Office plants don’t get an easy ride. Typically put in the workplace to brighten things up, their location is usually determined by aesthetic considerations rather than what’s good for the plant. Once in position, they tend to be left to their own devices and are given the minimum of attention. To be frank, many office workers find it a bit of a hassle to have a plant to look after. But are we missing a trick? Should we give our office plants some TLC in return for some real, tangible benefits?
Experts agree that a houseplant that has been chosen with care and is being treated with just a little bit of respect has the ability to transform our homes and offices in a world where we now spend about 90% of our day indoors.
Are you aware of the concept of a ‘personal breathing zone’? It’s a bit smaller than your personal space, the roughly 1.5 metres of physical space that immediately surrounds you and into which encroachment can feel uncomfortable. According to studies carried out by NASA, if you place the right plant in or near your personal breathing zone, it can contribute to your health by providing fresh air and additional humidity, while filtering toxic gases, chemicals and other pollutants from the air.
NASA’s research identified a long list of air purifying houseplants that includes office favourites such as the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica), Aloe Vera and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’). In a modern office environment with often hermetically sealed buildings, these should be important considerations.
In addition to the scientific health benefits that indoor plants can provide, they can also improve our happiness. Personalise your workspace and add a Swiss Cheese Plant or an Aspidistra and, already, it’s a much nicer place to spend 8 hours every day. The well-known consequence is that more contented staff are going to be more productive – up to 20%, apparently. What’s more, research has shown that the right indoor plants in the right place and in sufficient numbers can also reduce a building’s energy requirement by up to 15%.
Choosing The Right Office Plant
Plants are living things, with their own diverse needs for being able to grow and thrive. The trick to choosing the right office plant is to match the plant’s needs with the correct environment.
Temperature: Most indoor plants originally come from tropical or subtropical climates and are happiest in a steady temperature of 18-24 degrees Celsius, though many will tolerate slightly cooler environments too. Avoid placing plants such as Kentia Palm, Peace Lily or Chinese Evergreen next to windows, doors, radiators or heating vents where temperatures are more likely to fluctuate and draughts may be present.
Light: Light requirements will also vary depending on the particular species. Other than cacti and succulents, few like constant direct sunlight. Similarly, with very few exceptions – the elephant-eared, vine-like Philodendron domesticum or the red/green Philodendron erubescens come to mind – will any office plant thrive in full shade. The best light conditions are semi-sun or semi-shade, with sufficient watering and regular misting.
Water: To check if a plant has been adequately watered, lift the pot to see if it is heavy (but not dripping wet). Overwatering should be avoided – use a container with drainage holes and wait until the compost is barely moist to the touch before rewatering. Water more during the growing season (spring/summer) and add a regular liquid feed too.
Pest control: An occasional wipe of the leaves with a damp cloth keeps the microscopic pores on the surface of the leaves clear and reduces pest attack from mealy bugs, scale insects etc. If your plant does show signs of infestation, use a home made spray made from a teaspoon of vegetable oil, a drop of washing up liquid and 100 ml of warm water, or spot treat the affected area with a cotton bud dipped in surgical spirit.
Top 3 Recommendations For Office Plants
The Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana) is one of the most popular and robust indoor plants. It doesn’t need much care and will tolerate minor neglect and extreme temperatures as long as it is kept away from radiators and out of direct sunlight. The Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) is another office favourite. A native of Madagascar, it’s a tough indoor plant that will tolerate dry air and semi-shade. The Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) is an all time favourite that can make quite an impact. Be careful not to move it any more than necessary – it will drop its leaves until it adjusts to the new location.