Looking around your classroom and wondering if you should be adding plants to liven things up? The best plants for the classroom can end up teaching students responsibility, being worked into your science lessons, and of course, just add a little greenery on dull winter days. But what exactly are the best plants, and are there plants you should avoid if you’re an elementary teacher?
The teachers who create all the resources you find on Teach Starter put their heads together to come up with the very best classroom plants and a few you’ll want to skip when you’re decorating, plus some tips to make the most out of having that fabulous flora!
Are Plants Good for the Classroom?
We can give this question a resounding yes! Research into workplace environments has shown that there are measurable associations between the presence of indoor plants and increased productivity, reduced stress, and reduced time off with sickness. Imagine, more healthy students, less trying to chase down all that absentee work?
Even NASA has explored the best and worst indoor plants for helping to improve air quality — on the off chance that we humans ever need to live in a “sealed” environment on another planet — and found there’s a lot of good to be found.
Best of all: You don’t have to be a master gardener to derive all those benefit from plants right in your elementary school classroom. If you’re not much of a green thumb but would like to keep a few classroom plants, look no further! With two main points of consideration being ease of care and allergy friendliness, our teacher team has compiled a list of the best and worst indoor plants for classrooms.
Before you get started, download a FREE plant growth chart for students!
The Best Classroom Plants
#1 Jade Plant
Not only are jade plants easy to take care of, but they are also known to be symbols of good luck! Just what you need in a classroom plant?
Considered a succulent, you certainly don’t want to let a jade plant dry out, but these classroom-friendly plants have a thick woody stem with rubbery leaves that hold onto water so you don’t have to worry if you forget to do it before you leave for a long weekend.
How to Care for a Jade Plant
- Plant in a pot that is a little wider than you think the plant needs. Jade tends to grow quite top-heavy, so will need the support of a bigger pot later on!
- Pot using a free-draining soil, or a cactus/succulent mix.
- Jade plants are best in a sunny spot! So keep this one by a bright window.
- Water when the top of the soil is dry to touch. But be careful not to over-water as jade plants do not like to be waterlogged.
- Fertilize once every 3 – 4 months with an all-purpose fertilizer.
- Wipe the leaves with a damp cloth every now and again to remove dust.
#2 Spider Plant
Spider plants have long, thin green and white leaves. They are a striking plant to have in a hanging basket or macrame plant hanger. Spider plants are so-named because of the long stems of “spiderettes” that grow from the “mother plant,” and they’re popular with teachers who can send spider “babies” home with their students at the end of the school year as an end-of-year gift.
How to Care for a Spider Plant
- Pot using a free-draining potting mix.
- Keep your spider plant in low to medium light.
- Water only when the soil is dry to touch, making sure not to waterlog the plant.
- Prune your spider plant once a year in Spring or Summer by cutting discolored and dead leaves or unwanted spiderettes at the very base of the plant.
- Repot only when the roots of the plant begin to show at the top of the pot.
Download a plant observation worksheet for students who are watching your spider plant develop!
#3 “Janet Craig” Dracaena
This is a specific variety of dracaena species that can grow up to 10 ft tall if not pruned, so beware that this classroom plant does require a bit of maintenance. That said, it makes a pretty floor plant to help disguise filing cabinets, ugly floor-to-ceiling pipes, or other less desirable classroom features!
How to Care for a Janet Craig Dracaena
- Yes, it’s a running theme in this post, but don’t over-water your new dracaena.
- Prune back if it gets too tall by simply cutting the cane at any point. The plant will sprout a new cluster of leaves.
- Move to a larger pot when the roots have filled the original one.
- Flush salts from the soil once a year by taking the plant out into a warm spot out of direct sunlight and slowly pouring lukewarm water over the soil.
- Wipe the leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust build-up — this could even be an easy classroom job for a helpful student (download a printable classroom job application!).
#4 Chinese Evergreen
A stunning plant with white and green leaves, Chinese Evergreens are another indoor plant touted as making a novice gardener look like an expert! Although it’s a tropical plant, it will enjoy warmer locations where the temperature doesn’t drop much below 16°C (60°F), which could work for a classroom, provided you don’t leave it over winter break if you’re in a state where it snows.
- Pot using free-draining soil.
- Place in a spot with low-medium filtered light.
- Water occasionally, allowing the soil to dry out a little between each watering.
- Prune off any flowers or dead leave by reaching into the plant and cutting as close to the bottom of the stem as possible.
#5 Lucky Bamboo
Another species of dracaena, you can grow lucky bamboo in water or soil! Place a few stems of lucky bamboo in a tall glass vase to easily keep track of its watering needs, or place the bamboo in a pot and fill it with pebbles and water. Alternatively, plant your bamboo in well-draining soil.
How to Care for Lucky Bamboo in Water
- Keep your lucky bamboo out of direct sunlight.
- Make sure that the roots of the bamboo are always covered with water.
- As the stalks grow taller, move the bamboo into a taller pot or container to ensure you can still fill it past the roots.
- Prune any thin or crooked shoots 2.5-5cm from the main stalk.
How to Care for Lucky Bamboo in Soil
- Keep your lucky bamboo in an area with low to medium light.
- Water regularly to ensure the soil is always moist to touch.
Explore the different parts of a plant cell with your students!
Plants to Avoid in the Classroom
It is best to avoid the following indoor plants as they can increase allergies such as hay fever and skin rashes.
Flowering Plants with High Levels of Pollen
Flowers or flowering plants such as daisies, sunflowers, chamomile, Queen Anne’s lace, African violets, and chrysanthemums have high levels of pollen and are known to make life terribly uncomfortable for sufferers of hayfever!
Plants That Cause Skin Irritations
Some common indoor plants might not be suitable for the classroom as they can cause rashes or other irritations to people with sensitive skin. Avoid plants such as ferns, bonsai, English Ivy, Weeping Figs, palm trees, and Yukkas.
Plants That Are Poisonous When Ingested
While this sounds like a no-brainer, it is surprising just how many plants can cause illness if ingested … and we all have had that student who just HAD to put things in their mouth, haven’t we? The Zanzibar Gem is a popular indoor plant that is touted to “thrive on neglect,” however, the sap from this plant is toxic which makes it one that might not be worth the risk in your classroom. Similarly, Peace Lilies and Snake Plants (a.k.a. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) are also toxic to humans when ingested.
Keeping plants in the classroom isn’t just about aesthetics. The simple act of looking at a plant triggers a positive response in our brain. So when students are feeling tired, stressed, or struggling to keep their attention on the task at hand, having plants around might just help them out in that moment!
Not only that but keeping plants can be a great part of continuing your class conversation about sustainability and the environment. Use your class plants to explore life cycles, learn about why living things need water, and practice “plants in action” vocabulary every day.
A few final tips for your classroom plants …
- Make sure your pots have drainage holes at the bottom, and they are placed on a saucer. Pots that don’t have holes to drain will usually cause root rot which leads to pesky gnats.
- Adding googly eyes to your pots is a fun (and funny!) touch kids will love, and it’s inexpensive!
- If you have a school garden, consider starting seeds in your classroom during the colder months to teach kids about the germination process … then take them outside to plant when the weather is warm! Check out our cute Classroom Garden posters!
Explore dozens of teacher-created resources ready to use in the classroom in your lessons about plants and other flora!
Banner image via shutterstock/mae lans