Columns, In the Garden

Greening up Office Space Helps Alleviate Stress

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photo by Deborah J. Benoit
Incorporating houseplants, such as a prayer plant and golden pothos, into an office setting helps create a more pleasant work environment and reduce stress and elevate mood.

by Deborah J. Benoit, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – Whether your office is in a traditional workspace or tucked away in a spare room at home, practicality rules and, above and beyond all else, your office is a place for productivity. That often means a computer, printer and related equipment, along with a lot of paper and hard surfaces. Adding something living and green just might help alleviate the tedium of hours at the keyboard and stress of looming deadlines.

Adding plants to your workspace can provide some of the same benefits as an escape to the garden, all without leaving your desk. Houseplants, or, in this case, office plants, can distract the senses and ease stress, especially during winter months when a visit to the park or garden for some green therapy isn’t an option.

To successfully incorporate plants into an office setting, there are several things to consider. How much space can you devote to a plant or plants? What are the growing conditions in your office? What are the sources of light? Does the temperature fluctuate? And finally, how much time do you have to maintain your office plants?

Generally speaking, an office will have limited light sources, either few or no windows and artificial light. The climate may or may not include air conditioning, and conditions may be quite different on weekends if the office is closed.

The peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) will do well in an office environment. It thrives in low light or bright, indirect light, but avoid direct sunlight. A weekly watering is best, but if you get sidetracked, it will let you know when it’s thirsty. One look at its sad, drooping leaves will send you off for the watering can.

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) with its patterned leaves adds more than just green to the office color scheme. It adds interest as its leaves fold up at night and relax during the daylight hours.

It prefers bright, indirect light, but avoid placing in a sunny window, which will cause the color to fade. Keep the soil moist (but not wet), and mist to increase humidity.

Rex begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum) is a great choice for the desktop. Foliage is the star, with many options for leaf color and texture. Rex begonias do fine in low light. Foliage can burn in direct sunlight. Allow the top of its soil to dry between waterings, and then water well.

Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is an easy-to-care-for plant that’s tolerant of low level and artificial light. It prefers moist soil or can be grown in water alone.

If you’re looking for a little drama, include a trailing vine such as golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum). Grow it in a hanging basket in bright, indirect light, keeping soil moist, but not soggy. Placed on a shelf, pothos will cascade in a green waterfall and, as it grows, the vines will happily drape along the top of a bookcase.

But what if you have absolutely nowhere to put a plant? Try an air plant (Tillandsia spp.). These are unobtrusive plants, requiring no soil, not even a pot. They do need light (bright, indirect) and water (weekly by a thorough misting, more often in a very dry setting).

There are many plant possibilities for the office. For the small amount of time needed to care for them, they can bring a bit of the natural world into the workplace, help reduce stress, elevate mood and simply make the office a more pleasant and attractive place to be.

Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Massachusetts, who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.

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