plants in office with no natural light?

kimya(9b CA coastal)September 27, 2005

Hello all,

My name is Kimya and I have just started a new job. I am pleased to have an office to call my own. It has no natural light and the standard flourescent lighting.

Any suggestions on what might work? I've never gardened with no natural light before. I was thinking pothos. I did get a small heart shaped ivy and also a button fern. Do I need to rotate plants out periodically?

Thanks for any suggestions!

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The pothos and the heart leaf philodendron should do just fine. I see no reason to rotate those in and out. I know very little about button ferns. Someone else will have to answer that. I did have a Boston fern in a similar situation and it did very well. Other plants you might consider: parlor palm, Chinese evergreen, Arrowhead plant, prayer plant, snake plant and Swedish ivy to name a few. I'm sure others can add to the list.

Congratulations on getting your own office! That is so nice! I had that happened to me once and was able to keep it for about four years until space became a premium and had to give it up.


    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 4:40PM
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pgraveolens(Sonoma County)

The "lucky bamboo" which, I believe, is really a dracena, grew luxuriantly in only artificial light in my ex-office at the desk of a friend.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 1:26AM
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ktd125(z6 WPA)

I currently have an office without windows, too. I have chosen to grow anything in water because it is easier to take care of. I have a peace lily and lucky bamboo. They both are doing so well, people think they are fake!!! A snake plant would also do well. Thanks for your post, I have a little heart-shaped philo that I might be taking in!! Good luck and congrats on the office!!!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 6:44AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

I had a Sanseveria in an office for 13 years with only artificial light.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 1:44PM
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kimya(9b CA coastal)

Thanks so much for all the replies! You have allayed my anxiety of not being able to grow things in such a situation, which would be a bummer since plants have such a relaxing effect. Need all I can get at work!

I have had the fern and the ivy for two weeks and they are doing quite well so far although they need more water than I am used to. However, my home is more humid so that is prob why. Does anyone recommend misting in a dry environment? And what about fertilizing if at all?

It is encouraging to know that things can be grown! I am still on the lookout for a pothos and now maybe a lucky bamboo :) I will update on how my plants are doing too.

Take care!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2005 at 3:13PM
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Many suitable plants were suggested, but I must strongly disagree about the Swedish Ivy. It's a wonderful plant, I have several, but it needs medium to bright filtered light. I've learned that the hard way...never tried to grow 1 w/out natural light, but I recently attempted to keep one to the side of a north window and it languished....perked right up when I moved it to a west window.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 12:38AM
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I strongly recommend the ZZ plant. You can't kills this plant and it's very attractive. I've seen them at WalMart and Lowe's........

    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 4:21PM
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donnambr(Oregon zone 8)

Personally, I have had good luck with pothos (leaves won't marble), peace lily (doesn't flower), lucky bamboo, ZZ plant, and sanseveria.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2005 at 11:29PM
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Hi Kimya,

How are the plants doing?


    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 12:38AM
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So, what are all telling Kim...that she can grow plants without light....without artificial light, without natural light.

The fluorescent lights up on the ceiling surely wont help, its too far away. That kind of light should be within inches of plants.

So what are we telling Kim?

Without some form of natural light, she has to figure out what kind of artificial light can her office provide....and will it be enough for what she chooses.

Malls regularly exhibit real plants growing in the aisles...but ...look up, they are most likely under a light coming through a skylight.

Fluorescent lighting, expressly for growing plants is available and do good for plants.
Plants that are given such light need not be watered as much, are given far less fertilizer and mostly, they will stay much as they are, they wont grow like their natural light versions.

Most times too, if you wish your plant to flower, it must be given this special light.

Plants in office locations are also needed to be watered--albeit less...and they must also be given some rest. so the lighting will have to be able to be put on a timer and can be activated on Saturdays and Sundays and holidays.
Artificial light is usually "ON" for 10 to 12 hours....16 if flowering is expected.

