Photos: AJ Ragasa (Glasswing)
A lot of us spend the bulk of our workdays at a desk. Why not make it the healthiest work environment possible? Plants are proven air purifiers. They also make for a more productive workplace by easing stress, producing more oxygen and providing good things to eat. Office foliage does not have to be boring. Go beyond the simple plant-in-a-pot paradigm to make an intricate indoor herb garden that can provide calming effects and sustenance for your day.
With a little creativity and a quick assessment of your workplace lighting, you can create an edible garden with fresh herb accents for your lunchtime meal, or make your own herbal tea blend using your favorite aromatics.
Most edibles prefer direct sun from a south- or west-facing window. The sun should shine on the plants for at least 4 hours per day. If you do not have direct sun, but would like to grow edibles, consider using an alternative light source such as a lamp with an all-spectrum grow bulb.
While most edibles grow best in full sun, some can handle a lower range of light. These include: arugula, bay laurel, chives, cilantro, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme. Most herbs (with the exception of mint) can be planted together. Mint spreads quickly and will eventually take over an entire container, so it should be planted on its own.
If you are looking for calming plants for low-light office spaces and do not have the capability to provide a grow light, then consider skipping the edibles and focusing on low-light, high-impact plants such as baby tears, dracaenas, ferns, fittonia, peperomias, philodendrons, pothos, sansevieria and sugar vine. These can thrive in a lower range of light and will continue to provide the health benefits of easing stress and providing oxygen as well as purifying the air.
Depending on how many different types of plants you'd like to grow, you should select a pot with a drain hole and a saucer. A 6-inch-diameter pot is a good size for one to two plants. Two to three plants will fit in an 8-inch pot.
Use an organic potting soil for your plants. Fill the pot about halfway full with potting soil. You'll use the remaining soil after you place your plants.
To remove the plant from its plastic pot, pinch the plant at its base then, using your other hand, pinch the plastic pot and pull out the plant. Loosen up the plant's roots slightly (like a gentle massage) and place it in the container. Fill in the holes with more potting soil and pack the soil around the plant's roots, pressing the plant firmly into the soil.
Water your plants thoroughly after planting (about 2-3 cups of water), then aim to keep the soil lightly moist at all times. Think about the soil like a sponge. You want the soil to feel lightly moist, never soggy and never dry. If you're leaving for a long weekend, make sure to give the plants a good soaking to ensure they stay moist longer. Plants may need water daily or every couple of days from spring through fall, and less often in the winter. It's also a good idea to fertilize plants during the growing season (April-September) with an all-purpose organic liquid or granular fertilizer or compost tea.
When harvesting your herbs, you should prune the entire stem back (just above the leaf node) rather than just pulling off the leaves. Pruning the stem will cause the plant to grow fuller and will give you more leaves to harvest in the long run.
Part of having a garden is learning how to deal with pests or fungus. You should check your plants regularly to make sure your edibles are bug- and mold-free. A good organic treatment if you do need it is neem oil. Neem oil is primarily sold in a concentrate form and can be mixed with water and sprayed directly on the leaves of the plant.
Finally, keep an eye out for flowers. Once an herb starts to flower, that usually signals the end of its life for the season, so be vigilant about pruning off any potential flower buds you see.
Don't forget to add fresh herbs to your daily meal or steep them to make a tea. The aromatics and health benefits of fresh herbs are worth the time spent growing them!
Catnip: Can be used to aid upset stomachs.
Lavender: Great scent to provide calming effects.
Lemon Balm: Leaves can be crushed and added to water or used to make a tea. May help alleviate anxiety and insomnia.
Parsley: Always good to have around. A bit of parsley fights bad breath after a meal.
Peppermint: The scent can relieve nausea and the leaves can be used in a tea to aid digestion or relieve headaches.
Rosemary: Great scent to provide calming effects. Rich in antioxidants.
Sage: Leaves can be crushed and used to make a tea. Helps treat coughs and sore throats.
Thyme: Great scent to provide calming effects. Leaves can be used in a tea.