How to Choose a Good Office Plant

Anyone who keeps houseplants knows that indoor foliage can brighten a dull, dreary atmosphere as well as removing common toxins from indoor environments and adding oxygen to stale air. With a little forethought, you can choose the perfect plant to improve your workplace aesthetics and your health.


  1. Image titled Choose a Good Office Plant Step 1
    Assess your office lighting. Obviously, a plant that needs full sun doesn't have much of a chance in a windowless copy room, but figure out where you can put plants in your office and determine how much natural sunlight they'll get on average. However, when in doubt, low light (shade-loving) plants will do fine in most office settings (such as the top of a cubicle in the center of the floor or away from the windows). Some plants will do well if placed near the fluorescent lights in the office. If you have access to south-facing windows that offer a lot of sunlight, you'll have more flexibility in choosing plants.
  2. Image titled Choose a Good Office Plant Step 2
    Decide how much space will be designated for the plant. Get an idea both of the floor or counter space and the vertical space available.
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    Estimate how much care you'll be able to devote to the plant. Some plants require more maintenance than others, and sometimes it can be difficult to find time in the workday to water or prune them. Be honest with yourself in appraising how much attention you and your coworkers can give to the plant(s).
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    Determine the purpose of your plants. Different plants can do different things for you. If you mainly want to brighten a space, you'll probably want a flowering plant or one with colorful, variegated leaves. If you're looking to remove as much carbon dioxide--or add as much oxygen--as possible, you should look for a green plant with a lot of leaf area. Certain plants, such as the Areca palm, Kentia palm or Dracaena 'Janet Craig' are exceptionally effective at removing airborne chemicals commonly found in offices[1].
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    Set your plant budget. While some plants can be very expensive individually, the more plants you plan to own, the more important your budget will be. Figure out how much you want to spend purchasing the plants. Also figure out how much effort you can put into their long-term maintenance.
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    Research plants. Once you have your specifications, you can take them to your local garden store and ask a professional to suggest some plants that might work. You can also research plants on the internet to determine which will match your needs. Here's a short list of some commonly successful office plants to consider:
    • Ivy
    • Philodendron
    • Peace lilies
    • Spider plants
    • Aloe vera
    • Aroid palm
    • Wave petunias
    • Dragon trees
    • Crotons
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    Purchase your plant. You can buy from your local garden store or farmers' market, or you can do your shopping online. Whichever you choose, make sure you get healthy-looking plants that are free of mold, rot and pests. This is easier to do if you can see the plants, of course, but many online stores will offer you a guarantee to offset the risk. If you have the budget you can try a company who sells plants, grown specifically for offices.
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    Set up the plant. Place a catch tray beneath the plant to collect excess water, and make sure that the base of the plant is stable. Additionally, if the plant will require frequent watering, put it somewhere that won't require you to use a ladder or chair to reach it.


  • Want to buy plants, but don't have a lot of money to spend? Consider asking your employer to budget for office flora. Studies show that plants increase employee productivity and health, so it's a worthwhile benefit for everyone involved.
  • Go for variety - lots of colors brighten up the office. It's true that some plants simply can't be grown in the office, but you still have a world of choices. By following the guidelines above for finding the perfect plant for each space, you're likely to get a good variety of foliage in your workplace.
  • Check the soil before you water the plant. Most plants die from over-watering rather than under-watering. Too much love can kill your plants, so stick your finger in the dirt before you water to see if it's already moist. Most plants (with the exception of succulents like Jade Plants or "hens -n- chicks") need water about once a week. Succulents need water about once a month. The rule of thumb is that the thicker the leaves, the more water they will hold and the less often the plant will require water. Thin leaves and plants in bloom (African Violets) need more frequent watering. Use room temperature water and don't let it drip on the floor. Empty the dish you have placed under the plant to prevent spillage after the plant has drained. A good flushing once a month will keep mineral deposits from poisoning your plants.
  • Shop around as much as possible, especially if you're buying a large quantity of plants. You'll be able to find the best prices this way, but you'll also be able to get a variety of opinions on which plants to choose. Large hardware-store chains may seem like a bargain, for instance, but you're likely to find better advice (and often healthier plants) at your local nursery or farmers' market.
  • Many office plants grow well from cuttings. Take cuttings from plants in other offices or your even that cool plant in your neighbors yard. Once you put your cutting into water, it can take from one week to six months to root. Plants that do well from cuttings root quickly, while others can be more difficult, and some will not root at all.
  • Consider organizing your coworkers to care for all the plants. If you have a lot of plants in your office, it can be difficult for one person to keep up with them. If, however, several people take turns watering and trimming each week, you'll be able to provide more reliable care without too much effort. You'll also build workplace camaraderie.


  • If you decide to buy a cactus, make sure that you put it somewhere where it is not a hazard to your skin.
  • Some plants can aggravate allergies. A plant professional should be able to help you avoid these, but you may also end up needing to exchange one kind of plant for another if your co-workers have adverse reactions.
  • Be sure the office plant does not have an offensive odor. Some plants which look quite beautiful in bloom can have an odor that is quite pungent that many people might find offensive or otherwise bothersome. Also, some people might be extra sensitive to strong smells or even allergic to a particular plant.
  • Check your building's policies on having plants in the workplace. While most would be happy to have some foliage, some businesses can be quite inflexible about allowing these things, because of fire codes and other policies.
  • Take good care of your office plants. Not only are unhealthy plants an eyesore, but they can also be hazardous to your health. Molds that attack plants, for example, can cause respiratory problems in humans.
  • In the unlikely event that you have animals in your workplace, exercise special care to choose plants that are not poisonous to them. Some of the very best indoor plants—Dieffenbachia, for example—can kill small animals. Even common plants, such as mistletoe, are dangerous to dogs.

References and notes

  • Gardening Australia Dec. 2001

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