Nothing quite marks one’s space like a plant. When it comes to cubicle flora, success can be distilled into a single sentence: Pick the right plant, pay attention to the soil, and water as needed.
It’s clear that offices are terrible places to grow plants. The dimmer an environment and the more antiquated its heating and cooling systems, the tougher it is on the plants. Even in nice, bright and well-ventilated offices, you have to worry about plants being too close to heat registers and windows that are too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
The quickest way to kill a plant is to overwater it. Soil that is constantly wet will lead to root rot. The slowest way to kill a plant is to water it just enough to keep it alive but infrequently enough that it is in a constant state of stress. This is a more common condition in the office environment.
The very best setup is to have the plant growing in a free-draining pot that is then set in a slightly larger one that doesn’t drain, a cachepot. The outer pot can be glazed and handsome.
The infrequent watering condition is worsened by soil that is old, tired and depleted. If it has lightened in color and is sunken, dense and crusted, it’s time to repot.
Early spring is the optimum time for this, to coincide with the plant’s natural regenerative growth cycle, but if your situation is dire, anytime is a good time.
The standard advice is to put the plant in a slightly larger pot, teasing out the congested and overgrown roots while you’re at it. Use fresh potting soil beneath and around the root ball, water it well, watch the soil sink, and backfill it some more before giving it a final watering.
Plants differ in their moisture requirements, but if you have fresh, free-draining soil, it is hard to overwater — as long as you lift the inner pot out and take it to a sink to let the water soak through. Your finger is an excellent tool for measuring watering needs; the surface should be dry between waterings, and if you’re unsure, just set aside a time once a week to show your plant the sink.
Here’s a list of plants recommended by The Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins that are best for office environments. The varieties listed here are all survivors. It’s a jungle in there.
It’s not one of the three musketeers but a familiar leafy vine from the South Pacific that benefits from an annual trim to keep the plant bushy and the vining stems in check. Varieties tend to be lime green, dark green or variegated.
A stalwart houseplant that is valued for its large, pointed leaves, sometimes narrow and all marked with interesting variegation that in some varieties recalls the prayer plant. Some books, noting its like of humid environments, suggest it is difficult, but if it is regularly watered as described, it will flourish.
This plant comes in many forms, depending on the species, but the fine-bladed, red-edged Dracaena marginataTricolor is as fine an architectural plant as you will find. It’s common but in no way vulgar.
These two may be too big for most cubicles. The clivias is easy to care for and is marked by long, thick, dark-green arching leaves growing out of a large plant bulb.
Philodendrons are considered a mainstay in interior gardens and are well-accustomed to the indoors. The two main types of philodendron houseplants are vining and non-climbing varieties.
This one is pretty foolproof, and it’s fun to root and then detach the pups after they develop.