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Houseplants 101 with the help of USask Grounds Manager Gift Marufu

As the weather warms up, it can be even harder to be away from our beautiful campus. University of Saskatchewan grounds manager, Gift Marufu, shares some information about the care and benefits of houseplants so you can recreate some of our beautiful campus inside your own home.

From watching his parents propagate their own fruit trees, to being responsible for over 12,000 trees at University of Saskatchewan (USask), Marufu’s passion has led to extensive experience and education in plant care.

While houseplants are aesthetically pleasing, they also offer a lot of benefits. People who include houseplants in their environment have been found to be more optimistic and more productive than those without. By removing carbon dioxide from the air and producing oxygen, houseplants help improve the air quality in your home. Certain plants also have unique benefits, such as the medicinal benefits of aloe vera or the therapeutic aroma of mint.

The routine of taking care of houseplants has been found to sharpen people’s attention and reduce stress levels. Whenever Marufu is stressed out at work, he heads to the greenhouse to be with the plants. “Before I know it, my stress levels are down. Focusing on the plants, noticing changes, it moves me away from stress related problems.”

Whether you’re looking to get your first houseplant or are struggling with ones you already have, Marufu has some tips.

  • Look at the tag. Do a little research about the plant to get an idea of what kind of care it needs. Many houseplants are native to tropical regions, and will thrive in similar conditions.

  • Pay attention to the soil. While competing his Master of Science at USask in 2010, Marufu focused on the importance of the relationship between plant and soil. “What you see on the plant is just a manifestation of some problem that’s already happened in the soil” Marufu explains. By gently fluffing up the top inch of soil with a stick or fork, the roots will have better aeration. Marufu also suggests replacing the soil every few months.

  • Don’t overwater. Just like the leaves, roots also need to absorb air. Overwatering can drown the roots, preventing them from taking in oxygen and other nutrients in the soil. The excess moisture will also make your soil more susceptible to fungal diseases. One way to check if you’ve overwatered is to grab some soil from the pot and squeeze. If water starts dripping, you’ve overwatered.

  • Prune your plants. Leaving dead leaves on the plant or in the pot creates favourable conditions for pests, who will feed on the decaying material and start to reproduce.

Some plants are easier to care for than others. If you’re unsure where to start, consider one of Marufu’s recommendations:

  • Canary ivy
  • Pothos
  • Oxalis
  • Geranium
  • ZZ Plant
  • Coleus
  • Orchids
  • Aloe
  • Snake plant
  • Kalanchoe (one of Marufu’s personal favourites)

If you have any questions, or if you know of any new and challenging plants, Marufu encourages people to reach out.  When it comes to plants, there is always something new to learn.

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