Here’s How To Not Kill Your Desk Plant

by Nylah Burton
Young woman working from home

Because it can sometimes feel impossible to keep them alive and looking healthy, I’ve always considered having lots of office plants to be the ultimate sign of maturity. But every time I try to commit to creating a little indoor forest, my plants dry up and die right before my eyes. So, I scoured the internet for the best tips on how to keep my indoor desk plants alive and kicking next time.

Sometimes, work can be stressful. But having office plants can help with that. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that interacting with indoor plants reduced psychological and physiological stress in young adults. Personally, having lavender plants in my office space always helps with my stress and anxiety, but this Serenata Flowers article lists a few other great options, like chrysanthemum or aloe.

Keeping your office plants alive doesn't just infuse you with an instant feeling of maturity, but it can bring you some serious benefits, too. Having office plants also helps you breathe easier during work. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) frequently cited 1989 Clean Air Study found that certain kinds of indoor plants — like Chinese Evergreens, Bamboo Palms, and Devil’s Ivy — can help remove pollutants from the air. In fact, NASA’s extensive research has shown that houseplants (one plant per 100 square feet is their recommendation) can reduce air toxins by up to 87%. And that can also aid your health, since the study points out that pollutants like benzene, ammonia, and xylene can cause headaches and eye irritation. (Just like staring at a computer all day can.)

All this sounds great. But for your office plants to keep you healthy and happy during work, you have to keep them healthy and happy. Here are some tips on how to do that.


Pick The Right Plant


Not every plant is meant to be in indoors, especially in your office. While many plants thrive on plenty of sunlight, making them perfect for a kitchen windowsill or a light-filled living room, you want to get a plant that can withstand the... unique lighting situations present in a lot of offices, with their sometimes light-deprived cubicles.

Picking an office plant that’s meant to grow outside in a more sprawling, sunny environment will probably end in that plant drooping over, shedding leaves, and dying.

If you’re looking for a plant that is ideal for your office space, Washington Post gardening columnist Adrian Higgins suggests investing in pothos, chinese evergreens, dracaenas, philodendrons, clivias (I love their beautiful blooms), and spider plants.

Last but definitely not least, Higgins recommends my personal favorite: the succulent. These plants are great because they’re cute and trendy, making them available at lots of places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. They’re also easier to keep alive than other plants, because they don’t require as much water. And because they're sold on the smaller side (usually), they make perfect desk accessories.

But even thought they're convenient, they still have needs! Make sure not to neglect your succulent, because it will die slowly if it doesn’t get the resources it needs.


Give Your Plant The Right Amount of Light and Water

When it comes to plants, balance is key. It can be tempting to automatically start watering your succulent every day, but you’ll probably end up drowning it and/or creating a pesky water-stain on your desk. Too much sunlight or water can overwhelm the plant, which can kill it. And the same is true if you give the plant too little water or sunlight.

After you buy your plant, make sure to ask around and research the specifics about that plant’s particular needs. A general rule of thumb (literally) is if you stick a finger up to the first knuckle into your plant's soil and it's dry, your little plant friend needs to be watered. If your space doesn’t have a lot of natural light, consider picking up a plant light, like this one from Amazon. This article also details how to choose the best lightbulbs for your plant. If you think these lights might trigger headaches or eye irritation while you're working, consider bathing them in light only when you're away from your desk at lunch or in a meeting.


Make Sure Your Pot Has Drainage

While I love buying plants from the grocery store (they’re right by the register, and they look so pretty), the pots usually leave much to be desired. Often, they don’t have enough drainage, which the University of Illinois Extension says can block air from reaching the roots of the plant or force the plant to lie in stagnant water. If you pick up a nice plant, but the pot doesn’t have adequate drainage, consider buying a pot that does and re-potting the plant.


Repot Your Plant


Like I said, the repotting your plant as it grows is key. Not just because of drainage issues, but also because the soil your plant lives in can quickly become uninhabitable. It can get too soggy, or dry and cracking. Or sometimes, the plant can get too big for the pot, with the roots taking up too much space in the soil.

If that happens, it’s important to repot the plant so you don’t lose it. It’s an easy process, but there are a lot of steps and it can be messy. You might want to consider repotting at home to avoid making a mess in the office.

Luckily, this article is a great tutorial. Repotting can seem hard, but it's the best way to keep your plants alive. Plus, it's a good excuse to buy bigger, prettier pots like this Wood and Glass Teranium from Target, or this Naomi pot from Anthropologie.


Make A Plan For Them When You Go On Vacation

Everyone needs to take their PTO, but it's important to make a plan for your office plants when you do. If you're not there to tend to them — depending on how long you're gone — they could be gone by the time you return back to the office. Consider bringing the plants home with you if you're having a staycation or if you're using sick leave. You can also ask one of your co-workers to keep an eye on your plants while you're gone.


Having office plants can be really fulfilling, and not just because of the health benefits. The ritual of taking care of a living thing everyday, and the beautiful aesthetics of a green space can also bring you lots of joy at work. But that joy can be elusive if your plants keep dying. Hopefully, these tips can help you keep your desk plants alive and healthy.