Fluorescent lighting will not harm plants so can be used quite close. Distance from the plants can be from 6 to 12 inches away.
From how the plant develops we then pull back or push forward the distance.

If plant foliage bunches together, it is receiving too much light. If the plant grows leggy, it is not receiving sufficient light.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 2:06PM
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Hello Diane,

My apologies to Kimya if we gave her the impression that these plants would perform at their best and even flower. I agree with Karem. The Swedish ivy would probably not do that well in the conditions that Kimya described. I have never grown a Swedish ivy in an office environment as described and should not have been put on the list. Otherwise, I have grown all of the plants from my suggested list in an office environment where there were fluorescent lights in a 9 ft. ceiling and no windows. There also was no light during Saturdays and Sundays unless of course I was doing overtime. Yes the pothos, heart leaf philodendron and Arrowhead plant's leaves were a little small and had a tendency to get leggy. But, they were plants and they did decorate my office for years. The parlor palm, Boston fern and Chinese evergreen all did well. The parlor palm flowered and the Boston fern sent out shoots from which I was able to propagate new Boston ferns. I would suggest that if she can hang plants from the ceiling or put them on her desk or table and get them closer to the lights they will do much better than sitting on the floor. They don't need to be within inches of the fluorescent lights though. In that same office environment in the hallways, devoid of windows, there were Chinese evergreens on the floor that did just fine.

I think to use a mall as an example of what an office environment is going to be like is rather unfair. I know of no malls that have 9 ft. ceilings.

As far as cool fluorescent lights not been acceptable for growing plants, that is not true. I know people who use cool fluorescent lights and grow blue ribbon African violets under them. One does not need a grow light to grow plants or even make them flower.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 5:40PM
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kimya(9b CA coastal)

Hi everyone!

I just wanted to give an update on the plants. They are all doing very well. Larry you are right the pothos and ivy are happily putting on new growth. The button fern seems to be maintaining more than putting on growth but is hanging in there.

I do have a lamp with a non-flouresent bulb that I leave on during office hours. However, the plants seem to be thriving even if I forget to turn it on. After office hours, I turn off all the lights except for one florescent light that is part of my desk (pretty low light). I have been experimenting with on the weekends leaving on just one of the overhead flouresents (I can't spell that to save my life :). I water with tepid water when top soil is dry and plant "feels light". Plants seem to be responding very well.

Thank you all for the information. How amazing it is that these plants can make it in such an environment! I will continue to check back on this thread and post updates!

My next project is I think to try an African violet on my desk where it can have access to the flouresent desk light. I guess I can always "cheat" and rotate the plants if they are having trouble flowering b/c I have a great African violet spot at home!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 7:08PM
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spmimi(z6 (nyc))

i have a dracaena and bromeliad that are doing quite well if not better than at home, good growth and new offshoots. they receive standard flourescent from 6am-midnight!

however, another thing to consider about offices.... the usual lack of humidity. it is extremely dry in my office, as most are. it means more watering for me, but you might have to keep a watch on any other plants you have that need high humidity.


    Bookmark   November 23, 2005 at 10:08AM
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I'm very much in agreement with Larry's post. I don't think malls are the best example for comparison. There is a mall near my home that I visit regularly that has plants all over the place. In many areas there are no skylights. The difference with malls is that the plants are taken care of by professionals and a lot of times they are rentals. In other words, those plants are rotated as soon as they deteriorate and a new batch is replanted to replace them. So although you may seem the same type, it's not the same plant. That's why they always look so darn good no matter when you see them.

I used to work in an office where my desk was not near a window. Regardless, greenery was important to me so I brought in plants to take care of that need. I had mostly Aglaonemas and Dracaenas with some Lucky bamboo. They all did well. Perhaps they didn't do as well as my houseplants at home in front of windows but they weren't all that bad.

Kimya, another thing you might consider, if you want the plants to grow and thrive a little more, is to rotate them. I do this all the time at home since the 'hot spots' for light and humidity are limited and not all my plants have a chance at them. You can have two sets of each plant, keep one at home in that 'perfect spot' and one at the office. When the one at the office looks a little weary, take it home and bring its twin in and swap their spaces. Each plant will get a chance to rejuvenate every time it gets back to your home for better light and humidity.

