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What Plants Are Cubicle-Friendly?

Dear Lifehacker,

I am thinking of decorating my cubicle with plants, to make it feel less dreary and a little more alive and fresh. I don’t sit at a cube with access to a window. What sort of plants are good for cubicle-decorating?

Photo by Caitlinator.

Signed,

Wagedomain

Dear Wagedomain,

Decorating your cube with plants is a great way to liven up your work space. Nobody has ever been tricked into thinking they were in a Brazilian jungle by office plants but they’re a great mood booster. Let’s take a look at a couple things to consider before selecting plants.

Lighting: You already noted that your cube doesn’t have window access, but other curious readers who may have more flexible lighting than you we’ll quickly highlight issues with lighting. Plants are usually denoted as full-sun, partial-sun or shade plants. You can, roughly, translate those terms into placement relative to a window. Plants that require full sun do best right next to a window with excellent sun exposure, partial-sun plants can survive further from a window or by a window with weak sun exposure, and shade plants do well out of direct sun light and even with nothing by light exposure from artificial light in your office.

Although it sounds straight forward, lighting can be a little tricky. While the sun is consistent — if you tell a local nursery worker that you have a spot in your yard that gets six hours of direct sunlight a day it leaves little up for question — indoor lighting is highly variable. The number of bulbs, the distance from the fixtures, and so on, can greatly alter the quality of light your plant is receiving. Some offices leave lights on at night for security reasons or for night staff — if your office is this way, make sure to give your plant extra water and occasional supplementation by fertiliser as it is essentially working 24/7.

Coworker Considerations: Before you even start selecting plants you want to think about your coworkers. Pollen and mould allergies are common place so you’ll want to address those before you even purchase your plants. Photo by Anika Malone.

It’s very rare for indoor plants, especially those kept under the low-light of office conditions, to flower. None the less, if you have coworkers with pollen allergies — and it’s highly probable you do — you should either avoid flowering plants or snip off the flower buds as soon as they appear.

You can do two things to virtually eliminate any mould issues that might crop up. If the plants you buy aren’t already potted in indoor potting soil, you should re-pot them. Indoor potting soil is formulated for indoor use and is much more resistant to mold than outdoor potting soil. Additionally you should water plants deeply and thoroughly and then allow the soil to become fairly dry before watering again. Constantly damp soil without the exposure to the sunshine and wind it would be exposed to outdoors can lead to mould. It’s a very small consideration in the grand scheme of things but if the worker in the cube next to yours has severe mould allergies you’ll be doing them a huge favour.

The last co-worker consideration isn’t health related but it is important. Will you be consistent in caring for your plants? If no plants in the work place is bad, dead plants are worse. Lining the top shelf of your cube with healthy plants gives everyone a welcome glimpse of nice green foliage. If you don’t take care of them, however, you’ll be showing off splotchy and wilted plants.

Plant Selection: Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way it’s time to consider some plants. We’re going to focus on shade-loving and shade-tolerant plants since your cubicle has no windows or sun exposure to speak of.

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix): It’s an invasive plant in many parts of the world — a testament to its hardiness! — so you might not be able to purchase it in your locale. That said, it’s very hardy and will happily grow and climb across your cube. You may want to purchase a small wood or mesh grid from the hardware or craft store for it to climb on. Your boss might frown on you allowing your plants to merge with your cube.
  • Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina): Also known as “Inch Plant”, Wandering Jew has leaves with strong dark green and silvery green contrast.
  • Asparagus Fern: Grown as an ornamental plant when used outdoors, this one is definitely not a top-shelf plant. Under ideal conditions it can grow to be three feet tall and equally as wide. It’s bushy and bright green, and a perfect match for an empty cubicle corner.
  • Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria): Known as Mother-In-Laws Tongue and Snake Tongue (for being sharp and for their long shape) these plants are hardy and pleasant to look at. They have strong leaf colour contrast, grow up to a metre tall under ideal conditions, and in a pinch can be used in incantations to protect yourself from being bewitched. Mother-In-Law Tongue is also one of the top plants you can select for removing pollutants from your environment.
  • Jade Plant (Carssula ovata): The Jade Plant is hardly and long lived — it may well outlive you, my grandmother has a Jade Plant she’s been tending since long before I was born — the leaves are vibrant green and have a shiny rubbery appearance. It needs to be well watered but otherwise is largely hassle free.

Photo by MLogic.

The small sample of plants listed above can get you started. For further reading on office-friendly and low maintenance plants check out some of our previous plant-related articles like three plants for better indoor air, five hard to kill houseplants, low-hassle plant projects for your home or office, how to keep a house plant alive, and how to revitalise a near-dead houseplant.

Once you’ve read up on houseplant care and picked some shade-friendly plants you’re interested in, hit up your local nursery and explain to the staff what you’re looking for. They’ll be more than helpful in finding you the right plants to thrive in your cube.

Finally if you find that you need something even more chill than Ivy, try your hand at making an ultra-low maintenance moss terrarium.

We hope that helps! When you find the perfect cube-mate, write back and tell us all about it.

Love,

Lifehacker