Adding live plants to the classroom can create a more vibrant and stimulating learning environment. It benefits students' physical and mental well-being, fosters a connection with nature, and can even improve learning.
But before you run out and buy whatever you find in the nearest garden center, take a moment to consider the lighting conditions in your classroom and how much time you can spend caring for your plants.
In this blog post, I'll explain some of the best classroom plants that are easy to care for (even if you don't have a green thumb) and tolerate the indoor low-light conditions.
Why have real plants in the classroom?
Introducing plants into the classroom provides a great opportunity for teach students responsibility. You can make "Gardener" one your classroom jobs and assign students to water, monitor, and care for your plants. This is great for kids because it fosters a sense of ownership, nurturing, and empathy. It teaches children about the importance of taking care of living things and instills a sense of accountability.
Plants can also become an integral part of your science lessons.
Other reasons to have plants in your classroom:
Plants add visual appeal to the classroom, making it a more pleasant and inviting space.
Plants provide a real connection to the natural world. This is especially important today when children are spending more and more time indoors engaged in technology. Exposure to nature, including plants, has been linked to improved cognitive functioning. Research indicates that the presence of plants can enhance memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.
Plants have a calming and stress-reducing effect which positively impacts mental health. Studies have shown that being in the presence of plants can lower anxiety levels and create a more relaxed atmosphere. In a classroom setting, reduced stress improves students' ability to focus, learn, and cope with academic challenges.
Plants are natural air purifiers as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. A classroom garden can improve air quality, leading to a healthier environment for students. Cleaner air can improve concentration and reduce fatigue.
What are some of the best plants for the classroom?
All of the following plants require minimal care and are ideal for a low-light environment - perfect plants for a classroom setting!
Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
Lucky bamboo is another great choice for a classroom with low light due to its adaptability and ease of care. It has a very unique appearance featuring long, slender stems with lush green foliage.
Benefits of Lucky Bamboo Plants:
Low Light Tolerance: Lucky bamboo plants can thrive in low light conditions and tolerate fluorescent lighting, making them suitable for indoor environments where direct sunlight is scarce.
Symbolic Appeal: Lucky bamboo plants are interesting to look at, but also carry symbolic significance. They are believed to bring good luck and positive energy.
Maintenance: Lucky bamboo is typically grown in water, similar to hydroponics. The roots are submerged in water, covering at least an inch of the stems. Use distilled or filtered water to prevent the accumulation of chemicals and minerals. Change the water every two weeks to prevent stagnation and keep it fresh.
SPIDER PLANT (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are recognized by their long, narrow leaves with white stripes. They produce "spiderettes" or baby plants that can be repotted to propagate new plants which makes them fun in a classroom. Students really enjoy watching the new plants grow and caring for them.
Benefits of Spider Plants:
Low-light tolerance: Spider plants are ideal for classrooms with limited natural sunlight or areas away from windows. They can still thrive and maintain their vibrant green foliage even in shaded areas.
Air Purification: Spider plants have great their air-purifying qualities. They have been found to effectively remove toxins like formaldehyde and xylene from the air.
Maintenance: Spider plants prefer consistently moist but not waterlogged soil. Water the plant thoroughly when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Drain any excess water from the saucer or pot to prevent root rot. During the winter months or in low light conditions, reduce the frequency of watering, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
SNAKE PLANT (Sansevieria)
The snake plant, also known as mother-in-law's tongue, is a great plant for a classroom without windows. It is known for its tall, narrow leaves that can reach up to several feet in height. However, this plant is toxic if ingested in large amounts, so avoid if you teach very young children.
Benefits of Snake Plants:
Low Light Tolerance: Snake plants are renowned for their ability to tolerate low light conditions. They have evolved to survive in the understory of forests where sunlight is limited. This makes them an ideal choice for classrooms with minimal natural light or for areas away from windows.
Air Purification: Snake plants are known for their air-purifying qualities. They efficiently remove toxins like formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene from the air, enhancing indoor air quality. In a classroom, snake plants can help create a healthier environment by reducing pollutants and promoting fresh air.
Maintenance: Snake plants have a high tolerance for neglect. This resilience makes them perfect for classrooms where consistent care might be a challenge.
It is a succulent, which means it is able to store water in its leaves and can survive long periods without water and periods of dry soil. They are drought-tolerant and prefer to dry out between waterings. Water the plant thoroughly and allow the soil to dry out partially before watering again. It's better to underwater than to overwater, as they are susceptible to root rot.
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Pothos has attractive, heart-shaped leaves that will brighten up any classroom. It is a trailing vine that can be grown in a hanging basket or on a shelf.
Benefits of Pothos Plants:
Low Light Tolerance: Pothos plants adapt well to low light environments. They tolerate and even thrive in areas with limited natural sunlight or fluorescent lighting.
Easy Propagation: Pothos plants are easy to propagate. You can grow new plants from stem cuttings placed in water or planted directly in soil. This is a great way to introduce your students to gardening and study plant growth.
Maintenance: Pothos plants are considered low maintenance and are forgiving to beginners. Regular pruning helps maintain their shape and appearance. Trim any yellow or brown leaves using sharp scissors or pruners. Pruning also encourages fuller growth and prevents the plant from becoming too leggy.