At home I swap positions like this between plants once a month. All the plants seem to be enjoying their vacation in front of the hot spot before they're rotated. Anyhow, just another idea to ponder.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2005 at 12:17PM
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Indeed, one can relate a particularly nice plant they have that has done well in low light circumstances....

Some plants grow in rain forests where they are completely sheltered from sunlight because of nearby giants....and they prosper.
But, no plant, no where, no how, can be expected to grow in NO LIGHT.

Malls, to be sure, do not have 9 foot ceilings.....they have 20...25 foot ceilings and the light over plants is usually a skylight. I have often gone over to a plant, examined it for whether its real or not, found that it is quite real and realized it is doing very well owing to the natural light above.

I think we could be doing readers a disfavor by suggesting plants can do well under fluorescent lighting that is 9 feet away up in the ceiling. We may see for a time how a plant does well...but that is because its just come from the supplier and has some in-built energy....but leave it there for 6 months and then say whether the absence of light is not the doing the plant harm.

Even the ordinary incandescent lights in our lamps can influence how a plant grows but they must be used in conjunction with the fluorescents. Incandescent light is not strong enough in the red and blue color bands that plants need and they create too much heat.

Fluorescent lights will not harm plants so can be put very close to the foliage.
For this, fixtures are encouraged to be fixed with a white or foil reflector to direct light down onto the foliage.
Light received by the plant is best placed under the center of the tube for sufficient light to do its magic.
Fifteen to twenty watts of light is required for every sqaure foot of growing surface.
And plants need a time of darkness every 24 hours.

If the office is particularly dry....plants are not the sole thing to feel its effects. Dry mouths, dry lips, dry skin can result on us and cause much misery especially in winter. A container of water placed on top of a register, in front of a heat vent or the spraying of the air can dispell some of the dryness. A humidity tray where the plant is sitting on gravel above a few inches of water can help a plant immensely. The pot that plants are placed in can also affect how much water they lose to outside influences. Glazed or ceramic are notorious water holders....but they too should be seen to drain properly.
Plastic, most common, can often delay much longer a plant's requirement to need water....again it must drain.

And the clay pot, it absorbs some of the water given and is prescribed for new or novice gardeners since it will often show up problems of the water before any damaging harm comes to the plant.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2005 at 3:13PM
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Hi Kimya, et al.

I just came across this thread and thought I'd put in another option that I may have missed in my perusal of all the responses...

I was in an interior office with no natural light for 4 years (I am happy to report that I moved to an office with a south window last September) and had 2 diffenbachia growing. GROWING! No fertilizer. No weekend lights. Florescents on only when I was in the office and no other light source outside of that.

These are fast growers and attractive, too. You have to have the space, though, as they can grow very tall quickly.

How did your av do under the flourescents?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2006 at 10:00PM
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Hey, this is a slightly delayed follow up but i was interested in the conversations going on inbetween you guys. have you ever considered aquatic plants? a good choice with your kind of light would be java fern. just give it rock and water. grats anyway

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 4:58PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Plants in offices with dry air may need a bit more water, but please be cautious - plants in low light use surprisingly little water. Sounds like Kimya is doing just fine, though! :)

Depending on just how much light is in an office with ceiling lights, and how good their care is, low light plants may survive indefinitely, although they probably won't be as lush and full as if they were in more light. It is likely, however, that they will gradually decline over a period of one to five years. Just expect that, don't take it personally, and budget for new plants occasionally. They're still way cheaper and longer lasting than cut flowers!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 10:55AM
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I had plants--prayer plants, philodendrens--that did very very well in an office with mostly fluoresecent lighting, and very little natural light. They did very well. It used to surprise me.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 5:52PM
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Humidity tray.... humidity tray.... humidity tray.... try it and things will be even better your butten fern will love you for it. Also Photohs can become lanky in low light as well as loose their golden coloring. Spider plants would also be a good idea just dont use floraide in you water or they get nasty brown tips on the leaves.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 9:34PM
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Great advice everyone!

