Plants That ‘Work’

I know lots of people who wish they could develop a “green thumb” but who have given up because they don’t have a house or garden space. This article is for you — and, frankly, for anyone who works! Office plants can be the perfect way to introduce “being green” into your life as they offer a great way to brighten up your workspace and improve your overall mood. So much more than being aesthetically pleasing, plants are even capable of removing some common chemical irritants from the air, including ammonia, benzene, and formaldehyde, among others. These chemicals are released from the carpet, paint, and electronics in offices. Fewer air toxins can mean fewer headaches, and the increased humidity from the plants can help with fatigue and nose and throat irritation from dust. So while we may have always enjoyed how they make a workspace more human we now know they are really beneficial to surviving the modern workplace.
Of course, with so many choices it’s just as easy to kill a plant at the office as it is anywhere else — so choosing the right one is important. So let’s get to work on those plants that do just that: “work.” After all, if you’re going to spend hours at the office you should have something green that works just as hard as you do. The best part? They never require a raise, just some TLC from now and then.

What to consider? Write yourself a “job description”! Do a quick assessment: Start by looking around your office. Take note of the air currents produced by heating and/or air-conditioning. Are they barely-there or easily felt? Then note: In general, is your office dry or humid? Check for light from windows in each direction, north, east, south, and west and where artificial lighting may be utilized. With those simple things in mind, you have what you need to make a great choice.

At the nursery, look for the labels containing growing and feeding requirements. This allows you to match your “job applicants” to your “job description.” For example, Light and temperature are most important for flowering plants; humidity for cacti and succulents. Does the plant need sunlight through a window or a grow light or a constant temperature? If you are doubtful about a certain plant, don’t buy it — it’s best to be sure. And of course, select plants that offer a healthy glow and have no wilting or dead leaves. I find that your local nursery will be your best recourse and willing to order your specific plant should it not be available. Folks, there are informative and may offer more service and selection than your supermarket or corner store.

During you plant’s first day on the job, here is my strong recommendation: never throw the label out. Keep this as a reminder on how to best care for your new plant. Of course, if you are worried you’ll misplace this info, here’s a handy hint: simply use your office’s Dymo label maker to stick the plant type on the pot — if you need to reference the info later it’s only a quick Google search away.

To help you in your search, allow me to be your “Plant Headhunter” and narrow down your choices with some of my favorites. Below are some of the best plants that offer the best working results.

Myrtle Topiary:

Perfect for the office as it grows well out of direct sunlight. Filtered sunlight is ideal but it will tolerate low levels of direct sunlight. Just remember to water thoroughly, keeping the soil moist at all times. Do not put near heaters as it will dry out quickly. Have fun and trim (like a topiary) to maintain shape; remember to use sharp scissors.

Group together for a big impact!

A sMARt tip: Water by using a one-inch clear bowl rather than a traditional saucer. Your myrtle will feed on water when needed; the clear bowl makes it easiest to see if your myrtle needs more. However, you’ll likely only need to simply fill the bowl on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.


Philodendrons are among the most popular, tolerant, and durable of all houseplants, making them perfect for the office environment. There are many different species of Philodendrons, each possessing its own characteristics as to leaf size, shape or coloring. Some species climb while others remain in more of a shrub shape. What they all have in common is their ability to survive neglect and adverse conditions. (Your boss will love them, haha!) This makes them close to a “no rules” plant. Could be perfect right?

A sMARt tip: Group several varieties to get a lush, green, jungle look. Philodendrons grow best when their roots are slightly cramped (but not too cramped), so don’t plant them in a pot which is too large.

Jade plant:
Generally, Jade plants are very easy and productive plants to grow, provided that their needs are understood and met. Jades, and all other members of the Crassula family are succulent plants, in that they have the ability to store water in their leaves, stems, and roots, making them a great choice for a sunny bright office with direct sunlight or a tendency to be on the warm side.

A sMARt tip: Growing a new plant from an existing one can be a fun-at-work project to watch day by day. It involves detaching a healthy leaf and placing it on suitable soil. Out of the sun, but in bright light, about a month later roots will form. Watering while the plant is forming roots is unnecessary and can be harmful because this can cause the plant to rot. However, my grandmother always had success cutting a healthy plant and placing it in the water on the window ledge over the kitchen sink. This may not be your first choice but I too have had some great success doing this.

