Should You Have Plants in a Kid’s Room? One Expert Weighs In.

published Jan 12, 2022
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A quick scan of social for nursery room ideas, and right next to those other design trends (see: light woods, terracotta tones, and sweet accent walls) there seems to be a fiddle leaf fig in every corner and a pothos on every shelf. 

Plants have a lovely appeal for decorating — they help purify the air, and are an inexpensive way to make a room feel lived in. But is it really prudent to have plants in kids’ rooms? I reached out to gardening expert Melinda Myers, author and host of The Great Courses’ How to Grow Anything series, to find out. “I love including plants in my living space, but you have to consider the potential downsides and decide if you can live with them,” says Myers. “Live plants provide oxygen and help remove toxins, but parents need to keep their kids safe, too.” 

When you consider a plant for an infant’s room, you need to see it through the eyes of a busy toddler — one that likes to put things in his mouth, pull down interesting objects, and climb any available surface. “Your child’s safety is most important,” says Myers.

Credit: Emma Fiala

What are the safety concerns to consider?

Before considering any plant for a kids room, research that species thoroughly. Many plants that are trendy are toxic if they’re eaten — not a problem for a grownup, but definitely for a curious toddler. “Poisonous plants or those that could cause an allergic reaction of course should be avoided,” says Myers. “Because even if you tell kids not to eat them, they just might anyway.”

Pothos, philodendron, monstera, and snake plants, for example, each have a low to medium poison risk, but if they’re ingested in large quantities by a small person, they can cause anything from skin irritation to throat swelling to vomiting and diarrhea. The sap of the fiddle leaf fig is toxic and can irritate eyes and skin. Beware seasonal plants, too: poinsettia, for example, can make a child nauseous if ingested, and tulip and daffodil bulbs can irritate the skin if they’re handled. Your local children’s hospital or extension service should have a list of various plants and their risk levels.

In addition, think about how your child might interact with the plant: does it have thorns or spiky leaves, or offer some other risk if it’s manhandled? “Thorns and spines might be a problem for curious toddlers that like to touch and cuddle,” says Myers. A cactus may be cute and low-risk, poison-wise, but if your child can’t help but grab it, it’s a problem. Even a tricky shape can be a problem: “Most palms are nontoxic and low-maintenance, but they may be knocked over by curious kids,” says Myers. 

In addition to the plant, the soil can be a risk. “Eating potting mix is also a concern, as it’s not labeled for eating so the consequences are not known and could be different for each child and each type of potting mix, since some contain fertilizer or other amendments,” she says.

Finally, the vessel the plant is in and where it’s placed can add to the risk. “Any plant that could be pulled, toppled or knocked over and onto the child should be avoided,” says Myers, “and avoid ceramic pots and glass terrariums that can break and possibly injure the child.” 

As for her own experience, Myers says that while she involved her own children in gardening outdoors, “I would not put any plants in the room with my 15-month-old or 7-year-old grandkids — the toddler would try to eat it, and the older one would probably put the plant in his pocket and carry it around with some dirt and worms.” Even for her tween and teenage grandkids, she’d still avoid plants in containers that could easily break or plants that can topple. 

So, like … no plants ever? 

Not exactly. If you really want plants in a kids’ room, the key is to make sure it’s out of reach — like a spider plant or wax plant that could live up on a high shelf, for example, or hanging from the ceiling in a basket well away from a crib or dresser. “Green walls may also be an option. Lots of new systems are available that allow you to grow plants in wall mounted containers, like succulents or air plants,” says Myers. “Just make sure the planter is securely mounted and truly out of reach — there should absolutely be no way a toddler could climb, grab and pull, or somehow get to the plant.”

If you just want a plant for decorative purposes, consider a faux plant in a child’s room for the time being. This gives you the decorative appeal and also the opportunity to teach your child about how to interact with nature in a safe, supervised manner in another location. These days, faux plants are very lifelike and detailed; we doubt anyone would know the difference from a distance! Myers finds that children particularly like to engage with plants with interesting names, colorful leaves or flowers, and unique habits (like the prayer plant, which folds up at night, or sensitive plants that collapse when touched), as well as plants that propagate easily, like spider plants or sweet potato vines. 

And as your child gets older, watch their behavior and let that be your guide. “See how they respond to plants in common areas,” says Myers. “If your child can safely interact with herbs in the kitchen or a snake plant in the living room, that will help you decide if they are ready to have plants in their room.”

Once you feel your child can be responsible, choose a plant that works for both your space and your bandwidth. “Matching the plant to the available light and your ability to provide needed care – mostly watering — is essential for success,” says Myers. “A low maintenance plant like an air plant, aloe, jade or ZZ plant is best. Families have enough to do without taking on a fussy houseplant!”