Growing plants in the classroom can provide a wealth of benefits for students and educators. Indoor plants have been linked to improved concentration and memory as well as a reduction in stress. Research has also linked indoor plants with increased productivity and reduced mental fatigue, all of which can be beneficial in the classroom environment.
Students enjoy the responsibility of watering, cleaning, repotting, and even propagating indoor plants. Some classroom environments can be a bit tricky for growing plants due to low light conditions, dry air from central HVAC systems, and prolonged holidays during the school year, but the aesthetic value they bring to the classroom is well worth the effort.
Classrooms will have the most success with plants that require low to medium light, such as spider plant, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, snake plant, heartleaf philodendron, and friendship plant. Research conducted by NASA some years ago found that many of these plants remove toxic gases such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air inside space capsules as well as in homes, offices, and institutions. Avoid using plants considered poisonous or potentially irritating to skin.
Overwatering is one of the top killers of indoor plants that can lead to root rot, stem rot, fungus gnats, yellowing, and leaf drop. It is best to allow soil to dry completely between watering. If you aren’t sure if you should water, pick up the pot, and it feels light, you should probably give it a drink. if it’s still heavy, then wait a week or more before watering. Student scientists can research the needs of the plants in their classroom and design plant tags that alert caretakers of their water needs. For example, a green tag may mean water weekly, while yellow might signify to water every two weeks, and red would mean once a month.
Forced air heating creates dry conditions that most indoor plants dislike. Common indoor plants, such as spider plants and peace lilies enjoy high humidity. Humidity can be increased by grouping plants together and placing gravel or pebbles in a saucer filled with water underneath them. This strategy creates a rainforest effect, helping to prevent waterlogged soil yet keeping humidity high. Students can explore the effects of humidity on plants by creating terrariums using various types of containers and plants. For more information, see HGIC 1457, Indoor Plant- Terrariums.
Repotting indoor plants can lead to explorations of plant needs, identification of the parts of a plant, and math practice calculating the volume of soil needed. Most houseplants are not picky about the time of year they are repotted so if your plants have outgrown their container, move them to a slightly larger container. For best results, choose sterile, soil-less potting media that contains a slow release fertilizer.
For more information about indoor plants, see HGIC 1450, Indoor Plants – Cleaning, Fertilizing, Containers & Light Requirements.
- Lohr, V. What Are The Benefits Of Plants Indoors And Why Do We Respond Positively To Them? Acta Horticulturae 675–682 (2010). doi:10.17660/actahortic.2010.881.111