Ambius Ultimate Guide to Office Plants

Indoor plants

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Ultimate guide to office plants

What is it about indoor plants that make us feel better? Nobody’s entirely sure of the complete answer to that question, but there seems to be something within us, something ancient, that craves being near nature in some form.

Perhaps our ancestors, who spent all of their time outdoors, are still inside of us, wanting to get out into the air and the open fields. It is fairly common knowledge that plants are beneficial and bring good things to human beings when they are introduced into an office atmosphere. Just the sight of green plants, a little natural light, access to the outdoors, even if it is just via a window, soothes that savage beast inside of us that just wants to be outside.

Given our innate desire to be in nature, it’s curious that we have chosen to spend the bulk of our days inside. This is particularly true of offices, where we really spend most of our time. Think about how many employees live and work inside cubicles, surrounded by the white cubicle walls that are, in turn, surrounded by more white walls, topped with white ceilings and finished off with gray carpets.

These days, more than ever, the benefits of plants in the office are being studied, and the results are compelling. The list of benefits from office plants is growing all the time: increased creativity, improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, increased engagement with work, etc.

We hear stories about “sick-building syndrome” and people discuss being depressed, sick, and miserable inside their office. Why is that? Perhaps a better questions is: how do we stop it?

If any of the above sounds interesting and like something that you might want to explore for your office, then you probably have questions. Questions about which are the best office plants and about where to put them. You may wonder if there are risks associated with live plants, or if they are hard to take care of.

We have the answers for you here in our Ultimate Guide to Office Plants. So, ask away. Click on a question below and be taken immediately to the answer.

Basic Office Plant Questions

Benefits of Office Plants Questions

Office Plant Care and Maintenance Questions

Vertical Garden Questions

What are indoor plants?

An indoor plant is one that is adapted to living in low light, usually with less water and lower maintenance needs, and that can thrive indoors.

The truth is that it is a very broad question and there are a lot of indoor plants that would be good for offices and cubicles. For office plants, you are looking for plants that will adapt to indoor areas that tend to be warm, can adapt to areas of low light, and that require little maintenance. Doing that narrows the scope of the plants that really will make good office plants.

In general, most plants that work well in an office environment are native to tropical or subtropical parts of the world. These are places where the climate is warm, hot or mild, the kind of climate that most of us prefer in our offices.

A majority of indoor plants are native to forests where a lot of sunlight is blocked out, such as Philodendrons. Such plants that do not require a lot of sunlight, grow slowly, have broad, green leaves and can survive in very low light conditions. These tend to make the best indoor and office plants because even offices with windows tend to have very low light as far as a plant is concerned.

The number of plants that really make good office plants is very limited, encompassing less than 1% of all of the plants known in the world.

What makes a good office plant?

Office plants that are particularly suited for the job are those that require low levels of light. These are usually the type that, if found in the wild, would be at the bottom of a forest floor with a very thick canopy above them. That would limit the light that they get, so they have developed large, usually green leaves that capture what light they can and use them to grow.

Plants have a vastly different idea about how much light is available indoors than we do. Humans will look at a space with lots of windows and assume that a tremendous amount of light is getting through, but that may not be the case if you’re a plant.

Think about it this way: you wear sunglasses outside, but the moment you come indoors you take them off. Why? Because there is a lot less light inside than outside. Plants feel the same thing and want an area that has a lot of light. If your office area does not have that, then low light plants are the solution.

Another thing to consider when selecting office plants is the growth rate. Generally, most people want a plant that doesn’t grow very fast because fast-growing plants require a lot of maintenance and pruning. Also, you have to take space into consideration and plants that grow a lot will intrude upon other cubicles, drag along the floor, or become a nuisance.

Generally speaking, plants that are low maintenance make good office plants and that includes plants that require relatively low amounts of water.

Finally, take appearance into account. Although you want plants that are easy to take care of, you also want office plants that look nice and enhance the office space rather than distract or detract from it. Just remember that blooming plants, although they look great, usually require more sunlight and more watering and typically only bloom for a short period of time when indoors.

Which plants are good for indoors? Which are best as office desk plants?

There are many different types of plants that make good indoor and office plants. However, there are some that work better than others.

Some of the best and most common are in the Araceae family, such as spathiphyllum (e.g., Peace Lily, Snake Lily). They are also sometimes referred to as aroids.

