can easily become uphill battles.
Through the lens of caring for houseplants, though, it doesn’t always have to feel so difficult.
According to research, surrounding yourself with greenery can increase attentiveness, memory, and productivity thanks to the improved air quality and workplace satisfaction caused by plants.
Additionally, the same research suggests caring for plants reduces psychological and physiological stress, since such interactions can promote comfortable and soothing emotions.
For me, taking care of my houseplants can provide a range of benefits. Sometimes, I feel like it gives me purpose. Other times, I feel less alone, because I’m nursing blooms that I’ve grown an attachment to. At the very least, they make me happy.
As someone who takes medication for anxiety and depression, there are days when I wake up and the thought of leaving bed is too much to handle.
On those mornings, breaking down small self-care action items (and even thinking of myself as a beautiful bonsai, an ever-evolving ivy, or a lucky bamboo tree) can feel akin to caring for my houseplants.
Instead, I try to align my goals for both myself and my plants to be healthy and express consistent growth that comprises regular check-ins, hydration, nutrients, sunlight, and lots of love.
- $ = under $50
- $$ = over $50
Succulents and cacti
- Price: $
- Care level: easy
If you’re looking to start your collection off small, or if you’re worried about keeping your new friend alive, succulents are a great jumping-off point.
They tend to be drought-tolerant and thrive in bright, direct sunlight. You can go up to 2 weeks without watering these desert dwellers. But you’ll want to make sure that you rotate them regularly in the sun, so they’ll stand up straight.
While not necessary, you can also fertilize succulents in the summer to provide light feedings.
Similarly, cacti are considered to be on the no-fuss end of the spectrum, as they’re typically native to dry climates and can be watered anywhere from every 10 to 14 days.
An aloe vera plant is an excellent low maintenance option that requires direct light and minimal watering (we’re talking every 2 to 3 weeks, but you’ll definitely want to hydrate yourself a lot more).
Should you regularly have a hard time with mental health and self-care, I recommend opting for one of these low hassle plants.
Succulents and cacti can sit on your windowsill or desk and provide beautiful pops of color without requiring too much fuss.
Ferns and palms
- Price: $–$$
- Care level: intermediate
Intermediate plant parents can opt for some higher maintenance options, like ferns and palms. Something like a Kimberly queen fern is a solid place to start: It requires low to bright indirect sunlight and should be watered when a quarter of the topsoil is dry. This means you’ll want to monitor the moisture of the soil pretty often.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re regularly removing any dead leaves or sprouts to encourage consistent growth.
A parlor palm plant is another awesome option. Like the queen fern, this palm loves bright, indirect sunlight. You should water it every 1 to 2 weeks and allow the soil to dry out between feedings to ensure it’s not over-watered.
When taken proper care of, a parlor palm can grow up to 12-feet tall.
Fiddle leaf figs
- Price: $$
- Care level: moderate
A fiddle leaf fig tree was actually the first houseplant I ever purchased — and, without much knowledge on proper plant care, it had a few near-death experiences. (Thankfully, Fred is thriving now.)
However, this means that these gorgeous trees require a decent amount of attention. They favor partial and bright, indirect light, and they typically enjoy more humid conditions.
You should water your fiddle leaf when the top 50 to 75 percent of the soil is dry. On watering day, you’ll want to drench the soil until it drains out from underneath the pot. You’ll definitely want to make sure there’s a saucer to catch excess liquid, too.
Additionally, you should try to fertilize this plant throughout the spring and summer, and shield it from any harsh drafts in the cooler seasons.
Frankly, fiddle leaf figs are tricky to care for, but I’ve really enjoyed the progress mine has made. Throughout the year, I do have to move it closer or further away from the window, and I try to consistently make sure it’s receiving just enough hydration.
They’re also great at letting you know when they need water. The leaves tend to droop or sink slightly, signaling that they’re dehydrated.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for self-care. But, in my experience, houseplants are an excellent way to remind myself of the basics.
Not every day has to be filled with intense therapy sessions or emotional breakthroughs. Sometimes, water, sunshine, and nourishment are just enough to keep me going.
Melissa Lee is a market wellness editor at Healthline. She’s based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she’s not trying out new skin care or researching wellness product trends, she can be found buying books to add to her TBR pile. Follow her on Instagram.