It's almost winter, the leaves are gone from the trees, the air outside is nippy (or downright cold), and it's 4:30 and already dark in your office, save for the buzzing fluorescent lights. It's all a little ... depressing. Besides doing your best to get as much natural sunlight as you can, you can cheer your cubicle up for less than 10 bucks with a friendly, growing plant.
A significant bonus to growing plants in your office is that they will help keep the air clean (and make it smell fresher, in my opinion); NASA has even compiled a list of the plants that are the best at removing toxins from indoor air. And plants give you yet another excuse to get up and take a break (for watering, or occasional trimming), and breaks are proven to make you a more productive worker — some evidence has even been found that plants themselves contribute to higher productivity.
But let's start with just one plant, shall we? If this is your first foray into office plants, you can choose from some of the easy-care greenery below, but one thing goes for all of these plants — don't overwater them. There's an easy way to determine whether you are doing this or not. Is the soil in your pot dry to the touch? If so, go ahead and water it. If it is wet, or even damp, wait until it's dry. Not bone-dry, but obviously dry to the touch. That's it! (Your plant will tell you if you are overwatering when you see yellow leaves and a notice mold growing on the soil — something to be avoided.) So, onto the fun part! Which plant will keep you company while you work?
Oxalis is hands-down, my favorite office plant. You can find them with leaves of all colors, but the deep purple ones are really unusual and attractive. When they are happy, Oxalis will almost always have a mass of little white or pink flowers waving around over the leaves, and the clover-like leaves fold up at night (which is a good reminder to go home already!).
Jade plants are a succulent that does well in low-light. They have pretty, plump, shiny leaves and a sort-of minimalist aspect to them as they grow. Jade plants won't drape over the sides of your pot, so they are one plant that should be put in something pretty down below, because it will be visible. They do find in moderate light (including just office lights).
Umbrella plants are so hard to kill that I found mine in someone's trash can, took it home, trimmed it, watered it and seven years later, it's threatening to take over my dining room. They do need some light, but not much, and they need to be regularly watered, but I don't think I've ever fed mine any kind of fertilizer, ever — they're that hardy. Their leaves form umbrella-like shapes and there's something quite sweet and modest about them. They don't flower, and need some light.
Peace lilies aren't like the lilies you see at funerals, and while they do bloom, their flowers are just modified leaves (which means that they last for longer than regular flowers do). Peace lilies grow well with just the light from overhead bulbs, once-a-week watering, and not much else.
Bamboo is a literal no-brainer; just plop a stick of the stuff in some water, keep the water level up, and let it go — it will grow happily under regular office lights. They eventually wear out growing in water, but it can take years, and if you end up wanting to keep it, you can then put it in soil. Be careful disposing of bamboo, since it is an invasive species, so don't plant it outside unless you want to wake up one morning to find it has overtaken your backyard.
English ivy is another invasive species, so don't chuck it in the backyard or the woods behind the office if you don't want it anymore, because it will displace native plants. But because it is so hardy, it is an ideal office plant, and will grow long, pretty tendrils of leaves that you can 'train' in various directions (on a trellis, along the top of a cubicle divider, or let them drape down over the desk edge).
Ficus trees (sometimes called fig trees as they are a variety of fig), aren't always trees, though you can buy them a few feet tall if you have that kind of space. But they come in houseplant size and take some time to grow, so they can work well for an office space. Ficus hate to be moved and don't like changing light conditions, so be aware that they will drop their leaves if disturbed too much (though they will quickly recover, and it's not that big a deal for the plant's overall health). Be sure they are well-watered and they can be a pretty addition to an office and are great air filters, removing toxic chemicals from the air, so well worth the extra effort.
Ferns like to grow on forest floors, where light is limited, so they can do well in offices with lower-light situations. Look for Boston ferns, though lady hair ferns are very pretty and delicate if you are looking for something out of the ordinary.
Philodendrons are the plant most commonly found in offices, according to my personal experience, and that's because they're easy to care for, hardy and have glossy, bright green leaves. Like English ivy, they will grow up a trellis, up a hanger, or along a shelf, and they do well even in areas they get little light at all. Plus they are great formaldehyde-cleansers, which is a common ingredient found in industrial cleaning supplies.
Aloe vera plants are perfect for offices that have plenty of sun (so if you have access to a window, it's a fun choice). You can slowly use the gel from inside the leaves of the plant to moisturize dry hands or calm burns. Or you can just enjoy the leaves for their sculptural, visual appeal.
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