Caring for plants in your workspace should be something you enjoy. If you have a bad experience or if it feels like more work, don't give up altogether; perhaps another species would be a better fit. When it comes to caring for indoor plants, the two most crucial tips we can share with you are to be sure that you are providing the right amount of water with drainage and the right amount of light. Easy, right?
No matter the plant you choose, be sure it is in a pot with drainage holes in the bottom. While some plants can survive without drainage, they are more susceptible to root rot and it can be difficult to gauge how much water your plant is receiving. Dropping a nursery pot into a decorative planter will work, or you can add holes to any pot with a diamond or masonry drill bit. Place a plant saucer under your pot to protect your furniture or floor, keeping in mind that unglazed terra cotta or ceramic will leach water. Water your plant until you see it coming through those drainage holes and be sure to discard what accumulates in the saucer to prevent the roots from remaining too wet for too long. Many plants do not like chlorinated tap water - filtered or rain water is preferred. If your plant has brown tips on it's leaves, it may be due to your water.
You should also be aware of the amount of light your plants are receiving. Placing a plant near a window is likely to be too little light for most. Plants like to be able to "see" out the window rather than be placed on the floor below a window or in an adjacent corner. You can download a light meter app to your phone and see just how much light your plant is getting in different areas of your space. Low light plants need between 25-75 foot-candles (270-800 lux), plants that prefer medium light need 75-150 fc (800-1615 lux) and 150+ fc (1516+ lux) is considered high light. Depending on your location, but generally - North-facing windows provide low light, east-facing windows are great for low to medium light and south or west-facing windows have the highest amount of light coming in. Plants in west-facing windows do best with something filtering the afternoon light so their leaves don't get burnt. If apps are your thing, there are many options for full plant care including lighting and reminders to water and fertilize.
There are a lot of options when it comes to plant selection and if you are new to houseplants, consider starting with a plant that is known to be “easy” to care for. Choosing an easy plant species does not mean that you will sacrifice beauty. There are often several varieties of each species with different leaf coloring and variegation (the stripes on the leaves) so you can pick whichever look you like, but bear in mind that some of the rare varieties can get rather expensive and may be more difficult to care for. We've found the following species to be fairly easy to care for:
Pothos are one of the easiest plants to grow indoors. They are very forgiving of inconsistent watering, can survive in low-light environments, and are less susceptible to pests. Pothos are always propagated by cuttings as they very rarely flower and therefore do not produce seeds. Variegation becomes more pronounced in higher light, if leggy (longer stems between leaves) - trim and increase light. Leaves will droop when thirsty.
Common Name Pothos, Devil's Vine, Devil's Ivy
Botanical Name Epipremnum aureum
Plant Type Vine
Light Preference Bright indirect light, fluorescent bulbs fine
Philodendron loosely means 'love trees' because these plants grow as vines on trees in their natural environment. Philodendrons have the most diversity among its species and varieties - leaf shape and variegation varies widely. They produce aerial roots that can be guided to a moss pole for your philodendron to climb as they would trees in the wild. If you'd like to keep your plant bushy, you can wind the vines in the pot and clip off or leave aerial roots.
Tradescantia is another easy choice with many beautiful species and varieties. This plant likes a lot of bright, indirect light and if she's looking a bit pale, she needs more light. A south or west-facing window with something filtering the light (sheer curtains are great) will keep it happy. Tradescantias like quite a bit of water. You can check the dryness of your soil by sticking your finger in a few inches - if it's dry, it's time to water. These can get leggy quickly and need pruning to maintain shape, pinching off trailing vines will make your plant fuller.
Common Name Spiderwort, inch plant
Botanical Name Tradescantia
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial, vine
Light Preference Bright indirect light
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Native Area Mexico, South America, Caribbean
Toxicity Some types mildly toxic to humans and animals
The Snake Plant was botanically classified as Sansevieria trifasciata until 2017 when the Sansevieria genus was placed in the genus Dracaena as they are more similar than not. It's botanical name is now Dracaena trifasciata. The snake plant can live in the lowest of light which makes it great for your windowless office but can also thrive in bright light. As a succulent, it does not need a lot of water and will survive drought-like conditions. You can be the worst plant parent and still keep this baby alive!
Common Name Snake plant, Mother-in-law's tongue, viper's bowstring hemp, St. George's sword
Botanical Name Dracaena trifasciata (formerly Sansevieria trifasciata)
The spider plant is another hardy species that will survive a bit of neglect. Propagating is as easy as it gets, the plant will send out a long stem where a pup will develop, then roots are produced. You can clip off the plantlet once it has roots and start your new baby directly in moist potting mix. The spider plant likes a bit more water than others and can survive over-watering, but you should water when the the top few inches of your pot is dry. If the leaves look pale, it is probably thirsty. While they prefer bright, indirect light, they will also thrive in lower light and are susceptible to sunburn so an east-facing window is great.
Common Names Spider plant, spider ivy, ribbon plant
The Spathiphyllum genus has several species that are considered Peace Lilies and more varieties on top of that - none of which are true lilies (Lilium spp.). Most have solid green leaves and produce a white spathe and spadix (flower-like structure). The peace lily can be on the brink of death and still come back to life! It can handle missed waterings and will let you know that you forgot by dramatically drooping (they also like to trick us by drooping when over-watered). She will perk right back up after a good drink. This plant doesn't need an abundance of light either but it does need more than a snake plant. East and north-facing windows are a good spot for your peace lily.
Common Name Peace lily, spath lily,
Botanical Name Spathiphyllum spp.
Plant Type Evergreen, herbaceous, perennial
Preferred Light Indirect, low light
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Native Area Central America, Asia
Toxicity Toxic to pets, toxic to people
Troubleshooting Indoor Plant Problems
Now that you've found the perfect plant(s) for your space you need to be on the lookout for problems. Most of the plants mentioned above are less susceptible to pests and issues but it's always good to know what to look for.
Drooping: Plants will often droop when they need more water because their cells are dehydrated and collapse, causing the droop. However, some will also droop when over-watered (particularly those with poor drainage), when root-bound, when too hot, or when infested with sap-sucking insects. If the leaves are crispy & brown, it needs more water. If the leaves are soft & brown, it has been overwatered and may have root rot. Keeping track of how often you are watering can help identify the problem.
Brown tips: The tips of your leaves turning brown can be caused by many things. Inconsistent watering, using tap water that contains chlorine or flouride, incorrect humidity levels, or over fertilizing can all cause the tips of leaves to brown. Some plants, like the peace lily, are difficult to keep brown tips at bay. If entire leaves are brown, you likely have a bigger problem but keep in mind plants will drop old leaves as new ones are produced. First consider your water type and schedule and go from there.
Curling leaves: If the leaves on your plant are curling you may be under watering, it may be getting too much light, or more likely, your plant is host to unwelcome pests. Check the undersides of the leaves for insects or eggs (you may need a magnifying glass) and look for webbing around new growth and stem joints.
Common Pests: If you have found signs of insects on your plants, there are a number of ways to treat them depending on what you're dealing with. We've found this advice from Better Homes and Gardens to be helpful. Sometimes it is better to get rid of the plant than risk the pests spreading while trying to troubleshoot. We've also put infested plants outdoors in the summer months (some insects dislike the humidity) with hopes that they will be pest-free by fall and can come back inside. Be sure to check and treat any plant that has been summering outside before bringing indoors with neem oil to prevent additional pests coming inside.
Do you have plants in your workspace? Which plants do you find easy or difficult to care for? Let us know if you have any questions about keeping them alive!