That's an extensive list of greenery, but I'm concerned about color. Apart from the African Violets, does anything flower under florescent light? I'm lucky enough to have florescent bulbs under my shelves so proximity isn't a problem. Unfortunately, I can't time the lights so they can only be on the 10 +/- hours M-F that I'm in my space.

What are my options for plugging in a "grow" lamp? Do they make them small enough that I could point it at different plant each day?

I think I saw once someone with a water plant in a clear vase with a Beta fish living under its roots. Any suggestions on what plants would work for something like that?

Any advice would be appreciated. I recently moved from a terrible job with a beautiful corner office (I had orchids that flowered each year) to a great job with a small, high-walled, cubicle.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 9:08AM
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zachslc(6 Salt Lake City)

has anyone mentioned Aspidistra elatior?

i have had a problem with spider mites in my office--I think it is a result of the warm, dry air. One thing about philodendron--the ones in my office get a lot of yellow leaves. I have read this is due to not having temperature fluctuations.

When my company moved I was charged with caring for the plants. Somehow I had several large ficus thrust upon me to keep alive in an environment with very little natural light. As they have died I have replaced them with large dracaenas and peace lilies. If it is an open office environment be advised that people have a peculiar habit of pouring their cold coffee in plants. However, I am not convinced it does them any harm.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 9:27AM
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zachslc(6 Salt Lake City)

has anyone mentioned Aspidistra elatior?

i have had a problem with spider mites in my office--I think it is a result of the warm, dry air. One thing about philodendron--the ones in my office get a lot of yellow leaves. I have read this is due to not having temperature fluctuations.

When my company moved I was charged with caring for the plants. Somehow I had several large ficus thrust upon me to keep alive in an environment with very little natural light. As they have died I have replaced them with large dracaenas and peace lilies. If it is an open office environment be advised that people have a peculiar habit of pouring their cold coffee in plants. However, I am not convinced it does them any harm.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 10:41AM
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This is what has worked for me in my sunless office:

devil's tongue ivy- thrives
a variegated pothos- thrives
sans. t- who knows, it grows so slow.
two peace lilies- thriving
lucky bamboo- thriving
pilea (not sure what type)- growing, not sure if it's "thriving" though
silver philodendron- it's only been there two weeks, but it is growing madly.

Not doing so hot:

sans. hahnii
lucky money tree- slowly putting out new growth, but also losing some leaves.

Luckily, I'm moving to a new office with a western exposed window in about two weeks.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 9:45PM
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Hi, I also have a lucky bamboo in my office with the artificial light, it is only pendant lights but it works fine in my plant. I'm planning to put another hibiscus soon.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 6:32PM
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Hi, Kimya! Have you considered growing sprouts? You can get sprout jars or make your own. You can sprout a number of yummy, edible sprouts in a few days. There are websites and books by sproutman that tell you what and how. I use mine on sandwiches and in salads. They take getting used to a pattern of rinsing them each day (some of them more)and harvesting them. Why not grow some of your lunch right in front of your co-workers?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 12:16AM
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radagast(US east coast)

I have had a pair of spider plants on my desk for 7.5 years at work. They grow under a pair of flourescent lamps, which are on about 9 hours a day. There is also some ambient flourescent lighting as well.

They've grown well and they actually do flower and put out stalks with baby spider plants on them.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 8:42AM
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I am in a cube in an office with flourescent lights, but not many since a lot of the blubs have been unscrewed to reduce glare. I have a very happy dracena (actually, it started losing leaves when i brought it home for a few weeks, so it went back to the office).

I used to have a 'clearance rescue' arrowhead vine that was recovering nicely, but when i was taking it home for the weekend to change pots i accidentally left it on the 'giveaway' table before leaving - hopefully it has a new happy home!

