#6 Aloe Vera
This succulent is a real desktop survivor with a striking appearance. It is very low maintenance, although does prefer a location with good natural light.
Although they have a reputation for removing airborne pollutants, studies are unclear. NASA studies have highlighted other plants that perform far better.
However, this plant does have another use. The gel found in the leaves has been used to heal burns and other skin conditions. Helpful for coffee accidents perhaps?
Pet owner Alert – Toxic to dogs & cats
Partial Sun. The more access to sunlight you can provide the better. Avoid direct sunlight though. Branches will grow towards sunlight, so rotate as necessary. If leaves are not growing upwards, it may not be receiving enough sunlight
Although they prefer warmer temperatures 21°C/70°F – 26°C/80°F) , they get on just fine in typical office temperatures. Does not like extremes so avoid doorways and air-con outlets
Does not require frequent watering. Allow the top 1-2″ (2-4 cm) of soil to dry out before ensuring the soil is fully soaked and fully drained
Fertilizer is not required for an indoor Aloe Vera plant
Prefers soil that drains well. If the water is not draining though well enough, consider repotting using a soil mixed with perlite [or soil sold as suitable for cacti]
May need potting-up every couple of years if you want it to grow larger [if you want it to stay desk-sized, don’t pot up]. Can produce new shoots which can be removed and even potted for new plants. Removing them will help the mother plant grow better.
#7 Janet Craig Dracaena
Another top performer from early NASA studies. This popular houseplant is from the Dracaena family, which produces a number of great office plants. Janet Craig requires little attention, but prefers a bit more sunlight than some plants.
Other Dracaena to look out for are Dracaena Michiko, which grows upwards in a tight formation making it ideal for desks. Plus, the aptly named Janet Craig ‘Compacta’.
Partial Sun. Likes plenty of filtered light, but avoid direct sunlight. Lower light conditions will inhibit growth, which may be helpful as this plant can grow very tall.
Happy at normal room temperatures, but does not like extremes. Avoid doorways and air-con outlets.
Does not require frequent watering. Allow the top half of soil to dry out first. Tap water is normally ok, but if brown leaves start to appear this may mean there is too much fluoride in the water. Try distilled water instead
Use a balanced [15-15-15], diluted houseplant fertilizer [50% of recommended dosage]. Feed a couple of times per year, during spring and summer
Can grow tall and will likely benefit from a good pruning in spring. You can cut the cane too and new shoots will spring up at the cut point.
No special soil required. Does not mind a root bound pot, so potting-up is only required every 2-3 years, and only if you want it to grow taller.
#8 Golden Pothos (Devil’s Ivy)
This popular plant is ideal for desks and anyone with brown thumbs. It earned the name ‘Devil’s Ivy’ due to its near indestructibility. This makes it terrible for back yards but ideal for plant owning newbies. What’s more, it prefers to be out of direct sunlight, making it suitable for poorly-lit offices.
You can even grow the plant in a jar of water, rather than soil. This will look good and remove the need for regular watering.
Partial Sun/Shade. Prefers indirect sunlight and will cope with lower light conditions.
Leaf color is affected by light:
- not enough light and any color markings (variegated) may disappear, although you should still have a leafy, green plant
- too much sun and the leaves may turn yellow
Comfortable at a wide range of temperatures (60-85 ºF ;15-29 ºC), making it perfect for indoor growing
Does not require frequent watering but, unlike many plants, it is not recommended to fully soak the soil, but simply apply water around the edges. Check the soil, if it is feeling dry on the surface, apply water
They can go long periods without feeding, although for an extra healthy plant a balanced (15-15-15), water-soluble houseplant fertilizer can be applied monthly during its growth season (spring-summer)
Prefers soil that drains well. Will usually cope well in the soil it was sold in
They grow well in small pots, so potting-up is not required
Trimming unattractive or discoloured leaves will help maintain the aesthetic appeal and control excessive growth
#9 Chinese Evergreen
Another variegated plant with NASA recognized air-cleaning properties. You need to make sure they’re planted in well-draining soil, but otherwise they are very forgiving plants that tolerate lower light conditions. If well cared for, they may even produce lily-like flowers
Pet owner Alert – Toxic for pets
Shade. A real low-light stalwart, suitable for just about any location indoors but best kept out of direct sunlight. A great choice for dark and dingy corners
Prefers temperatures no lower than 16 °C (60 °F) and thrives at standard room temperature 21-22 °C (70-72 °F)
Does not require frequent watering. Allow the top 2-3 cm of soil to dry out before ensuring the soil is fully soaked and fully drained
A balanced (15-15-15), water-soluble fertilizer one or twice a year (spring-summer) will help your Chinese Evergreen stay healthy
Prefers soil that drains well. If yours did not arrive in suitable soil, consider re-potting with a mixture of soil, sand and perlite (equal parts).
