Thinking about cheering up your office space with some greenery? A well chosen office plant can make life at work less dull, and improve your health too. Good office plants are plants that don't need too much sunlight, clean the air of pollutants and are able to survive accidental overwatering or periods of neglectance. Ideally, office plants should require little care. After all, you're supposed to work in your office, not look after plants, don't you?
Things to consider before choosing a plant.
How much light does your office get?
Some plants like to stand in full sunlight all day, others only need occasional periods of direct sunlight while some only need indirect sunlight and are best kept in the shade. How much light does your office get? How far is your desk located from any windows? Are the windows shaded? Try to pay attention to how much natural sunlight reaches your desk during the course of a day. If you're not sure, go with plants that require little light.
What about artificial light? Light produced by bulbs or tubes has less energy compared to natural sunlight. However, fluorescent lights may provide just enough energy for some plants to grow. Also, artificial light may support plants placed in a dark corner. Just keep in mind that if your office keeps the lights on at night for the cleaning crew, your plant will receive more energy and will therefor require a bit more water and fertilizer than usual.
How is the air quality in your office?
Plants love fresh air but should never be placed in a draft. Many plants can also improve the air quality by adding oxygen and removing airborne pollutants. Common pollutants found in an office are benzene (from glue, paint or plastic), formaldehyde (in some office furniture), and trichloroethylene or TCE (from printer ink).
Lots of popular indoor plants originate from tropical regions and grow better in humid air. Unfortunately, the terms "humidity" and "office" don't get along very well. You can solve this by occasionally spraying the leaves with water. Make sure you there aren't any important papers or electronics lying around the pot when you do this.
How much space do you want to assign to the plant?
Your office space may be limited so you should take into consideration how much space you want to dedicate to your plant. If your plant is happy it will grow and sometimes simply grow too large. It's best to either choose a slow growing plant or one that can easily be cut down when becoming too big.
What do your colleagues think of plants?
Are some of your colleagues allergic to certain pollen or seeds? Is there somebody in your office suffering from asthma? Usually, indoor plants kept under low light conditions hardly ever flower but if you keep them warm enough and near a window they probably will. A second important thing to consider is whether your colleagues will water your plants when you're out on a holiday? Can they reliably take care of them? Nothing hurts as much as coming back from holidays to find your lovely plant dead.
Easy office plants I have some personal experience with.
The Spider Plant is a shrub native to South Africa. This is really the perfect beginners plant. It grows easily and is very tolerant to abuse. The leaves are long, slender, either green-yellow or green-white in color, and grow in small rosettes. The plant forms long branches (stolons). At the end of these branches appear either small white flowers or new plants. These new plants can be cut from the stolon to create a new individual plant.
The Spider Plant is able to live under a wide range of conditions. It only needs moderate watering and should never be kept standing in a pool of water for too long. If the tips of the leaves become brown it's usually because there is too much water standing in the pot or the air humidity is too low. You can solve the latter by spraying the plant regularly. Occasionally, you should apply some fertilizer (every couple of months) or add fresh soil (once a year). This plant is known to remove formaldehyde from the air.
The Peace Lily is a tropical plant from southeast Asia and the Americas. Some species are also known as "Spath". The plants are evergreen with large leaves (about 10 to 60 cm long and 3 to 20 cm wide). They occasionally produce large white lily-like flowers. This plant doesn't need a lot of light but requires a bit more water to survive. It loves a moist soil, moist air, and hot temperatures. You should never let the soil become completely dry. Nevertheless, I find these plants rather easy to keep in the office. You can "see" when it needs water: the leafs will start hanging down. The Peace Lily can easily be cut when growing too large. Just make sure you don't cut the roots. If you want this plant to continue growing, it will need a larger pot and some new soil once a year.
The Peace Lily is able to clean the surrounding air of many contaminants, including benzene and TCE. It is toxic when ingested.
Yucca are a large group of shrubs and trees of the Agave family. Yucca elephantipes is one species of tree which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. This plant has a thick brown wooden trunk with long, slender leaves on top. The leaves can be either green or blueish-green. This plant should have more light, compared to our previous examples, but requires less water. The soil should never be wet for too long but if you keep it too dry, the leaves will become brown. This plant will need more water in summer. Occasionally spraying the leaves is good. This plant doesn't like a lot of fertilizer.
If you keep Yucca elephantipes away from the window it will grow towards it and the trunk may need support or it'll fall over. You can compensate this problem by turning the pot so the plant is forced to grow in the opposite direction. However, Yucca can become 2 meters high and at some point it will just become too large to handle. You can saw off the trunk and it will grow new leaves and new branches. You can also keep the sawn-off part alive by putting it in a glass of water where it will grow new roots. This way, you can both multiply your plant and reduce its size.