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Charleston area residents increase house plant supply amid pandemic

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People like a little greenery around them. And they like to embellish their cooking with fresh herbs. So city dwellers often place potted plants inside their homes.

An increase in at-home gardens during the pandemic to grow food has coincided with a growth in the embrace of more potted plants inside.

Indoor plants have environmental benefits, such as improving air quality. Buying them supports local plant shops and organizations that are suffering financially during the pandemic.

Plant sharing has become a source of joy during the ongoing crisis as well.

North Charleston resident Rachael James owns more than 100 plants that fill her two-story house in Park Circle. She's recently added at least 20 to the collection, and she has given out roughly 30 propagated plants to area residents looking to pick up the hobby.

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Rachael James waters a potted plant in her outside patio Thursday, May 14, 2020, in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

James, who operates an online business and whose husband works in health care, said the financial impact of the crisis on her family was minimal. She saw this as an opportunity to help others. By purchasing plants to give away, she could support local garden businesses while also offering some sense of hope for neighbors.

“I just wanted to give back," she said. "We have to be in this together or none of us are going to get out of it.”

Studies have shown plants can improve air quality. James' recent additions, including snake, monstera and pothos plants, were bought for that purpose as her family spends more time at home.

Caring for the living organisms also teaches important life skills and helps raises levels of environmental consciousness.

Nicole Christopher Houston, who owns about 30 plants, said caring for them has taught her the importance of patience and it's important for people to care for something "other than yourself."

The hobby also has led her to change habits to better help the planet, such as refusing to use pesticides, cutting down on purchases of plastic products and buying local foods.

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Rachael James gardens in her backyard in North Charleston on Thursday, May 14, 2020, in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

"It makes you think of the choices you're making," she said.

For some, the plants hold sentimental value. The memory of Houston's late grandmother, who owned a greenhouse, lives on through a decades-old pothos. 

While Houston hasn't added any new plants to her collection, she's given nearly 50 seedings to others looking to get into the hobby. Additionally, she and her family have kept busy at home with do-it-yourself projects, such as a small garden box hanging on the porch. It was constructed using wood from a 100-year-old barn in Tennessee, where her husband was raised.

“It’s a big deal to us because we don’t really build things," she said.

Charleston area plant organizations impacted by virus-related cancellations have made adjustments to stay afloat.

The Charleston Horticultural Society canceled its Plantasia event, its biggest fundraising initiative each year slated for late March or early April. To supplement the loss, the group began offering weekly call-in plant sales. In its initial week, the CHS sold about 100 plants. In the sixth week, the society sold nearly 300 in three hours.

"The most important thing for us is providing that service," said Kyle Barnette, the society's executive director.

Barnette also offered some tips for first-time plant caretakers.

He said people should try to keep indoor plants' soil moist but not too wet, noting in-house plants retain water better than outdoor shrubs. Misting the leaves, not just the top of the plant, is important as well.

Owners should pay attention to the instructions accompanying the product, as it contains important information, such as light requirements.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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