The Office Jungle

The Office Jungle

A lot of us spend half of our waking hours in an office—often an office with drab walls and colourless furniture that creates claustrophobia. I always feel much more comfortable in an office that has a few plants in it. The simple beauty of plants is more than enough justification to fill the office with them.

Due to the nature of most working environments, plants in the office will almost always be grown in containers. Indoor container gardening requires procedures and planning a little different than regular outdoor gardening; for the best results, there are a few simple points to keep in mind.

First, choose containers that will match the office decor. Colour, shape, and size should complement, not compete with, other elements of the office design. Ceramic pots are an attractive choice; they’ll be at home in most office environments. Plastic is lightweight, durable,
and retains water well, but often the selection of styles and colours is somewhat limited.

Anything grown in containers should be planted in potting soil, not regular garden soil. Ordinary soil gets packed solid in containers, which can choke roots; potting soil is looser, giving roots room to breathe. Since potting soil is actually a soilless mix, it’s free of most soil-borne diseases common to garden soil.

Careful attention needs to be paid to the feeding and watering of office foliage. Most indoor plants like a dose of 20-20-20 fertilizer once every two weeks during the growing season. During periods of slow growth or dormancy, fertilize at 1/2 rate every two to four weeks. At
Hole’s we often feed plants with Nature's Source 10-5-3.

Transplanted potted plants should be started off with 10-52-10 at a low concentration of 2.5 ml per litre of water, repeated every two weeks for up to one month. The high phosphorus content (represented by the middle number in 10-52-10) is important for root development.

Different plants have different watering requirements; check with your garden centre when you buy the plants to find out the particulars. In general, the most important thing to remember is to prevent the plants from drying out. Consistent watering is much better for the plant than droughts followed by overwatering. For most indoor plants, wait until the soil surface is dry; then water thoroughly, enough so that the excess starts to flow out of the pot’s drain holes. On a related note, most indoor plants require high humidity. If the office is dry, pots should be placed in water-filled trays that have a layer of pebbles for the pot to rest on. (This prevents the water from entering through the pot’s drainage holes and saturating the soil.) The water from the tray will evaporate over time and raise the humidity level of the area around the plant.

Indoor plants are often prone to attack from insect pests. To combat this, you may have to spray with insecticidal soap every so often.Plants should be checked regularly for bugs to prevent them from being overwhelmed. Plants with smooth foliage should be syringed or gently rinsed once a month to get rid of dust and grime; buildup of these materials can inhibit plant respiration. Larger plants with sturdy leaves can be wiped with a damp cloth or sponge. For stubborn dust, try a very weak tea solution; it will keep the foliage nice and shiny.

It’s important to choose the right spots for your plants. All plants need some sunlight, even if it’s indirect; try giving them spots near windows, or be prepared to supplement natural light with grow lights. If you use hanging baskets, avoid spots where they could interfere with foot traffic or access to supplies. Plants should never be placed to close to machines like computers or photocopiers; these devices give out heat that dries out plants very quickly. There’s also some danger to the machines; it’s not difficult to imagine spilling some water or fertilizer into a delicate piece of office equipment while tending to the plants. Drafty spots need to be avoided, too; air movement will dry out plants, so avoid spots next to air conditioners or fans.

Probably the most important decision you have to make is what to plant. Are you more interested in bright splashes of colour, or low maintenance? You might not have a good deal of time to invest in your office garden—in that case, look at choosing low-maintenance plants like cacti. You might even want to grow a few herbs to add some zing to those bag lunches or microwaveable soups.

Before you buy any plants for the office, do a survey of your coworkers to discover their preferences—some might have allergies, so this too must be taken into consideration. It’s also a good idea to know who will be responsible for the plants; indoor plants need consistent, regular care. Watering, fertilizing, checking for insects—none of these tasks can be ignored while the primary caregiver is on a two-week vacation, so it might be necessary to select only low-maintenance plants.

Whether you choose a simple cactus or an indoor palm, a single pot or a dozen, plants bring a touch of nature to the office that makes work a lot less stressful.

Office Plant Varieties

There are a staggering number of plants suitable for office use. Here’s a breakdown of some of the popular varieties.

Plants for low maintenance • For offices on the go, there are several choices • cacti, Sansevieria (Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law’s tongue), spider plants, Bromeliads, Aspidstra (Cast Iron Plant, Barroom Plant), and succulents (aloe, jade plant, burro’s tail) are but a few. Plants in terrarriums require very little maintenance after the initial setup; terrarriums may be the best choice of all for some hectic offices.

Plants for fragrance • Jasmine, Gardenia, and Stephanotis all have lovely fragrances, but they require careful attention; if you must have fragrance in the office, be prepared to spend some extra time looking after them.
Plants for colour • Poinsettias, Crotons, and Pot mums all add bright splashes of colour to the office.
Plants for low light levels • For spaces that receive no direct sunlight or are more than 3 metres away from windows or skylights, there are a number of tropical plants that can adapt to this kind of environment. Asparagus fern, Aspidistra, Chinese evergreen, Kentia Palm, Neanthe Bella Palm, Peace Lily, and Sansevieria are all good choices.
Non-tropicals • Herbs are great for flavouring, and they also make attractive greenery. Make sure they’re placed in an area with plenty of light.
Holiday plants • Easter lilies and poinsettias are lovely additions to the office, and can be enjoyed for longer than just the duration of the holidays. Easter lilies only last three or four weeks, but properly maintained poinsettias bought in December are known to provide colourful leaves until May.
Plants for desktops • African Violets are perfect for desktops—they’re small, easy to care for, and grow well under artificial light.