Most of our day is spent in the office, often stuck to our desk or in meetings. With the amount of time that we spend at our workplace, the elements that are placed in an office have come under increased scrutiny. Several companies are doing up their interiors in bright colours and installing posture-friendly furniture to make their employees happy and comfortable. A significant number of business owners have also realised the benefits of having live plants and fresh flowers in their offices as opposed to artificial flowers.

Plants do much more than just make an office look pretty. They increase the oxygen levels in your office, thus making your employees feel more energised throughout the day and the fragrance that emanates from fresh flowers acts as a natural deodorant. Plants bring the outdoors in and create a sense of tranquillity in the area.

New carpets, paints, upholstery, computers and plastics are among the many products used in offices that release toxins into the environment. One of the many researches on toxins in office spaces found that just one potted plant per 100 square feet of floor space can help clean the air.

Here’s a low-down of which plants are good to keep in an office environment

Pretty and practical

Areca palm is a fairly popular plant known to remove ammonia and formaldehyde [found in many cleaning products] from the air. It cleanses the air by releasing moisture into it. There are other plants that look good as well as keep the environment toxin-free, like the Peace Lily, which removes acetone. The Rubber Plant, the Ficus Benjamina [weeping fig] and the Dracaena are known to eliminate mould-causing asthma. Boston ferns absorb benzene ammonia apart from other gases. Philodendrons look stunning and are excellent at removing even high levels of formaldehyde. Devil’s Ivy or Golden Pothos is a superb air-cleansing plant because it absorbs carbon-dioxide from the air. Its decorative marbled leaves and easy maintenance make it a popular indoor plant.

Natural insect-repellents

In my need to experiment with plants, I’ve found several plants that work well in air conditioned surroundings and that manage to keep pests like rats, lizards, mosquitoes, flies, mites and roaches at bay. Geraniums can be used to keep flies and mosquitoes away. Pencil euphorbia is known to keep rats at bay, while Rue works well to keep lizards and mites out of the workspace. These plants can even be kept in closed, dark spaces like cloakrooms, restrooms and service passages.

Over the years, I have realised that they are an effective way to keep the office insect-free without the use of highly toxic chemicals that have devastating side-effects on the health of your employees.

not-just-pretty-2-280x199Fitting into the new landscape

Many people are afraid of incorporating plants and landscape in the office as they feel that will be out of sync with the structure.

But if you arrange your plants, terrarium, landscapes and bonsais properly, they can give the office the clean professional look that blends seamlessly with your corporate environment. Plants like Anthurium, Phalaenopsis and Orchids are visually very appealing and though they cost a little more than commonly-found flowers, they compensate with their aesthetics.

Creating your own terrarium is another way to bring some fun into your workspace. A terrarium is a collection of plants that are grown in an enclosed or partially enclosed clear container. Since they share the same environment, it is best if you fill it with plants that are compatible to each other. A terrarium filled with ferns and other small plants is an ideal way to create your own miniature landscape. Also they are low maintenance plants and hence ideal for people who want to have plants but are too busy to take care of them.

Table top landscapes are small indoor ceramic trays that are decorative in form with plants arranged to make it look like a landscape.

Bonsais are another way to bring a miniature garden into your cubicle. Bonsai is the Japanese art form of pruning trees so that they remain small. They are miniature trees that can be grown in containers… it’s not as hard as it sounds and if done well it can completely change the look of the place.

Basic maintenance practices

You need to remember that since the plants are in an office, anything that you need to do to take care of the plant must be swift and precise, so that you don’t disturb your co-workers or create a mess. Based on the frequency, maintenance work can be divided into three categories:-

Daily

  • Removal of yellow leaves
  • Cleaning/wiping of planters
  • Watering [depending on the type of plant]
  • Emptying coasters of excess water.

Weekly

  • Trimming/pruning of the bonsai and cleaning of the terrarium
  • Shifting of plants that are in dark spots to places with more light and vice-versa
  • Setting of decorative ornaments like marble chips, stones and water features.

Monthly

  • Tiding moss sticks
  • If you have orchids, take them out of the premises and do the feeding [addition of liquid fertilisers]
  • Addition of mud manure in plants needs to be done outside the office premises
  • Trimming of landscape tray.

Following these steps will help you to keep your plants healthy, which will in turn ensure that you are healthy.

Scratchy things

Crushed eggshells, sandpaper, cinders and wood chips work well as a barrier to keep insects out. Though they might be a bit messy, they are an effective form of pest-control. The crushed egg shell method might smell but it keeps lizards away.

Toxin-free pest control

Plants make good hiding places for insects and are often also a source of food. Here are some ways to get rid of them without splurging on chemicals that can harm you in the bargain.

Home-made insecticide

It is easy to make your own insecticide with ingredients you’re likely to have in the kitchen. The best thing is that it is non-toxic.

Mix together:

  • 2 cups of vegetable oil
  • ½ cup of dish-washing detergent

When you shake it, it becomes a milky colour and that’s from where it gets its name ‘White Oil’. This mixture will be usable for a couple of months.

To use it, add two tablespoons of the concentrate to a litre of water and it’s ready to be used. Horticultural oil works by suffocating the pests, so it’s really important that you get good coverage. Make sure you get the oil covering all over the plants. It effectively eliminates lizards, aphids, white flies, leaf miners, mealy bugs and mites. It can be used on roses, citrus plants, stone fruit and most house plants. Avoid spraying this oil in the hot weather as it can burn the foliage and also avoid spraying it on soft-leafed plants like lettuce and ferns. You should also avoid using oil sprays within a month of the applying a sulphur-based fungicide.

Horticultural oil is a safe and effective insecticide and it kills a large number of insects.

This was first published in the September 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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