I have a 'rescued' calathea that is recovering nicely. but beware- these plants do NOT like hard tap water, they get ugly brown spots. So i am now using rainwater from our rain barell at home to water it every week, and will cut off the spotted brown leaves when enough nice new ones come in.

and a QUESTION...I am trying a co-planted palm and croton, but not sure how it will work. i have them right up under a full-spectrum 40-watt lamp. the croton has lost a few leaves, but they were all ones that were partly under the soil. think i should switch to a flourescent bulb there? other than the one losing a few leaves, they've been there for prob almost 2 months and seem to be maintaining, growing a bit.

and of course philodendron will grow pretty much anywhere.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 11:24PM
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greenjulia(zone 7b bham al)

i work in a secured building, which means absolutely no windows or skylights. we have overhead fluorescent lighting, but my cube also has a 24 inch fluorescent light that is underneath an overhead cabinet. there is probably about 10-12 inches between the light and the top of my desk.

i have a golden pothos, a curly spider plant and a mini jade plant on my desk. all are doing VERY well. i try to keep the humidity up with trays and a small mister.

i did try to keep 2 anthuriums at the office (i don't know what type; they came from lowe's), but they didn't thrive. so i brought them home.

now EVERYONE in the office is bringing plants to work!

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 5:52PM
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If some plants do ok under fluorescent lights, what about CFL's. Will they keep plants alive?

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 1:23AM
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Kimya, 'Plants do for us not because of what we do for them but in spite of what we do for them' (source unknown). There are a few things about growing plants in the office/mall or other commercial location that are different.
It is true that plants require light but I have seen a healthy Chamaedorea seifrizii in an office where the only light is from a fluorescent desk lamp. Dark offices, lit by the computer screen(s) only are very much in vogue and they often have plants.
Plants in these situations are treated as design features rather than horticultural specimens. The plants are carefully selected for size and shape and after installation they are maintained to the specs. of the interior designer.
The technicians who maintain these plants must be some of the best horticulturists anywhere.
Back to the plants in your office. Watering is the challenge. If the containers are free draining, be very careful of water spills; Murphy's first and second laws apply.
If the containers do not drain, devise some way to determine if water is collecting in the bottom; Murphy's fifth law.
Put a yellow sticky insect monitor into each plant to trap any bugs that find their way into the plants. If you are not into popularity contests, the presence of fungus gnats in your plants will guarantee that you are a non starter.
Clean the plants regularly; the ubiquity of dust in what-are-supposed-to-be-dust-free environments will one day earn someone a PhD.
Grow your plants out to the extent that they complement the rest of your office decor and maintain them to that standard ever after.
Because if it does work out others will be encouraged to discard artificial plants in favor of the real thing.
Now, that I believe, is a worthwhile endeavor.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 9:31AM
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skippy05(z7 PA)

Due to lack of space at home when it gets too cold outside I always bring some plants to wotk. I overwintered a coleus at work. I just took him home the other day to put back outside.
I have a spider plant at work that is doing fantastic.
The plants are on top of tall file cabinets so they are probably 2 to 3 feet below the fluorescent lights. I have an inside office, no windows.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2008 at 7:25PM
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greenjulia(zone 7b bham al)

i have a fluorescent fixture that is about 12 inches above my desk. i recently purchased an inexpensive timer for it so i can control the lights (especially while on vacation or for when i work out of the office).

the bonnie spider plants seem to get the most attention from coworkers, as does my mason jar of pothos cuttings.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2008 at 8:04PM
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I agree with all of the others that suggested pothos and bamboo. Bamboo is so simple and will not die with little to no light. In fact, I only see clients at the private practice I work at 1-2 days a week. I have bamboo in the office that only gets light when someone is in the office, and it does fine. My other office tends to be more artificial light and I have no problems with the pothos and peace lily I keep there.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 9:13PM
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Hi Kay-jay,

CFLs are flourescent bulbs. They should work just fine.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 3:20PM
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