Ivies are elegant and rich looking and easy to grow in the home or office. Your office ivy can be purchased already trained to cover shapes with their vines — circles, hearts, towers, etc. — and if so you will need to prune it to maintain its shape. With your established topiary, new growth can be also woven into the wire frame or snipped off. Cuttings can also be easily rooted in water and make the perfect “Welcome to the office — looking forward to watching you “÷grow’ with us” gift.

Ivy prefers bright light or filtered sun. They also like cooler temperatures and high humidity. In the summer you can move your topiaries home (or to an outdoor space at work) and place them outside in a shady location. They will enjoy the summer’s humidity and strengthen themselves for the back to school time of year and ready for another indoor season.

Do not allow your ivy topiaries to dry out. It’s best to keep the soil evenly moist. If possible spray or mist the ivy trees with water a few times a week.

A sMARt tip: Put your ivy in the sink once a week and spray the leaves with warm — not hot! — water. This gives the plants a good soaking and washes away any dust or dirt and helps to keep pests away.

Peace Lily
The Peace Lily has glossy, pointed and oval leaves that emerge from the soil. Peace Lilies may bloom twice a year, resulting in several long-lasting white flowers that emerge from the leaf stalk surrounded by a cupped white flower that fades from pure white to greenish or even yellow over time. They are shade-loving plants (light to moderate shade), and the big plus for the office is that they also adore fluorescence lighting.

This plant requires heavy watering, but you must allow the soil to dry out in-between watering.

A sMARt tip: When to water? Easy: your Peace Lily will “speak” to you by showing you drooping leaves. Also, add a touch of mayo to leaves for cleaning and to create a healthy luxurious shine.

The Dieffenbachia is an extremely popular houseplant, but it is also another great choice for the office because it is easy to care for. These plants are much favored by interiorscape companies who use them either as singular specimen plants or as massed plantings to great effect. Why? Low maintenance and their decorative leaves. The foliage is elliptical shaped leaves — some plants may be all green, some cream with green borders, and some a mix between the two. Dieffenbachia plants like the shade but in the home or office a medium light is preferred. Your new Dieffenbachia requires moist soil, so water frequently.

A sMARt Tip: Although you can water the soil of this plant, do place a tray under the pot with water in it to help keep the plant’s soil moist at all times.

African Violets:
An African violet plant will be in flower up to 9 months, making a fantastic choice for the office because you will see blooms throughout more of the year. In spite of the plant’s reputation as delicate and fragile, it is surprisingly easy to take care and grow.

Just remember the two violet tricks: Always allow the soil to go from moist to dry between watering; this will ensure long lasting and breathtaking flowerings. And always water from the bottom — never water the soil itself! Place the plant container in a tray of water and letting the plant take in the water for approximately an hour or so. They love this! Collect a variety of colors and enjoy the beauty for years to come.

The secret to making them thrive is to place them in an area that offers moderate to bright, indirect light. I had once had one that was in a cubical for five years on my desk under a fluorescent light.

A sMARt tip: Remove wilted flowers and leaves to promote new growth and flowers. Your violet will love to be fertilized using a soilless potting mix, every time you water them. It’s easy: mix up a little fertilizer before going home for the night, then add it to the drip tray in the morning. Here’s how and why: Get a 20-20-20 fertilizer and mix up some with water at half the suggested dosage of fertilizer. Letting your mixture of fertilizer stand at least overnight lets the chlorine in the water evaporate, and brings the water to room temperature — a handy tip as African Violets do not like chlorine either. Who Knew?

Ready to develop your “green thumb” away from home? Having plants that work just as hard as you is a plus — even if you work alone it’s nice to be part of a team! Look around: Do you have any “open positions” that a new plant could fill? Discover your choices and introduce a plant in your office today. Looking to get ahead in a new job yourself? Try buying a plant for your boss — or just for your fellow office staff to enjoy — and assure them you will be responsible for it. This is a great way to demonstrate responsibility and show your colleagues that you’re a team-player, too. And should you decide to get them a copy of my book Life On Mar’s, A Four Season Garden as well, don’t worry: I won’t mind.

And there you have it.