The Sill—a plant design, delivery and maintenance e-commerce business—is our go-to source for any and all plant related questions. They're the experts in indoor-plant care and who west elm trusts to keep all of our greenery happy + healthy. We asked Christopher Satch, Plant Specialist at The Sill, to teach us his ways and show us not just what type of plant to buy, but how to keep it alive and thriving.
Hi all! Christopher here. Offices can be some of the most unwelcoming places - but they don’t have to be! Adding a little greenery into your workspace can improve productivity, reduce stress, and give you a little buddy to bounce ideas off of. Plants are easier to take care of than you think, and knowing the right plants for the right job (no pun intended) is the key to success.
Sunlight = Food
We at The Sill specialize in finding the best plants for just about any indoor space. The most important part of keeping a plant is knowing how much natural light it will receive. Sunlight equals food for plants, and certain plants need more than others. Light quality will also influence watering and plant growth. The more light that your plant receives, the more you will need to water the plant, and the more it will grow.
Certain plants will require more light than others. For example, cacti and succulents – desert natives – require bright light to thrive. They’re great because they’re drought-tolerant (you’re looking at watering them only once every few weeks), making they super low maintenance, but they will not do well if they do not receive any direct sunlight. They are best for brighter offices, with large windows that get a lot of natural light.
For shadier offices, or offices with primarily artificial light, you will want to choose a plant that can thrive in lower light levels – like a Calathea, Pothos, Snake Plant, or ZZ Plant. Snake Plants and ZZ Plants are also drought-tolerant, like cacti and succulents, so they’re great picks if your workweeks are busy ones. Water these fellas only once every few weeks, too.
Plastic ≠ Home
Now that you’ve narrowed down what plant to pick based off your office’s light – it’s time to plant it! No, not slipping the plant in it’s plastic grow pot into a larger pot, but actually planting it. Plants are not meant to live in the plastic pots that they are sold in. Those are meant to be temporary housing. In fact, many of them are overgrown and root-bound in those pots.
It is best to replant them with regular potting soil in a pot that is 1”-2” bigger than their current size. Be sure to loosen the roots and pack the fresh soil in firmly, to prevent pockets of air in the soil. Any planter with drainage holes is ideal, to help avoid overwatering, but if you choose a planter with no drainage – simply add a layer of lava rocks at the bottom of the planter to create a space for the excess water to pool, away from the plant’s root system.
Dry Soil + Water = Happy Plant
A rule of thumb with watering - only water when the soil is dry! That’s the easiest way to keep your plant alive. (Unless you opt for a humidity-loving plant, like an orchid or fern – but most offices don’t provide the humid environment they’d prefer anyway.) Your soil will dry faster in warmer, sunnier offices, and slower in darker, colder offices. You may have to feel your soil if it’s a larger plant (bigger than 6” in diameter), or you can eyeball it if it’s smaller. If it’s 4” or less, and has drainage holes at the bottom, you can elect to soak the plant instead. Remember that most plants only absorb water through their roots (the biggest exception being air plants), so water into the soil – not on top of the plant/its foliage.
The best thing to remember: to make a plant happy, try your best to recreate its natural environment! For example, ferns are from low light, wet environments, and cacti are from bright light dry environments. Recreating each plant’s natural habitat, or choosing plants whose natural habitat is similar to your office habitat – is the key to success. If you’re in doubt about plants you have, the best bet is to identify them and search Wikipedia – or if you want to nerd-out with other plant lovers, and live in NYC, you can sign up for our weekly plant workshops, or swing by our store at 84 Hester Street.
Photos by Landon Vonderschmidt