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The Ultimate Guide to Office Plants

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It’s no secret that having a little greenery around your workspace is good for your health. In a 2014 study conducted by scientists in the UK and Netherlands, researchers found that employees in offices with plants consistently reported a higher level of satisfaction than those in offices without plants. Investing in a potted friend for your desktop is cheap way to practice self-care and prioritize your productivity at the same time.

Besides filtering toxins out of the air (the first four plants on this list are actually known for their air filtration properties), having plants around has been shown to increase creativity and concentration, and all the ones on this list require little day-to-day maintenance.

Now before you head to your local garden store and buy everything in sight (or, maybe that’s just a problem I have), let’s go down this brief checklist for success, courtesy of florist Kathleen Rader of locally-sourced Honeysuckle BK.

  • Do a light check. Each plant requires different light conditions (though none on this list require very much). Make a note of how much light your workspace gets before you invest.
  • Ask about adoption. Check with your friends and neighbors to see if anyone has a bud or shoot they wouldn’t mind letting you adopt to start your own collection. (Some plants, like Pothos, can be started just from cuttings in water. They look adorable in those trendy hanging terrarium planters, and will grow with only water and sun.)
  • Start with a strong foundation. Drainage is crucial for most of the plants on this list, so pots with drainage holes or very careful watering combined with rocks in the bottom of the planter are ideal.
  • Don’t go overboard. If you’ve been burned before with being a plant parent, start slow and just try one or two of the most self-sufficient succulents.Take a note from the plants and grow your collection at your own pace.

Philodendron

Cost: $13 at Lowes
Water: Wait for the top inch of the soil to dry between waterings (use your finger to check!)
Light: Place in a bright room, but not in direct light.

With big, oval leaves and elegant stalks, Philodendron plants aren’t just air purifiers, they’re stylish additions to any workspace or home. There are multiple variations of this plant family, so you can choose whichever style most speaks to you. I suggest the Heartleaf for something sweet, or the Xanadu for something more adventurous.

ZZ Plant

Cost: $12 on Amazon
Water: Only water when the soil dries out. Seriously, this one can survive without water for a long time.
Light: Very little needed. Does well under fluorescent light—so it’s perfect for jazzing up that cubicle.

The ZZ plant has a reputation for being steadfast (it’s also known at the “eternity plant”): “I haven’t watered mine in two months and it’s bounced back. These are so hard to kill and they can grow extremely fast when they are happy—but the growth comes in fits and spurts. I’ll see no growth for what feels like a year and then I turn around and they’re suddenly 4 inches taller. They like their roots to be nice and cozy, so keep the planter small and repot every year or when it becomes root-bound,” Rader says.

Spider Plant

Cost: $3 from Amazon
Water: Often enough to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Especially if plant is kept in direct sunlight.
Light: Indirect light is best.

The spider plant is great for hanging with its tendrils cascading out of the pot if you want to break out of the planter. These are self-propagating and put off little plantlets that can be rooted in water or soil to start a new plant, Rader says, so share the love with a desk mate or friend.

Snake Plant

Cost: $9 on Amazon
Water: Let the soil dry between waterings and reduce to monthly waterings during the winter.
Light: Indirect, bright light. They can adapt to being in direct light.

NASA actually ran experiments on how effectively this plant (among others) purifies the air of organic toxins. This plant grows rapidly and is very sturdy. If you’re concerned about the air quality in your workspace or office, invest in one of these and breathe easy.

Succulents

A note about succulents: These plants need to feel like they’re in the desert, Radner says. For best results, they need quick-draining soil and drainage holes in their pots. “When you water them, think desert rain. So soak them, and then let them dry out,” she says. Open, well-drained sandy soil is best, and you can mix of one part potting soil and one part coarse sand. To test if it’s porous enough, moisten the mixture and squeeze it in your hand. On release, the soil should fall apart.

Aloe Vera

Cost: $9 at Home Depot
Water: Allow soil to dry between waterings. Test the dryness of the soil by inserting your finger to the knuckle to make sure the plant is dry before watering. Water monthly in the winter.
Light: Indirect light is best.

New to the succulent game? Start with Aloe. These plants are sturdy and will grow like no one’s business if you just water them periodically and keep them out of the direct sun. Buy this plant if you like the calming green hues of the shoots and want to invest in a practical companion. Aloe has healing properties and can also be used to calm sunburnt skin, among other burns.

Bunny-Ear Cactus

Cost: $8 on Etsy
Water: Water regularly during first season, when the soil is dry and drained. Do not water during the winter. After the first season, water sporadically. Never let it get soggy.
Light: Keep it in the sun—except during the winter, when it should be moved to a more shaded area out of direct light.

You can break the pads off these plants and replant them in a new pot—how cool is that? Use caution when handling though, as this plant does produce prickles that can bite. This cactus is perfect for someone interested in a low-maintenance plant with a unique shape.

Golden Pincushion Cactus

Cost: $9 on Etsy
Water: Allow soil to drain completely between waterings.
Light: Can keep in direct light, or low light.

Cute, round, and sturdy, these plants are perfect for a first-time gardener, or for someone looking for a more subtle presence in their workspace. After you get confident in your gardening skills, you can take some of the shoots from the Pincushion and start another pot, perhaps with other succulents as well.

Imbritica Blue Rose

Cost: $9 on Etsy
Water: Water thoroughly (let the water drain to the bottom, then repeat) and then don’t water again till the soil is totally dry.
Light: Indirect, bright light. Just keep the light consistent, no drastic changes.

The Imbritica Blue Rose is an Echeveria plant, and is often thought of as the most beautiful of the succulent family because of their rose shape and greenish-blue tones. They play nice with other succulents, so invest in a Blue Rose if you have dreams of expanding your indoor garden down the line.

Donkey-Tail Sedum

Cost: $23 on Etsy
Water: Wait for the soil to dry completely between waterings.
Light: You can introduce it to full, bright light, or keep it in low light. Consistency is key.

Donkey-tail Sedums are succulents that are perfect for keeping in a hanging basket, since they grow in ‘tails’ downward. Sturdy and fairly common in warmer climates, they also grow fast depending on how much you water them, and need to be separated into new baskets every few years. If you’re feeling confident, ask if anyone is looking to get rid of a few shoots and start your own basket!

The Challenge Option: Orchids

Cost: $11 at Home Depot
Water: Let dry out in-between waterings. Mist periodically to keep moist.
Light: Consistent, filtered light (through a sheer curtain or frosted window pane) is best. Bright, indirect light like this keeps orchids alive longer.

Orchids are a little more fragile than the other plants on this list, but some of us can’t resist a challenge. They don’t like to get too cold or too hot, so be careful of radiators and drafty windows in winter, Radner says. They also like humidity, so you might need to occasionally mist them with a spray bottle. Blooms can last for weeks or months. After the blooms drop, they need to be cut back to either the point of emergence from the soil, or behind the first blooms, depending on species. For soil, make sure it’s a specialized orchid medium containing small bark pieces that allow for good drainage.

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