Blog: MCA DNA Index

Plant Parenting in Winter

By Paul Carlo EspositoAbraham Ritchie

Featured images

Three plants, a rectangular clock, and a rock sit on an office desk, illuminated by a minimal, LED desk light.
  1. Long An aralia, succulent and snake plant sit on an office desk with a large, rust colored volcanic rock. The rock sits on a book titled "Fucking Apostrophes". A rectangular, white clock with a countdown to Christmas sits behind the rock and book.
The Design, Publishing, and New Media office is teeming with plants
All images courtesy of Shauna Skalitzky, unless otherwise noted

blog intro

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.

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.


Three plants in ceramic pots sit on an office desk, illuminated by a minimal, LED light.
  1. Long Two succulents and a croton plant sit in terra cotta and ceramic pots. The plants sit on two desks in a grey office space. A black, minimal, LED desk light illuminates the plants.
Jade and croton plants in the Design, Publishing, and New Media office

3. Plants need sunlight to live.

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.


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

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.
  1. Long A desk with 5 potted plants and desk lamps illuminating them, Each plant is a different variety: Lavender, Boston Fern, Jade, Pothos, and False Aralia. The lamps are positioned in a way that the plants can best absorb their light.
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.

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