11 Mood-Boosting Desk Plants to Match Your Work-from-Home Personality
There’s a perfect home office plant out there for you
Plants in a workspace are proven to boost creativity and productivity (so much so that inside the Amazon headquarters in Seattle you’ll find 40,000 of them), plus placing greenery on your desk is an easy workday pick-me-up.
Choosing a plant that you can keep alive, however, is a task that requires the more difficult work of analyzing your own behavior. You may love the look of a finicky Boston fern. But are you the type of person who would run a humidifier to keep it alive? Better to be honest about your limitations than be the owner of a dead fern.
With the help of Erin Harding, the Portland-based creator of the Clever Bloom blog and one-half of the duo behind the cult-favorite Instagram page House Plant Club, and California-based plant delivery service Leon and George, we’ve compiled a list of plants to match the entire spectrum of professional personality types, flaws and all. Just add water, light, and maybe a time-release fertilizer (because even the most responsible plant parents could use some back-up).
If You’re Always On a Group Chat
A pothos plant also likes to communicate, says Harding. “They’re very easy to care for. They tell you what they need. When they’re thirsty, their leaves with curl under. Then they’ll be super perky when you water them.”
Erin Harding of Clever Bloom with one of her favorite plants, a pothos.
If You’re a Low-Key Perfectionist
With no wilting leaves to deal with and a shape that’s so slow to grow that it appears to never change, a simple cactus, like the one pictured below in The Arc founder Malkin’s office, is a great choice for perfectionists who don’t have much time on their hands. “Bright light and low water are what this plant needs,” says Harding. “It’s really important that you use a potting medium that is not moisture controlled. A cactus mix with perlite is the way to go. But that’s it.”
If You Need Constant Feedback
A Maranta, also called a prayer plant, will tell you when it’s happy, and react to light and darkness. “It’s more on the tropical side and likes higher humidity,” says Harding. “I have one in my kitchen window because it gets the humidity from the sink, but it could work on a desk with nice light and frequent water. What’s cool about these is that they really dance. They can close up at night and open back up during the day.”
Even marantas have their own fan clubs on Instagram.
If Your Cat is Always Bombing Your Zooms
“A spider plant is pretty cool because they can grow really big, and they produce these little offshoots that are tiny baby plants. You can just pluck them right off and propagate them,” says Harding, of this cat and dog safe plant that thrives on very little attention. “They don’t require a whole lot of extra attention, either. They can look a little bit brown around the tips, and you can prevent that by using filtered water.” (Spider plant pictured below, left.)
A spider plant, left, is pet safe and easy to grow.
If You Like a Difficult Boss
Spoiler alert: The official houseplant of social media—the fiddle leaf ficus, or ficus lyrata— is also a giant pain to get involved with. It’s like the supermodel of office plants, beautiful, tall, and high maintenance. “These are arguably the most finicky house plants,” says Harding. You see them everywhere, but ….” they almost always die on people. I have one, but I have a love-hate relationship with it.” It needs bi-weekly feedings with fertilizer, watering, 2-3 times per week (but can’t sit in water), annual re-potting to a bigger container with more soil, and very bright filtered light.
If You’re Constantly Losing Your Passwords
Don’t worry, a snake plant will survive even if you forget about it. “The snake plant is pretty indestructible. It doesn’t require a whole lot of water or a lot of light,” says Christensen. “You’ll see snake plants a lot inside malls. They can do OK even with fluorescent lighting.” But as a rule of thumb, don’t put a plant in a room without any windows if you want it to grow.”
If You’re Easily Distracted by Social Media
Hoyas know how to hold your attention. “These are my absolute favorite,” Harding says about these flowering plants that are fast growers and put on a show. “You treat them similarly to a succulent, and wait for the soil to completely dry out. They grow like crazy but they also bloom. When they bloom you have beautiful white pink purple red and yellow flowers. They’re also really easy to propagate (carefully trim off leaves and place them in a small vase with water until roots form, then plant in soil). “So if you’re on a budget, or just beginning, it’s a good place to start.”
If You Miss Bringing in Donuts on Friday
A calathea medallion is a plant for someone who needs to dote on something, and likes to go the extra mile. “A really popular showy plant is a calathea medallion,” says Christensen of Leon and George. “One side of the leaf is burgundy and the other side is green and white. It’s on the pickier side so it does require constant moisture and filtered light. You need to pay all of the attention to it.”
If You’re the Office Eccentric
Air plants are a little weird and rebellious, in a good way. They don’t need dirt to grow, or even a lot of water, so they can thrive nearly anywhere if you know how to treat them. “I think air plants are the coolest,” says Harding. “You can put those anywhere. You can mist them with water for a snack, but every two weeks you soak them in a bowl of room temperature water for 15-30 minutes. Take them out, shake them off, and turn them upside down to dry. If they look a little sad, add a bit of liquid fertilizer to the water.”
If You Like to be Left Alone
Try a euphorbia, which is a succulent, not a cactus, and thrives on neglect. They hold a lot of water in their leaves, making them tougher and hard to kill. “It needs higher light levels low on water,” says Harding. Don’t baby it. Let the soil dry completely before you water it. “The worst thing you can do for this plant is pay too much attention and overwater.”
If You Don’t Like to Overthink Things
Play it straight with a philodendron, “which is now called a thomatophyllin,” says Harding. Despite the complicated name, it’s a straight-up, classic tropical house plant. “The care is pretty standard. They want about six hours of brighter, indirect light.” Which means it doesn’t like full sun. If it’s in a pot with adequate drainage, it needs weekly, thorough waterings. “I water mine when the majority of the soil has dried. It’s not complicated.”
If You Miss Traveling for Work
“A Monstera is a very forgiving plant that can really transport you to the tropics,” says Harding. “If you can give them higher humidity levels, that’s great. But if not they’ll still be fine. This is a good plant for when you’re sitting at your desk and you need an escape. I get a lot of messages from people who are worried that their monstera is getting too big. Even if you buy a smaller plant, if it stays alive for a couple of years, you may need to propagate it down to keep it small.”
If You’re An Efficient Minimalist
Yunice Kang, photographer plant person, and owner of Sanso Studio in Los Angeles knows how to pair elegant, spindly growing things with the perfect simple vessel. Kang has a thing for unusual looking plants that are easy to care for (available for delivery in L.A., or pickup at her Echo Park store), like this elephant tree, a succulent from Madagascar that’s hearty enough to withstand an erratic watering schedule and can live with direct or filtered light.
Read the 2021 Wellness Issue
To read: Click on the right and left arrows at the edge of the box to turn pages; to make the text larger, click on the fullscreen icon in the lower-right corner (desktop) or in the center (mobile).