It's a rare office that doesn't give room and board to potted plants. But you still have to cultivate ways to keep their leaves from falling. Here's how some companies do it:
* Not only does Madison, Wis., doll maker the Pleasant Co. hire a horticultural service (at $275 a month, which covers plant rental and care) for the thousand or so plants on its 100,000-square-foot premises; it also decorates the desk of its CEO daily with fresh-cut flowers.
* In Las Vegas a 16,000-square-foot printing company canceled a similar rental service in favor of investing more than $2,000 in direct ownership of 30 fancy plants in fancy pots. Each plant is cared for by an employee who works near it. No plant has yet shriveled up and died.
* Abacus Technology (#68 on the Inc. 500), a research and consulting firm in Chevy Chase, Md., pays a rental service $115 a month to maintain 29 extra-large plants in 13,000 square feet of space open to public view. For another $50 every month, it also has 18 exotic blossoms air-freighted directly from Hawaii.
* Not long ago Octocom Systems, a data-communications-systems manufacturer in Chelmsford, Mass., was awash in greenery -- in a wilting sort of way. The company fretted that limp potted plants made a bad impression on visitors. It tried silk, but the fake shrubbery only caused staffers to bring in their own real plants, which subsequently drooped as well. So 82,500-square-foot Octocom banished plant growth altogether.
Harried office managers are increasingly turning to professional maintenance for both rented and owned plants. A service rep will water, dust, prune, and rotate plants, and (if licensed) spray them for pests. More important, most services guarantee plants' fragile longevity -- providing an insurance policy of sorts. The typical service is willing to deal in hundreds of species but talks up the dozen or so that do well under the low-light conditions in which 80% of office greenery is asked to survive. City Gardens, a plant-management service in Greater Boston, pushes Janet Craigs of the dracaena family, pothos, philodendrons, and peace lilies. Houston's Interior Green favors "corn" plants, Chinese evergreens, peace lilies, mother-in-law tongues, and Janet Craigs.
According to Interior Green, a high-end kentia palm in a 14-inch Minglike porcelain container rents for $37 a month, and sells for $350, with an $8.75-per-month maintenance charge; at the low end, a Janet Craig in a 14-inch rattan basket costs $85, with maintenance of $5.99 per month, and rents for $14.85 per month. City Gardens, however, steers away from basket containers because they "rot, leak, and lose their shape."
To find out what else will grow where, see "Plants for Interior Landscapes" ($3.75; call 703-620-6363), published by the Association of Landscape Contractors of America.
-- Researched by Michael P. Cronin and Christopher Caggiano