Philodendrons – these make great indoor/office plants because there are so many different kinds. There are some who suggest there are more than 900 species. Philodendrons have large and even imposing oval or spear-shaped leaves. There are two major groups of Philodendrons – climbing (vining) and non-climbing (solitary, non-vining).

Pothos – plants that have large green leaves. They are flowering plants and cover a wide variety that are used indoors. Pothos are extremely successful indoors – it’s almost like they evolved to grow within the confines of the built environment.

Aglaonema (Aglos) – large green leaves with lighter marks on them differentiate Aglaonema from some of the other plants in this list. There are many different varieties of Aglos, including newer varieties with pink and red colors in the stems and leaves. In some cultures, they are known for bringing good luck.

Nephthytis – a plant with white and green leaves that are usually arrow-shaped. These need to be kept away from any pets or other animals, because they can be toxic.

Anthuriums – a popular indoor and office plant because of the colorful blooms that come with them.

Dracaena – there are about 40 species within this genus and are closely related to another plant on this list, the Sansevieria. Some species are large and tree-like, but some are shrub-sized and make great office plants. Cane Dracaenas are great if you are looking for a plant with substantial height.

Palms – various types of palms such as the Rhapis palm and the Kentia palm are very good for office plants if you are looking for something a little taller. They do well in medium to low light, but they are not really low maintenance, so be aware of that.

Ficus trees – if you are really looking to add something taller to your indoor space then consider one of several types of Ficus. Most Ficus trees require medium to high light.

Sansevieria – a genus of flowering plants that are native to Africa. They tend to have long, tall, green leaves around a central growing point. They usually produce flowers of varying colors from greenish-white, lilac-red or brown. Sansevieria tolerates some of the lowest light conditions.

Succulents – plants with thick, fleshy, leaves that allow them to retain a lot of water. They tend to need plenty of light, so be wary of that, but these plants are famous for being drought-resistant. Avoid over-watering succulents.

Ferns – a type of plant that you are probably very familiar with. They do well indoors in low light, but they do require consistent moisture and humidity levels in order to thrive.

ZZ Plants – a green flowering plant originally from Africa that has now been cultivated for indoor and decorative use. It gets its common name from the scientific name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia. ZZ Plant is a relatively newer ornamental plant and will likely increase in popularity over time.
 

Any of these plants would be good for cubicles, but just remember to take the size of the cubicle and the close proximity of your neighbors into consideration. Smaller is likely better for cubicles. Also watch out for plants that have vines and will want to “wander” to other desks and cubicles.

How would you recommend someone choose the right office plants?

There are several things that you need to consider first when choosing the right type of office plant for your place of business.

How much light do you have?

First, where are you going to put the plants? Is there enough light there? Does your office have enough light?  This is important to consider.

If you are planning on putting plants in a window that gets a lot of light exposure, or you are looking for plants for an atrium, then you have a wider range of plants to choose from. If you have a lot of light you open up the choices to a large number of colorful, blooming, flowering plants that offices with low light do not have.

If you are planning to put plants in offices that get less light (perhaps only artificial light or indirect light) then you are looking for low light plants. These are plants that have large, dark, broad leaves. For example, those in the aroid family, such as Spathes, Sansevieria and Pothos, are all examples of good plants for indoors and that can do well under fluorescent lights.

These low light plants are also slower growing. They are that way because of the small amount of light that they need. Plants need light for energy to divert carbon dioxide and water into food. This food is then used the way we use food for growth and development – so a plant that grows faster will require more light and more water.

Low light plants often have darker green leaves that are broader to aid in the absorption of as much light as possible – not an easy task when you’re at the bottom of the forest, shaded by all the plants above you!
 

How long do you want the plant to last?

The other thing you have to consider is how long you want the plant to last. If you are fine with plants that you have to replace often, then you can consider many species. If you want something that lasts a long time, consider a foliage plant which is a generic term for plants that are known and popular because of their leaves (ferns, pothos, Dracaenas, Aglaonemas, etc.)
 

How often do you want to have to water the plant?

The third thing to consider is how much time you want to spend watering and maintaining the plants. Most plants in the aroid family do not require as much watering, but it depends on the specific plant. In general, most blooming indoor plants and faster-growing plants require more water. A solution to maintenance concerns is to let Ambius do it all for you! Enjoy the beauty of these plants without any of the worry.

