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Ways To Protect Your Desk From Being Damaged By Houseplants

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Plants add color, a touch of nature, and even health benefits to your office, but they also come with a few responsibilities and can cause a mess if neglected. 

Leaves fall off, dirt and fertilizer spill from pots, and almost everyone is aware of the risk of water damage on wood surfaces. For home office workers especially, are there any easy ways to protect your desk from being damaged by houseplants?

The following are some ideas and simple tips to let your desk and plants live in harmony.

Below you will be reminded of some age old and well-known desk-protection tactics, as well as some more creative solutions, like using ice as your watering method, the joy of cork placemats, using old decorative saucers strategically, and adding legs to the bottom of your planters.

Photo by Antonio Borriello from Pexels
Photo by Antonio Borriello from Pexels

Simple Tips to Protect Desks from Plants

Protecting your desk from damage at the hands of plants starts with two points. 

First, try to source a pot that comes with a tray or saucer. While this is not an end-all protection — saucers and trays still can overflow with when overwatering — they do provide a barrier between the spilled water and can be watched easier if your decorative pot contains drainage holes.

Secondly, and this is really important, do not water plants where they normally sit. That is, for watering, carry them to a sink or tub and water them there. Then let them sit while the water settles and drains naturally out of the growing medium. It might be an extra step, but you can set several small- to medium-sized pots in a sink and water them all at once, while you move on to other household chores.

More Advanced Tricks

Caring for a plant means an added responsibility at the work space. Take note of these key “musts” to reduce the chance your office furniture suffers damage. 

  • Not All Pots are Created Equal. Plastic and glazed-ceramic pots hold all water, but those made of concrete, fiberglass, straight clay ceramic and terra-cotta can “bleed” or “sweat” over time after watering — meaning they can very slowly drip out. Maybe not enough to cause pooling on a desk, but they could at least leave a moisture ring at the bottom that if unaddressed could stain or cause a circular lifting of a wood finish on a desktop. Avoid direct contact between a pot and a desk if the material it is made of is known to bleed.

  • Know Thy Surface. Not all desktops are the same, either. All-metal desks for instance are not as prone to staining from leaking plant pots (though it is possible especially if left unattended for long periods). If a surface can be stained or otherwise marred by water, water plants elsewhere and let them drain well off-desk before putting them back.

  • Water Drainage is Essential. The health of your plants depends on water, certainly, but also proper drainage. Make sure you water them according to preferences per plant type, and also become familiar with the type of soil or growing medium used. For one, increased organic content cause drainage to slow, whilst a soil with a high proportion of sand will drain out extremely quickly.
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The Cold Route

There are two strategies to prevent water damage as a result of keeping houseplants on your furniture: manage watering, or control the contact point

Let’s take a look at a popular desk-plant watering tactic: using ice cubes. Think of it as indoor drip irrigation (without the tubing) that takes advantage of slowly melting ice to provide water.

Doing this is easy. Just put 1 – 3 ice cubes on top of the soil of a 3.5″ pot, or more for bigger plant containers. Then just let the cubes melt away. Once they disappear, use a finger to test the soil, and if it’s moist as far as your finger can reach, you’re done. If dry, just add another ice cube, and repeat the process. You still should monitor the saucer or container beneath for any water pooling. At that point you know the soil has managed to absorb as much water as it can hold on to, and you should wait until the soil is fully dry before watering again. 

Tip: Make a note and adjust how many ice cubes you use next time. Over time, you will know exactly how many you need come watering time.

Towels, Cork, Decorative Platters, and More

Once you’ve chosen a preferred watering tactic, consider the contact point. That is, where the pot or plant container touches the desk surface. 

A common practice in households is just using small towels or folded paper towels under pots. But this is ill-advised, because people forget they are there, and the sight of something under the pot can give a false impression that your desktop is safe. Towels get swamped too, and leave a wet towel for long enough and they do more harm that good.

Plus, it looks shabby. If you choose towels, make it temporary, leaving them only an hour or two until draining has clearly stopped. If you’re leaning toward just placing something under a pot or container, think creatively:

  • Pretty Plates or Saucers. Just place a small plate, shiny metal tray (silver-plated preferred to avoid rust), a piece of thick, classic-looking textile, or a glass or crystal dish underneath pots for protection along with a decent look.

  • Cork. Pads or small squares of cork under planters absorb excess water and prevent scratching a hard desktop surface. If cork is too expensive, consider a good old-fashioned mouse pad, or regular cup coasters, under a potted houseplant!

  • Plastic Saucers. Don’t want to just leave a prized ceramic saucer under a plant all the time? No problem. While some people might cringe at plastic saucers on a desk, try to match very small ones with the pot’s bottom, to hide them. This is inexpensive so old plastic saucers can just be replaced if they get stained too badly.

  • Pot Stands, Risers, or Legs. These are purchased or homemade stands with short legs to keep the bottom of planters or pots elevated and off the desk surface. These are good for air circulation through the desk area, and can allow more desktop space for work. You still want pots with saucers attached, or use a cork pad or decorative saucer underneath.

  • Monitor Stands or Desktop Shelves. Don’t overlook what is already there, or can be added to a desk to help with the workflow — and help keep plants off the desk. Use these strategically and you can increase desktop storage space, too. Just remember to be extra careful with potted plant placement, keeping them well away from the computer or electrical devices.

Final Thoughts on Houseplants and Desktop Protection

Houseplants are excellent additions to desks in office or home settings. They can beautify a workspace, and improve concentration and focus which translates into better work performance.

Perhaps start with easy-maintenance plants like evergreen lilies, stunning succulents or cacti (just know that some cactus types require bright light).

With a little care and caution, you can enjoy the added greenery while maintaining peace of mind that your desktop will avoid damage.

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