Office Plant Care

Gardening – is it really so hard?

Or am I just lucky to have come from a family that likes gardening so I am good at taking care of plants?

I really despair about the office plants. Plants seem to be a standard kind of gift – orchids in particular are popular for birthdays – but no-one thinks about what comes next. So you have a plant in a pot, maybe with a pretty flower on it, and it’s by your desk and then the flower dies and you lose all interest in the plant. After all it’s just green leaves now, not very interesting.

So the plant sits there uncared for and one of two things happens – it gets overwatered or it gets cared for not at all. Either of these will contribute to the death of the plant. And it’s because I can’t stand seeing people making slow torture of a plant that I make a round of the plants on my side of the office, and water, apply food and occasionally drain them of the puddles they are sitting in.

Overwatering is not something people seem to be aware about and is something I see a lot of. “Plants love water,” people say to themselves, and so at the end of every day they tip whatever is left in their water bottle into the plant pot. Yes, plants need water to survive, but sitting in wet soil all day every day will cause the roots to rot and the plant will eventually die. The annoying thing is, sometimes people see the leaves starting to shrivel, lose colour and go brown and they think, “Oh, it must need more water,” and so they just make it worse by watering even more. I recently have taken someone’s plant off their desk seeing it was sick from over watering but I think it’s too late to save it.

Top tip: Feel the soil before watering your plant. If it’s dry, then give water. If it feels damp, don’t water.

Under watering is the flip side. Here people are forgetful, or don’t care, or are just not interested in the plant (again, this quite often happens with “gift” plants). Here you’ll see plant leaves drooping, or shrivelling and getting wrinkled for thick leaved plants. What was a bushy upright plant has now fallen over and lost its leaves. The plant will actually look thirsty. And if you look closer, the soil will have formed a dry solid clump. Maybe it’s compacted and moved away from the side of the pot, leaving a gap.

Top tip: Depending on plant and pot size, half a cup to a cup of water a week should be fine to keep most plants going. Things like succulents and cacti would need even less than this – I’m thinking spoonfuls for them. If you find it hard to remember, then set your watering day to Monday (first thing) or Friday (last thing).

Top tip: If your plant is seriously dehydrated, give it a 10 minute bath. Put it in a bowl or bucket and add water so that the whole soil base is submerged. (Add the water carefully as very dry plants with clumped soil are likely to float out of their pot if you add water too quickly!) Let the plants sit for 10 minutes so the whole root system can take water on board. Then take it out, drain it and you should soon see an improvement. For very neglected plants you might want to do this two times a week (in the office, Monday and Friday are good times) for two weeks. It should perk up by then and you can go back to weekly watering.

The need for feed becomes obvious when leaves turn yellow. When people ask me what’s wrong with their desk plant and when I see yellow leaves I say, “It’s hungry.” (Which does get me odd looks.) Yellowing leaves can be a sign the plant is not getting enough nutrients from the soil so it’s pulling them back out of the leaves. Most plant pot soil is not particularly rich in nutrients, and neglected office plants – not often repotted or given fresh soil – suffer from starvation as what goodness was in their soil runs out.

Top tip: Buy a box of all purpose plant food. It comes in powder form, and you can get it in all kinds of places, even supermarkets and pound stores. Add a pinch of powder to the water every couple of weeks during your once-a-week watering. If that’s too much for you, there are plant food sticks you can get – just stick them in the soil and they do the work for you.

Orchids – phaeleonopsis. Very popular office plants, at least in my office, and often very cruelly treated after the initial pretty flowers have died away. I’m so shocked at seeing neglected plants shrivelling away in thirst, I’ve had to adopt other people’s orchids and put them on my Friday morning plant care plan. This shouldn’t be! Orchid care is easy!

Soak them in water once a week for 10-15 minutes (or longer if you forget you’ve put them in to soak, which often happens with me) so the roots and the chip bark soak up the water. Then drain the water off and back they go. I’ve got six plants under my care in the office (and one more I’m about to kidnap from its careless owner) and another six at home on my kitchen window sill all doing well on this treatment. For the keen person who wants their orchid to grow more flowers, you can get liquid orchid feed. Add a few drops to the soak every couple of weeks to keep the plant strong and you should get new flower stems every year.

So please, don’t leave your office plants to drown, die of thirst or starve to death. It only takes a little bit of time once a week to take care of them properly and they will repay you by making your workspace so much nicer!

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