The informational tag that accompanies plants will give you plant care information, including light and water requirements. If the plant needs a lot of water and light, consider your space and whether or not you have the light and resources for that particular plant. Succulents, Sansevieria and Dracaena are great for low water. Generally speaking, any plants with thick fleshy leaves are good for low water.

Watering Office Plants

A final point on watering: Be sure to water plants when they need it and only when they need it. Several common mistakes people make when watering indoor plants include: over-watering (actually very common and a major reason people kill indoor plants), under-watering and “light watering.” When watering a plant, be sure to water it thoroughly and discard any water that drains through the drainage holes.

What are the best low maintenance office plants? Which office plants are the easiest to take care of?

For plants that are relatively low maintenance, you would do well to consider plants in the aroid family such as:

  • Sansevieria
  • Aglaonema
  • Pothos
  • Dracaena
  • Philodendrons
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia (or more commonly, ZZ Plants)

There are more, but the above are some of the most common that are known to be pest free and low maintenance for indoor spaces.

Can plants grow in office fluorescent light? Are there plants that grow well using indoor light?

The truth is that most plants tagged for indoor and office use do well, especially the foliage plants. In fact, the whitish blue light that fluorescent lights give off is fine for most plants, particularly foliage plants that are good for indoors.

If you have blooming plants you might need more natural light,  be sure that your space can provide the right type and amount of light.

What are the best plants for offices with no windows?

  • Spathiphyllum (such as Peace Lilies)
  • Pothos
  • Philodendrons
  • Sansevieria
  • Aglaonema
  • ZZ Plant

Are there office plants that do not require soil to grow?

There are several plant varieties that do not require a lot of soil or space. For example, succulents usually require a lot of light, but they come in small pots. If you have a good window area and want a lot of plants, you should consider succulents. They come in a wide variety and you can get a lot of them together since they use small pots without a lot of soil.

Do office plants bring in pests or insects?

It is possible that plants brought into an office can bring pests with them, but very rarely are they anything that can cause harm to people.

The most common pest that indoor plants bring are fungus gnats. They are very small and their biggest problem is that they can be annoying. They do not bite or sting, but if you get a lot of them you might experience them flying around your head or computer screen.

There are several methods of getting rid of fungus gnats. You will also see plant technicians using yellow cards that attract fungus gnats in order to monitor activity and potential infestations. There are also some fungus gnat traps that can be put into potted plants that will cause the gnats to stick to them. These are used more for monitoring than control.

Another pest that attacks plants is the mealybug. These whitish insects like warm climates and frequently inhabit greenhouses and interiorscapes. They can end up (inadvertently) transported into your office via the plants and you will likely see them on the leaves.

Mealybugs are harmless to people, but they can damage the plants, making them look unhealthy and unattractive.

There are also certain insects, like mites, that like to infest and feed on certain plants. Some forms of English ivy, or crotons, are susceptible to them. Mites are very tiny and it will be unlikely that you can even see them, but you will see the damage done to the plants, which will make them very unattractive. Occasionally you will see their webbing remains on plants.

Are there office plants that can be used to repel pests?

There are many plants that can be used outdoors and repel pests like mosquitoes such as:

  • Lemongrass
  • Eucalyptus
  • Catnip
  • Citronella grass


However, none of those are plants that you would want to bring indoors. For indoor use, there really aren’t any plants that will repel insects.

Are there any health concerns that come with office plants?

In general, having live plants in your office does wonders for the health of employees and yourself. They have a number of beneficial effects, but there are some potential health issues that you should be aware of. This has a lot to do with knowing your own body and how it reacts to things.
 

Allergies

Some people have allergies to certain plants, the severity of which depends on how your body reacts. To some, it might be a little bit of sneezing, but someone else might have a severe reaction to touching a certain plant or even breathing around them. Be aware of your own reactions and those around you and choose plants carefully.
 

Children and Pets

If you have an office that allows pets or children in from time to time, you should take caution in your plant placement. Small children and animals may be tempted to take a bite out of a plant that is right at their level.

Certain plants, like some aroids, contain chemicals that can cause a numbing sensation of the mouth or tongue. Be very careful about bringing any plants indoors that you find growing in the wild because there are many species that can be lethal if ingested.
 

