Amid all the questions and a little bit of chaos that the COVID-19 pandemic caused this past year, bringing a little bit of nature indoors was one way people decided to take on the challenges.

Javier Valdes' apartment is full of plants — about 20 of them, to be exact. He has a little bit of everything: bird of paradise, fiddle leaf figs, monsteras, snake plants, prayer plants, a cactus, some succulents and a pothos.

His love of plants started three years ago when he was gifted a snake plant from a coworker and his goal was to keep it alive. Today, he has green in different areas of his apartment, and he's done his homework to keep them growing.

"I initially saw plants as a way to add some life to a dull space. But since the pandemic started, I found myself doing research into different ways that would help my plant thrive," Valdes explained. "I started setting humidifiers for some, and misting the leaves of others. Now it almost feels like an enjoyable part-time job."

Local plant store owners have also noticed interest skyrocket this past year.

Amanda Klawitter, House of Flowers co-owner, said repeat customers, as well as people just starting out with their green thumbs, have stopped by her store, looking for the right plant to take home. She believes a heightened appreciation for nature and people's need to care for living things are some of the factors that may have led to the plant boom.

"I think especially during COVID times people are looking for ways to care for themselves, and in a way...a lot of times we learn how to care for ourselves by caring for other living things," Klawitter said. "Houseplants are a great way to do that, we’re giving them sun and water, and it’s been a sense of therapy for a lot of people."

House of Flowers, located on 19th Street, has a variety of plants available, from small succulents and cacti to large trees. Customers who walk in are surrounded by green, living things, which in turn makes them "feel relaxed and good vibrations," explained Klawitter.

The foot traffic at White Oaks Florist on Rosedale Highway has also increased both in-person and through online orders and deliveries. Owner Jami Graham has always had houseplants in her life — she grew up in a household that had a lot of greenery, she sends pictures of new plants to her mother and daughter and her own home has a sort of "jungle feel" to it — and she said it's exciting to see other people get more into them.

She's noticed three types of customers in the last year: a younger crowd that wants to watch a baby plant grow; shoppers who are looking for rare houseplants; and people who want to bring organic and natural elements into their homes. No matter what they're shopping for, it's clear they're ready to decorate with various shades of green.

"Walking into a home without a live plant feels like there’s something missing. It adds life," Graham said. "What’s fun with this trend is it’s fun to educate people. I never knew people had a fear of plants, but they're showing more interest and want to learn more."

The two business owners say many people are afraid they're going to kill their plants, which is why they have often steered away from them. However, they believe those individuals are missing out on several benefits plants offer. 

According to WebMD, researchers found that rooms with plants have less dust and mold than rooms without any foliage, which helps allergy sufferers. Leaves and other parts of the plant act as natural filters to catch allergens and other airborne particles. Many plants also have healing properties, such as gel from aloe vera plants which soothes sunburns, and herbs such as mint may help tamp down bloating, gas and other problems after eating, according to WebMD.

Houseplants may also help boost mental health, which could be another reason why people turned to them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a hobby, it keeps people busy — which comes in handy after so few entertainment options in the past year — and it can bring joy to see new leaves open up, leading to a sense of pride among plant caretakers.

"There is this sense of responsibility that I feel to my plants," said Valdes. "I live on my own so it feels nice to have something to care for."

"I truly feel like it brings happiness: to be able to nurture something and watch it grow. I know even for me and my houseplants, on Sunday mornings, taking my watering can around the house, it’s very therapeutic," agreed Graham. 

For those ready to take the plant plunge, House of Flowers, White Oaks Florists and other local shops and nurseries have everything someone might need to succeed. A variety of pothos, succulents, cacti, hoyas, ferns, ficus, dracaena and philodendrons are just some of the plants available in stores. Pots can also be purchased to accessorize and bring in more color to a space, and books dedicated to plant caretaking are there to help as well. 

Klawitter and Graham also provide tips and advice to anyone who comes into their stores. They can diagnose a plant that doesn't seem to be thriving, and even help with repotting.

The two main factors plant owners need to consider are light and water. Most houseplants will be happy near a window. When it comes to watering, most people overwater, which is why yellow leaves appear. More often than not, it's best to let soil dry out completely before watering. 

Klawitter added it's important to remember that it's OK if a houseplant dies because you'll end up learning something from the experience — whether you overwatered, didn't provide enough sunlight, etc.

"It happens to a lot of people, I kill a lot of plants," she said, laughing. "It’s only a failure if you quit and don’t take what you learn."

Plant enthusiasts hope the trend seen recently continues for years to come. The benefits, fun of discovering new greenery and bringing natural elements into their home has delighted them, and they hope more people discover all the good that awaits them with a bit of green.

"The more plants the better for me," said Graham. "There’s never enough green in my house."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.