Flower Power: Boost Your Mood With Houseplants
The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.
“Mrs. Pollock” fancy-leaved geranium.
On these frigid, sleety and snowy days, one thing I look forward to when I wake up in the morning and when I come home after dark are my houseplants. Seeing the frothy green foliage of my Mother Fern and anticipating the about-to-burst blooms of a three-year-old orchid palpably lift my spirits on especially dimly lit winter days.
My emotional response to indoor plants and flowers in my home is not just a “feeling” exclusive to me. Scientific studies have proven that having flowers around the home and office greatly improves people’s moods and reduces the likelihood of lower light and stress-related depression. Flowers and ornamental plants increase levels of positive energy and help people feel secure and relaxed.
My houseplant collection, about 30 or 40 pots of varying sizes arrayed in front of the windows upstairs and down, is made up of a combination of succulents, tropicals and some tender plants that I brought in from outside to overwinter until late spring.
I brought in some fancy leaved geraniums (pelargoniums) in the fall and put them in my brightest window. They tend to do well and even bloom sporadically through the winter. The orangey flowers are very cheerful and that little pop of color here and there is amazingly effective. Even when they aren’t in flower, the variegated leaves add texture and color to the assemblage.
Alocasia “Regal Shield” elephant ear.
Be aware, though, that overwatering will cause geraniums to rot. I feel the soil to determine when to water. If it’s dry to the touch, I water thoroughly. If it feels moist and cool: no water. Geraniums tolerate dry soil conditions better than excess moisture. I’ll give them a haircut in the next couple of weeks as they tend to a bit get leggy in the low light of the indoors. If I prune them back soon, by about half, I’ll be rewarded with a flush of new growth that will fill out before I return them to my deck after the temperatures are consistently in the 50’s.
A couple of new plants I brought in from my summer containers are doing beautifully. They are Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) and an elephant ear (Alocasia). For the aralia, which was quite large by the end of summer, I divided it, ending up with two smaller plants. I cut them back so they would fit in reasonably sized pots. They’ve bounced back remarkably, with long, upright leaf stems holding large glossy, lobed leaves with pointed tips. The elephant ear is one of my favorites, called “Regal Shield.” The dramatic pattern of dark veins in huge green leaves and the sculptural form of the plant are very pleasing. Both of these tropicals prefer a consistently dampish soil and can tolerate less bright light as they both do well in light shade outside, so I have them in east-facing windows.
Fatsia japonica, Japanese aralia.
I typically have between 8 to 12 pots of amaryllis every year. I put them outside in the summer to bulk up with foliage, and store them in my friend’s basement in the fall to go dormant for a few months so they’ll hopefully bloom again. This year I didn’t get them into the cool dark environment soon enough, and then forgot to take them out 10 weeks later to get them started again. This weekend I’ll belatedly retrieve them from their basement incarceration, repot them into new soil, water well once until they start to sprout new foliage, and then wait (and pray) until the blooms emerge. I never think of them only as plants to have during the holidays because it’s such a joy to have the decadent, long-lasting flowers to greet me throughout the late winter and early spring. Sometimes, a few put out lots of strappy foliage and no flowers. If they never send out a flower stalk, I put them in the compost and add new ones the following year. My repeat bloomers run at about an 80 percent success rate with my method. Well worth the wait!
Garden centers that stay open in the winter months have great selections of foliage and flowering plants. If you need a lift, share your environment with some plants and see for yourself if you experience a welcome mood elevation.