Spiny leaves

Another concern might be the potential for physical harm from certain types of plants. For example, cactus, agave, and other succulents have long spiny leaves. They are also fairly rigid, so depending on where the plant is situated, it could pose a hazard for pokes in the eye or a jab to the skin. Be cautious and be careful, know the layout of your office and who uses it.
 

Mold

Some people worry about mold and other issues with office plants, but for the average person there is no risk of molds. However, this can change if you or someone in your office has an illness that causes a compromised immune system. This can make them ultra-sensitive to molds or bacteria. Hospitals and doctor’s offices have to be cautious because they frequently have patients with compromised immune systems. Since you need a truly sanitary environment in these areas, things like cut flowers in vases or plants sitting in saucers containing standing water can be of concern. Molds and other bacteria can infest plants that are over-watered or that have been sitting in vases containing water for a long time. Proper sanitation helps alleviate potential issues.

Do orchids make good office plants?

The short answer is: yes, they do if you have good light. If you do not have good light they will do okay, but will not last as long and you’ll have to replace them more often.

Orchids are good plants to have and they are heartier than most people realize. They are also good for offices because there are so many varieties, colors and shapes. If you want them to last, make sure you have a window.

The roots of orchids are very sensitive to standing water; therefore, it is extremely important to never over-water orchids or allow their roots to sit in standing water. This is a sure-fire way to kill orchids and is probably the number one reason people have trouble with them indoors.

ORCHID HINT: the best way to water an orchid is to take it in its pot over to a sink. Turn on the water and let the water get neutral – not too hot or too cold. Then let the water pour over the plant’s soil and let it all drain right through. Once the water has finished running through the soil, take it back and put it back in the saucer. Again, do not let the roots sit in water.

 

Succulents Office Plants

Do succulents make good office plants?

Succulents are a great option for an office if you have plenty of light. They come in a number of colors and varieties. They can be planted and grow in relatively small spaces and pots. Succulents can add a lot of variety to your office. Spaces with children may not be good for succulents that have sharp or spiny leaves, but this usually isn't an issue in the office environment. If children are present, succulents that have softer, rounder leaves, such as Jade Plant, would be better options for these situations.

Are good quality office plants expensive?

Like many things in life: it depends. Generally speaking, good quality office plants do not have to be expensive. Small table-top plants, most palms, pothos, philodendrons, dracaena and other common office plants can be very inexpensive. It all depends on the size of your office, of course, the types of plants you want, and how many plants you intend to have.

What is the most common reason that office plants die?

About 80% of the problems that indoor plants have can be summed up by two factors:

  • Improper lightning
  • Improper watering

When you invest in office plants, make sure that you read how to care for them and that you have them placed in the right spot for lighting. Over-watering is a big concern as many people put plants in saucers or dishes and then let them sit in puddles of water. The best way to water plants is over a sink, letting the water run right through the plant and into the sink. Alternatively, you can water a plant in a saucer – wait five minutes and discard excess water in the saucer if any accumulates.

Do plants improve office air quality?

Plants definitely improve air quality, and science can prove it! University studies have shown that indoor plants can clean the air, which is especially advantageous in an office environment where people spend a great deal of time. Carpets and paint and other things that we use indoors do carry chemicals and plants can absorb them and produce fresh, clean, oxygen. The issue is that the more you have, the better the air. If you put one plant in the middle of your office, don’t expect the air quality to get much better. The more, the better.

Plants can also raise the relative humidity level. Those same studies indicate that increasing the relative humidity has a relaxing effect on people, reduces dust and removes allergy-inducing particles.

Which plants improve air quality most effectively?

Most of the good office and interior plants have shown to have some kind of air-quality-improvement effect. Dracaenas, palms, ficus, ferns, etc., all help raise humidity levels and help with air quality standards.

However, remember that you would need a lot of them in order to truly scrub the air clean. If you have the room, vertical garden systems will have a larger and more widespread effect on the air quality than a few office plants. That being said, there are also benefits to even having a small number of plants in an office.

Do plants improve people’s moods?

There is a growing field of interior design, biophilia, that involves bringing nature into indoor spaces so that people’s moods, creativity and productivity are improved. You can find more about biophilia here.

