Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

Keeping green and growing houseplants as office companions?  The addition of a few foliaged accessories is shown to help reduce stress, increase productivity, enhance employee attitudes, lower operating costs, and improve air quality.

Interior spaces aren’t ideal for many plants, but with a bit of planning, you can succeed in having plants around your cubicle even if you’re not near a window.  Here are a few tips on lighting for your fronds and foliage:

Light is essential for plant growth, and for your plants to be happy, keep three things in mind: intensity, duration and quality.

Intensity, or brightness of the light, governs the manufacture of plant food, stem length, leaf color, and flowering.  Plants in low light – common in offices – tend to be spindly with leaves light green in color. In very bright light the plant would be stockier, with better branching and larger, dark green leaves.

Houseplants vary in their light needs: high, medium and low light. Control intensity of light by placing the plant closer to, or farther from, the light source (light decreases rapidly as you move away from the source).

Southern windows have the most intense light.  Eastern and western exposures receive about 60-percent of the intensity of southern exposures, while northern exposures receive 20-percent of the light a southern exposure provides.

Duration of light received by plants is of some importance, but generally only to those houseplants that use day-length to stimulate bloom, such as Poinsettia, kalanchoe, and Christmas cactus.  Many flowering houseplants are indifferent to day-length, and respond to other factors.

If you are in a low light office, you can increase the length of time the plant gets light to make up for poor light, so that there is a longer period of time during the day that the plant can photosynthesize.

However, plants require some period of darkness to grow and thus should be illuminated for no more than 16 hours. Too much of a good thing is as harmful as too little.  Protect plants by turning off your lights as you leave for the day and place them closer to the window or the artificial bulbs illuminating your space.

If artificial lights are to be used as the only source of light for growing plants, the quality of light (wavelength) must be considered. For photosynthesis, plants require mostly blues and reds but for flowering, infrared light is also needed. Fluorescent lights vary according to the phosphorus used by the manufacturer. Cool white lights produce mostly blue light and are low in red light.

Foliage plants grow well under cool white fluorescent lights and these lights are cool enough to position quite close to plants. Blooming plants require extra infrared which can be supplied by incandescent lights, or special horticultural type fluorescent lights.

Consider the size the plant will grow to when choosing it for your office or you might end up with a gigantic space hog in a few years. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), dracaena, English ivy (Hedera helix), or schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla) are good choices and easy to grow.  But check with your local garden center for help picking out the best plant for your space.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail [email protected] or visit