Although the leaves can accumulate dust, a quick wipe with damp cloth will spruce them up.
#10 Dragon Tree
Resilient, forgiving and distinctive looking, this is a popular member of the Dracaena family. If you have the space, you can grow multiple stems in the same pot, which looks fantastic. For desktops, a single stem plant will still look good.
You’ll find they grow best in indirect sunlight, although if they have one drawback as a desktop plant it is just how tall they will grow if unchecked. Ruthless pruning may be required…
Pet owner Alert – Poisonous for pets and children
Partial sun. It will cope with lower light conditions, although this may result in less developed foliage. Direct sunlight will ‘bleach’ the leaves.
Thrives at typical room temperatures, with an ideal range between 18°- 24 °C (65°- 75°F).
Does not require frequent watering. Follow the general rule of checking that the top 1-2″ (2-4 cm) of soil is dried out, before ensuring the soil is fully soaked and fully drained
Marginata are notoriously sensitive to fluoride in water, so if the leaves are turning yellow try using distilled water. Be sure to check it is not in direct sunlight, as this could be another factor ‘scorching’ the leaves
Fertilizer is not essential for these hardy plants. However, a small dose of diluted fertilizer (roughly half-strength) will aid growth if applied monthly during the spring and summer months
This plant can grow tall and can easily outgrow a desk. If it’s getting too big, remove a few branches. They will grow back, but it will help keep the height in check. Dead leaves can be plucked or pruned
To maintain height, you can remove the entire foliage top. You’ll have an odd-looking cane for a while, but 2 new shoots will appear fairly quickly
Wiping the leaves with a damp cloth will remove any dust that accumulates
Some plants are temperature-sensitive, but most houseplants cope well with the steady thermostat-controlled temperatures typically found in offices.
Inconsistent temperatures are generally best avoided. Plants should be located away from drafty spots, air-con outlets and overheating PC fans etc. Inconsistent temperatures can cause leaves to drop off and the plant to grow too slowly.
Some plants may prefer a more humid environment, absorbing the moisture to help their growth. Because office air is often dry and warm, humidity can be in short supply. Most plants will actually help increase humidity. However, you may need a few plants before you will really notice an improvement.
Increased humidity can help reduce symptoms associated with dry air; eye and skin irritation, dehydration and even more serious problems such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
A good watering method can really help a plant thrive.
It is well-known that plants need regular watering, but over-watering can kill a plant as surely as under-watering. It’s important to check your plant actually needs watering.
Many plants benefit from drying out a little between watering, so a good rule of thumb is to actually use your thumb (or finger) to prod the soil. If you can feel some dampness in the first 1-2″ (2-4 cm), delay watering. If it’s dry, it’s usually a good time to water. This does not apply to all plants but is good practice for most plants.
When watering, ensure that all the roots are quenched, without leaving them sitting in a rot-inducing puddle.
Another good practice is to water your plant with the following technique:
- Apply water continuously to the entire soil surface until water starts to drain through the bottom hole(s)
- Once watered, allow to drain until the base of the pot is dry – this prevents roots becoming mouldy
- Room temperature tap water is usually fine, although some plants can be sensitive to fluoride commonly found in tap water. This would likely lead to discoloured leaves and droopy branches. Distilled water can be a solution
Some plants will appreciate a misting in the summer months, although it’s rarely essential.
Appropriate, timely feeding can help a plant thrive. Especially once the roots have filled the pot and the soil has been leached of nutrients.
When: Plants get hungry when flowering and growing. Many plants appreciate a feed every 10-14 days from early spring through summer. But many others need feeding less frequently, some preferring a feed just once or twice during their growth season.