Friendship Plant (Pilea involucrata)
The Friendship Plant is another easy to grow plant. It is known for its beautiful foliage. The leaves have a velvety texture with raised, silver or bronze markings.
Benefits of Friendship Plants:
Light Needs: A friendship plant likes at least six to eight hours a day of light (but not direct sunlight). The perfect place for this plant is near a window where it will receive indirect but bright light. This plant would not be the best choice for a very dark classroom.
Compact Size: Friendship plants are compact in size, making them ideal for small spaces. They grow in a bushy, mounding shape when pinched back. They are suitable for tabletops, shelves, or hanging baskets. These plants will not take up your entire desk or bookshelf.
Easy Propagation: Friendship plants are known for being easy to propagate. They produce small, baby plantlets that can be separated from the parent plant and rooted in water or soil. New plants develop very rapidly.
Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
Jade plants are popular succulents with fleshy, oval-shaped leaves and a sturdy, tree-like appearance.
Benefits of Jade Plants:
Light Needs: Jade plants prefer bright but indirect sunlight for about six hours per day. If they are too shaded, they will grow tall and leggy. Place near a sunny window for best growth, but avoid direct rays of the sun.
Symbolic Appeal: This is another plant that has symbolic significance in some cultures. They are believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
Maintenance: Jade have low maintenance requirements. Water the plant thoroughly when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, but avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot. Prune jade plants as needed to maintain their shape and size.
Cast Iron Pot Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Cast iron plants have attractive dark green, glossy leaves. Just like a cast iron pan, these plants are tough!
Caring for a Cast Iron Plant:
Light Needs: Cast Iron plants prefer low light conditions and can even tolerate dimly lit corners. You can safely place them just about anywhere in the room besides a very bright window.
Maintenance: This plant practically thrives on neglect. It will grow in any type of well-draining sold and even tolerates short periods of drought - in case you forget to water it.
Space Needs: Cast Iron plants can grow somewhat large - two to three feet high and two feet wide - so you'll need to have a bit of space. However, this isn't a particularly fast-growing plant. So if you buy a small one, it should fit into your classroom just fine for quite a while.
Chinese Evergreen (Dionaea muscipula)
Chinese evergreens are popular indoor plants known for their attractive foliage. They have variegated leaves in various shades of green, silver, red, or pink. These durable plants make a great addition to the classroom environment.
Caring for a Chinese Evergreen Plant:
Light Needs: Chinese Evergreens thrive in low to moderate light conditions, making them ideal for classrooms with limited access to natural sunlight. You can place this plant in just about any spot of the room and it will do fine.
Durability: These plants are able to tolerate all kinds of environmental conditions. They easily withstand fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and are more resistant to common pests and diseases than many other plants.
Watering: Chinese Evergreens prefer slightly moist, but not waterlogged, soil. Water thoroughly when the top inch of the soil feels dry. They also appreciate higher humidity, so misting their leaves keeps them extra happy.
Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
The Venus Flytrap is well-known for being a carnivorous plant. They have special leaves with little trigger hairs that snap shut when touched by prey. This makes the Venus Flytrap one of my favorite plants for the classroom! They do require a bit more care than the other plants listed here, but they are so much fun that it's worth it!
Caring for a Venus Flytrap:
Light Needs: Venus Flytraps require bright, direct sunlight to thrive. Place your plant near a south or west-facing window where it can receive at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Feeding: Venus Flytraps are capable of catching their own prey, but if kept indoors where there are few insects, you can supplement their diet. Feed them live insects such as small flies, gnats, or ants. Allow the trap to close naturally around the insect and digest it. Avoid triggering the trap unnecessarily as it can rob the plant of energy.
Water Needs: They prefer to grow in soil which is wet, but not completely waterlogged. Water them by filling a saucer with distilled water or rainwater and placing the pot on top. (The minerals in bottled or tap water can kill the plant.) The water level should be kept approximately one inch high, so the roots are not submerged.
Winter Dormancy: Venus Flytraps require a dormant period during winter (November to February). Reduce watering and gradually decrease the amount of light during this time. Place them in a cool location (around 50°F/10°C) for 2-3 months. The leaves will start to turn black and die back. This is normal. Just trim them off and wait for new growth to appear.
Plants To Avoid In Your Classroom
Some plants aren't appropriate for a classroom or office setting because of their potential to trigger allergies or cause skin irritation. Certain flowers and flowering plants produce substantial amounts of pollen and can be a real problem to children with allergies. Other common indoor plants are not suitable for the classroom as they can cause rashes when touched.
Plants to avoid include marigolds, daisies, sunflowers, chamomile, Queen Anne's lace, African violets, chrysanthemums, male palms, English ivy, bonsai, figs, orchids, and junipers.
Bringing in a few green plants is one of the best things you can do for your classroom environment. With just a bit of care, you can reap all the benefits for you and your students all year long.
Integrate reading into your unit on plants with this "Plant A Garden" decodable reader!
Designed to build comprehension skills and vocabulary while providing phonics and sight word practice.
Perfect for first graders!
See it in my TpT shop.
Teaching your 3rd or 4th graders about plant structure and growth?
This scavenger hunt activity is a great way to get them up and moving while learning important science concepts!