The amount of plants in an office or enclosed space matters. One plant alone is likely not enough to improve moods, but a lot of them can have an effect. Plants make buildings look less drab or dreary and more sophisticated plant displays can look a lot like artwork, which has a definite elevating impact on mood.

 

Office Plants Inspire Creativity

Do plants improve productivity and creativity?

Yes, office plants have been known to improve productivity. Studies have been done that show that  employees with access to indoor plants perform better and are more productive.

One way to look at how moods and productivity are improved with a scenic view is to consider how hotels charge for rooms. If you book a room in Manhattan, you are likely to pay a lot more for a room with a view of Central Park than one with a view of an alley. People feel better, work better and perform better when they can see greenery, nature, get natural light and have access to plants.

As for creativity, think about staring at four white, plain walls. That is certainly not as creatively stimulating as a view of outside.

How do plants improve office spaces?

Although there are studies that show access to outdoor views and views of nature improve moods, productivity, creativity and overall health, the fact is that offices cannot provide a window view for every employee. Fortunately, these same studies show that access to plants in an office has much of the same effect.

There are other benefits, too. These days very few people have individual offices. Instead, they have cubicles, which reduces the amount of privacy that employees have and increases the noise level. Plants can reduce noise and help provide a bit more privacy, all while improving the overall appearance and look of cubicles and offices. They add color and pizzazz to otherwise dry, plain spaces.

Do plants reduce absenteeism?

It appears that they do. Although studies are still ongoing, there is evidence of phenomenons such as “sick-building syndrome” where people report being ill because of the “air” inside a building. Fortunately, this can be improved with the addition of indoor plants and other interior landscaping techniques.

Recent studies look into a new concept in the workplace known as “presenteeism” where employees show up for their jobs, do just the bare minimum necessary and leave. They show up even when sick, because they need to be “present” and get the credit for being there, but do nothing to contribute to the company. Providing access to natural light and adding plants to offices takes steps to reduce this.

Which plants offer the best health benefits?

Having any kind of plants in the office can improve moods and provide some health benefits. Flowering and blooming plants can offer an even greater mood lift than those that do not. Anything that can break up lots of brown or plain white or gray that often adorn walls, floors and rooms in modern office buildings can help encourage wellness.

How do you care for an office plant?

It all comes down to two things: light and water.

To have thriving office plants you have to have the right amount of light for the plant and the right amount of water. For light, having a light meter can actually help determine just how much you are getting in various places around the office. This can help you find the right plants for your office’s needs. Be sure to read labels and ask questions about the light needed for the plants that you want. Remember, your best bet for most offices are plants that, by nature, require low amounts of light.

With watering, it is important to remember to water plants when the they need it. Many people ask if a plant should be watered so many days a week and ask how often. However it is best to monitor the plant itself. When you touch the soil – does it feel dry? If you lift the plant out of the saucer in which it sits, does the plant feel heavy? If so, it probably has enough moisture. If it feels dry, then you probably need to water it.

Water meters and soil probes are also very helpful. Water meters provide a numerical value indicating how wet or dry the soil is. Soil probes pull out small plugs of soil at different soil depths. These plugs are analyzed for moisture content. Of course, the type of plant will also determine the amount of water needed.

A lot of the problems that people have with office plants, and indoor plants in general, stem from over-watering. When a plant needs water, it is important to water it thoroughly but not let it sit in water. Here are some ways to make sure that it’s done right:

  1. Take the potted plant out of the saucer that it is in to catch excess water.
  2. Take the plant and pot to a sink.
  3. Turn on the water and make sure it is a neutral temperature. You don’t want it too hot or too cold.
  4. Water the plant thoroughly. Make sure that the water gets down into the soil and not just on the surface.
  5. Let the water flow completely through the plant. Doing it this way ensures that the plant gets the water it needs, while the excess runs harmlessly into the sink.
  6. Turn off the tap and let the water drip until it stops.
  7. Return the plant to its saucer.


If you cannot remove the plant from its saucer or do not have access to a sink, follow these instructions:

  1. Collect water, at a neutral temperature, in a container that will allow you to pour it carefully (such as a watering can).
  2. Water the plant thoroughly, not just on the surface. Get all of the soil damp.
  3. Let the water run through the plant and the pot until it begins to accumulate in the saucer.
  4. Once the water starts to accumulate in the saucer, stop watering.
  5. Empty the excess water from the saucer.
  6. Return the plant and saucer to its location.