How: A diluted, balanced household fertilizer is a safe general fertilizer. Balanced means the key ingredients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) are present in equal measures, indicated by numbers like 15-15-15 or other variations.
Take note of the manufacturer instructions, the strength of the formula can vary significantly. Dilute with clean, room-temperature water.
Err on the cautious side in the early days. Over-fertilizing will harm your plant. Start out with a 50% diluted mixture. You can always feed again in a couple of weeks if needed, but it can take much longer for a plant to recover from over-feeding.
Pruning & maintenance
Common office plants are generally low maintenance. But even so, they may require a bit of floral nip and tuck from time to time.
There are no hard and fast rules about when to trim. It’s up to you to determine when and where. Usually it will depend on the plant, the growing environment (especially light and container) and the size and appearance you’re aiming for.
The only rule is do not prune when your plant is flowering.
Pruning your plant like a bonsai gardener can be relaxing. But if you would rather avoid it, there are plenty of suitable plants that grow slowly and don’t require any pruning.
Also, don’t go crazy pruning everything at once – give your plant a breather to help it regenerate. This will also help you manage new growths into a desirable shape, taking your time to see where it is most needed.
To re-pot or not?
Re-potting: changing the soil/container….Potting-up: moving to a larger growing medium
Neither of these needs may be something you want to do for a simple office plants. The good news is, many houseplants will grow well without ever being re-homed.
But re-potting your plant can be more than just an opportunity to get rid of an unsightly plastic pot.
If the plant is not growing as healthy as expected it may help to refresh the compost. This can be of particular benefit if the plant needs better drainage [such as cactus, Chinese Evergreen and Aloe Vera].
A soil including perlite and/or sand can improve the aeration with charcoal or other suitable products, particularly useful for plants that need well-draining soil
You can use just about any container as a plant pot
Although it will need a proper drainage outlet at the bottom to allow the water to flow through.
- Classic clay pots are ideal, as they allow moisture to move more freely
- Metal pots should be avoided as they rust. Consider placing your plant in a standard plastic pot within a metal container, if you still want a metal container
Feeding your plant a suitable fertilizer at the right times should reduce the need for re-potting.
Potting-up is something you should consider if the roots of your plant are poking through the bottom. This is a sign your plant is rootbound, restricting growth.
Tip: You should only pot-up if you want a bigger plant. Keeping your plant rootbound is an effective way to prevent your desk becoming a jungle.
Be sure to check your plant’s needs before potting-up. Some plants appreciate being rootbound. The Peace Lily, for example, will only reward you with flowers once it becomes rootbound.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to bring your pet to work [an increasingly popular way to engage employees] or work from home, poisonous plants may be a concern. Many popular houseplants are known to be harmful to pets and children if ingested. Some re particularly toxic.
We’ve included toxicity info in our Top 10 but any plant can be checked online easily. The ASPCA website is particularly useful, as it covers most common indoor plants. You can also get practical info on what to do if you believe your pet has consumed plant leaves.
Don’t hesitate to seek medical help if you fear a plant has been consumed.
Your work colleagues
Should this be left to last?
One important consideration you won’t read about on your average gardening website is whether your new desk plant could be a problem for your colleagues. If you work from home this probably doesn’t matter, although you might need to worry about kids and pets.
Most desk plants should be a non-issue for your colleagues. But, assuming your boss allows it, you may need to consider:
- Allergies – Pollen allergies are common and colleagues may be concerned your plant will cause further irritation. Some plants can be an issue for people with rubber allergies.
- Toxic plants – Toxic work relationships are one thing. Plants that can actually make you sick though are very common and often found in public spaces. Look out for plants that are toxic or can cause irritation if pets or children are likely to be around
- Bugs – Although it’s unlikely your little old desk plant will be a magnet for insects, it is possible. If there is a bug infestation in your office, your plant may fall immediately under suspicion
- Vacation and holidays – Will your plant be cared for when you’re sunning yourself in the Caribbean? Will you need to butter up your colleagues with coffee and donuts? Can you take your plant home with you if not?
The safest option if you work in a shared workspace? Ask your colleagues/boss first…
We hope you found this article suitably informative. Thanks for reading!