ˈɪndɔː plɑːnts: plants that die slowly in buildings
September 17, 2017 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I need to get up to speed on designing (and to some extent maintaining) indoor plants.

I design landscapes but have wanted to expand into interior work and now may be able to. I have a good understanding of lighting and light re plant needs and all the normal plant understanding. My issues are likely to include owners unrealistic about light levels for healthy plants; that plants dry out rapidly in air-con spaces; and that air movement is usually inadequate leading to fungal issues, parasites etc. - so ASFAIK those are my main problems.

There is no one in my region who does this and my client is at their wits end. There's also the chance of larger works outside later on.

My site is a large office complex at 45° South, and faces south, so not a lot of direct light into the building, also some planting areas are 10metres or more from a window. Building is probably heavily insulated and air-conditioned so a stable-ish temperature is possible. I'm unsure yet if there are operable windows but probably not. Artificial lighting is likely to run for 14 hours a day.

Plantwise I'll use ferns and similar forest-floor species, small trees, shrubs and will be looking for 'seasonal' change and color; I've got lots of plant ideas; keeping them alive is the issue.

I've read some older questions but this is a large commercial space with possibly a harsher 'climate'.
posted by unearthed to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you be more specific about the actual question you're asking?
posted by wintersweet at 4:18 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am heavily into the houseplant world and have a couple acquaintances who are vendors for office buildings. They rent the plants out for a certain term, say three weeks, and then come through and remove the old plants and cycle new plants through. The vendors then restore the less-than-happy plants that suffered in the subpar space to contentment/beauty again in their own space and either sell them on or restart the cycle again. (Or, if they were paid enough money and the plants were cheap enough, occasionally they just throw them out. I have rescued four bromeliads from this fate from an unaffiliated office building that was in the process of throwing them out at the exact moment I happened to be there for unrelated reasons.) If you are rotating plants, many of your listed issues don't have enough time to become a real problem.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:50 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need a service to do this or all the plants will die. The services around here don't cycle the plants as it's too cold in the winter to move them but they are wizard at keeping them happy. Our local hospital has genuine tropical trees in it that must be a couple decades old and most of the larger office buildings have amazing plantings in the public areas.

A cheaper solution for the rest of the building is to let employees have their own plants, which is what we do. It's a virtual forest in my half of the building but the other half couldn't keep a snake plant alive for 6 months if you gave them a million dollars and 12 books on snake plants.
posted by fshgrl at 5:33 PM on September 17, 2017

Response by poster: wintersweet - I'm just wanting to understand the specific issues that threaten indoor plants and what I need to consider to get the best outcome.

gray17 - that is simply the most complete indoor plant paper I could imagine. I'm also finding it's helping me think about other problems the specific building may have and how to solve for that. Thanks again.

yes, rotating plants is the ideal, not an option unfortunately. My local botanic garden does this and has the most amazing propagation house.

Fshgrl - I like your idea of employees having their own plants; and with the added benefit of a free socio-cultural survey!

I've got some queries out to try and unearth some indoor plant people - this is a region where such knowledge is rare, so again I may have to coach some people.
posted by unearthed at 5:48 PM on September 17, 2017

Ferns are a huge pain in the ass and are a poor choice for your needs. They need a lot of humidity and will probably die in an office building unless someone lovingly mists them and waters them just a perfect trickle each day.

Pothos, Schefflera, Spider Plant, Ficus Benjamina, and ZZ plant are office mainstays that tend to live a long time and can handle some neglect.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:19 PM on September 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a giant (planter is like 4x1x2.5') and healthy mother-in-law's tongue that's about 3 feet away from me right now. I sit...pretty far from a window, and the plant is equidistant between windows in the center of a big open plan office room. With chilly air conditioning.

I like this plant a lot and I'd notice if they were rotating it out. But we do have pros who come in for plant care.

I honestly don't know how it's thriving, but it is. Oh, and we have most of the fluorescents turned off, so it's pretty much in the dark.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:52 AM on September 18, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks pseudostrabismus - I hadn't thought of Schefflera , and we have a native species here. NZ has about 600sp of ferns and a few tough oddities which may work but I take your point.
posted by unearthed at 2:10 PM on September 18, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks again to everyone - this was a all a great help towards what will be a valuable and interesting client and a challenging indoor garden.
posted by unearthed at 2:23 AM on November 1, 2017

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