How plants can transform people

Plants not only add color to your home, but they can improve your mental and physical health too. While you sleep, your plants create clean oxygen, suck up carbon dioxide, and regulate humidity. All that can boost your productivity and serotonin levels, and reduce stress. 

Baltimore resident Hilton Carter cares for some 300 plants. He's known as the "Plant Doctor," and is author of the new book titled “ Wild At Home: How to Style and Care for your Beautiful Plants ."

The cover of "Wild at Home." Courtesy of CICO Books.

The fiddle-leaf fig: trendy but persnickety

Hilton Carter waters his fiddle-leaf fig. Credit: Hilton Carter ©CICO Books. 

The fiddle-leaf fig seems to be very popular these days, but Carter warns, 

"Anything that you do to them that is off almost like a schedule will kind of throw them into some sort of weird state."

He says they don't like to be over-watered; they don't like the sun, especially afternoon western sun; they don't like to be moved often. 

"If you're someone who considers yourself not having a green thumb, the fiddle-leaf fig is not the starter plant that you want to bring into your home," Carter says. 

Recommendations for new plant parents

Carter points to overwatering as a common reason why plants die. 

He suggests the plants that tolerate little watering and low to medium light include the snake plant, ponytail palm, and ZZ (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) plant. "A ZZ plant is kind of one of my favorite plants just because they're so lush, very waxy leaves, and just really cool." 

Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Credit: Mokkie (Wikimedia Commons). 

Snake plant. Credit: Pro Flowers (CC BY 2.0). 

Ponytail palm. Credit: Maja Dumat (CC BY 2.0). 

How many plants do you need to see the physical/mental benefits?

Carter says the right number depends on the person, and what's important is the way plants transform people, relax them, make them more creative. Even just one plant can make a difference. 

"Whenever I see any plant develop new leaves, it brings joy to me. It makes me feel like I am doing something right. And that is the type of positivity most people need in their lives," he says.

Credit: Hilton Carter ©CICO Books.

However, he acknowledges that plant care can sometimes be stressful when people have problems keeping their plants healthy. "So I try to push people towards understanding that whatever the amount that works best for you, that you can care for, that you can keep alive, that's the amount you should have. Whatever is providing you with that happiness, that's what you need," he says. 

Plants are a bit like people too, he suggests. "If you can find a way to start at a low level of caring for things, and whether that's a plant, or a pet, and then children, and then people, like it's all the same things. We all need the same sort of reinforcement, same sort of positivity, same sort of light. We all need to be watered, cared for. And when things aren't going right, you need to tend to the dead leaves. Cut them off, and then you'll see new growth."

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson



  • Hilton Carter - interior designer and the author of “Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants”