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Three plants, a rectangular clock, and a rock sit on an office desk, illuminated by a minimal, LED desk light.

The Design, Publishing, and New Media office is teeming with plants

All images courtesy of Shauna Skalitzky, unless otherwise noted

Plant Parenting in Winter

by Paul Carlo Esposito and Abraham Ritchie


As Chicago gradually returns to its regular winter weather program (i.e., cold and gloomy), two green thumbs at the MCA present a few tips for keeping your greenery alive during these bleak months.

1. Choose plants that are really hard to kill.

Office plants are easy to neglect especially when their owners go on vacation. Due to their heartiness, spider plants, lemon balm, philodendron, and air plants are all sound office plants.

2. Understand the climate of your office.

Three plants in ceramic pots sit on an office desk, illuminated by a minimal, LED light.

Jade and croton plants in the Design, Publishing, and New Media office

Most offices are dry with low light. Plants that live in dry climates often like a lot of sunlight and most plants that live in shade like a lot of water/humidity. Accommodate their needs by supplementing your office environment with more light (such as artificial light from a desk lamp if windows are scarce) or water your plants more frequently to accommodate them.

3. Plants need sunlight to live.

A lit desk lamp is trained on a small jade plant growing in a glass jar half-filled with water. The plant bends slightly toward the light. Small knickknacks and paper goods are lined up beside the plant on the desk.

A jade plant in the Education offices

Photo: Abraham Ritchie

This is obvious, but if you don’t work near a window, you should supplement the ambient light in your office with desk lamps. The closer the light is to the plant the more energy it can absorb.

4. Don’t overwater your plants.

If you often kill your plants with too much water, make a schedule to keep yourself in check.

Make sure you also elevate your plant above the dish it's in (small rocks are a simple solution) and make sure that your pot has drainage holes—a lot of plants are sold in decorative cache pots that don't allow excess water to drain. Most plants hate "wet feet," and water pooling at the bottom can lead to rot and disease. If your plant needs humidity, don't soak it in a pool of water. Instead, create a humidity tray with rocks and water and elevate the plant above it.

5. Pay attention to your plants.

Like other living things, plants are susceptible to disease. Examine them for signs of disease, insect infestation, or other health problems.

Vibrant green plants of various sizes sit on a table illuminated by desk lamps.

Cultivating a lavender bush in the Design, Publishing, and New Media office is a brave choice

6. Make sure your plants are getting their vitamins.

Plants need their vitamins, too! Though winter isn't the time to heavily fertilize, adding liquid-soluble fertilizer about once a month will help the plant grow. You should double-check how much fertilizer your particular plant needs before you start though.