Note: Allowing a plant to sit in a saucerful of water will lead to stress that can eventually kill the plant. The least stressful way to care for office plants is to let the plant care experts at Ambius take care of everything for you. Interested in having Ambius do your plant care and lessen your workload? Contact us today.

How do you plant indoor plants?

If you are lucky enough to have large spaces where you can put office plants into dirt or soil, such as an atrium or window box, or you have a plant that needs to be placed into a new pot, you may have to actually plant an office plant. Here are some tips for planting:

  • Water the plant before you move it.
  • When you pull the plant out of its current pot, check the roots.
  • If the roots of the plant are circled around each other or clumped into a ball, take scissors or a knife and gently separate them. You can even massage the roots a bit to help encourage them to extend the new soil. Failure to do so may cause the roots not to grow into the new soil and will just keep circling.
  • Finally, since often the new soil is dry, give it another good watering, over a sink if possible. Drain the excess water if you are not doing the watering over a sink.

 

Prune Office Plant

How do you prune an indoor plant?

A good number of your standard office plants don’t need a lot of pruning. However, some of the vining plants, such as Pothos, do.

Pruning plants is a bit like giving them a haircut. So, there are a couple of tips to keep in mind. Remember, most gardening centers will have people who can assist you with pruning techniques. Ask questions and read the labels.

Also remember:

Prune plants to another growing point. This often means pruning back to another leaf. There should be a little node (swollen area along the stem with a visible or invisible bud) that will give you a good indication of where to stop. If there isn’t a node, the shoot should be pruned back to its origin which may be another branch or the base of the plant.
 

Proper pruning takes practice, so try out a few methods and see what works. What you do not want to do is leave a stub with no growing point, so keep that in mind.

Does Ambius offer office plant rentals?

Yes! We love making your life easier. Our office plant rental services include installation and regular maintenance so that you don’t have to worry about anything. Our specialists will help you select the best plant options for your space and then they’ll keep your office looking beautiful all year long.

What is an indoor vertical garden?

A vertical garden is also known as a green wall. It is, in the easiest explanation, a wall of plants.

It’s a vertical planting system, usually up against a wall, filled with a variety of plants that is used for interior design purposes.

What are the benefits of vertical gardens?

The more plants that you have in the office the better. The real benefit of a green wall or vertical garden is that you can get a lot more plants into the office, using a lot less space. Since the green wall is vertical, it puts many plants into a smaller space without spreading out horizontally.

That means if you have a smaller office, or one where space is at a premium, you can still get the benefits of plants and have a larger number of them for maximum benefit without taking up as much square footage.

 

Office Green Wall

How do you install vertical gardens?

Installing plant or green walls in offices is tricky and for it to work, be effective, and look nice, you need to contact interior design specialists who can do the job right. Although there are examples of people creating small vertical gardens at home, for it to really have an impact in an office, it would be most advantageous to have a large one, or several smaller ones.

Is it impossible for you to do it? No, but it would take a tremendous amount of work and resources on your part to install and maintain a large vertical garden. You would have to balance how much of your time would want to take away from running your business to devote to installing and maintaining the wall. Keep in mind, there are many things that can go wrong (living and nonliving) such as water leaks and plants dying which is why it’s best to leave it to the experts.

Why not let the people who devote their time to creating, maintaining and installing green walls to do the job for you?

What kinds of offices should consider installing a vertical garden?

Any business that has a lot of wall space is ideal for a green wall. For example, reception areas with large open spaces and large, blank walls are often a very good place for vertical gardens.

Any building or company that wants to be different, or maybe even a bit edgy, should consider vertical gardens. They tend to offer something that people remember, that stands out from the crowd and separates your company from the competition.

Some types of businesses that really stand out with the use of green walls include:


Vertical gardens that have been installed by professionals look like artwork. They can even have plants in them that form a company logo or designs and patterns. There are numerous benefits to having lots of plants in your office and there are few businesses that would not benefit from installation of a green wall.

Plant Care Professionals

Want to leave the care of your office plants to the professionals? Give us a call at (888) 701-5189 or contact Ambius online to receive a free quote for office plant rental services.