How to make your love of houseplants sustainable?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking about how to make my hobby of growing houseplants more sustainable. Surely I am not the only one who has been contemplating this issue.
Plant sales have increased dramatically since 2015, and that was before we were all confined to our homes for months at a time as a result of a public health crisis.
As of 2019, sales of horticultural products in the United States increased nearly 50 percent to $1.7 billion, according to the National Gardening Association.
BBC reports that average sales in the second half of 2019 were up 60% on the previous year in the UK, according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
In most cases, a hobby that becomes popular leads to increased consumption, and it often comes at a cost. It’s not my intent to be all doom and gloom, or to guilt-trip anyone who buys too many plants. Let me share a few tips with you to help you cultivate an enjoyable and sustainable houseplant hobby.
The following list is by no means comprehensive. It isn’t perfect either. As I think of or discover other sustainable ideas, I plan to add them to this list. If you have any other ideas to add, please do not hesitate to contact us via the Contact page of this website.
Don’t become obsessed with your houseplant wishlist
The reason I’m starting with this tip is that I consider this to be the most important one. The reason I’m saying this gently is that I’m not sure how to say it. Houseplants that you see on the internet are not necessarily something you need to own. An ever-growing wishlist of houseplants makes us unhappy. Having been there myself, trust me!
There are many examples of plant parents who become plant collectors, and that is when a healthy hobby becomes an unsustainable one. In the same way as any other type of addiction, plant shopping leads to excessive consumerism and dissatisfaction with existing plants. There will always be a desire to get that next rush of dopamine.
In the world of houseplants, there is a long conversation we need to have about consumerism. I’m already mulling that over for another post.
You don’t have to have a lot of houseplants in your house right now. You don’t have to chase after the biggest, most expensive houseplants (I’m looking at you, fiddle leaf fig), and it’s never too late to change your ways if you realize you’re going overboard with this hobby.
Buy from small businesses with sustainable practices
It’s hard for me to decide whether I should take advantage of this tip or not since economies of scale can be quite useful. Greenhouse operations of a larger scale can afford to invest more in sustainable plant practices. Some of them actually make an effort to sustainably grow houseplants.
Ultimately, however, I tend to support small businesses, regardless of whether they are already established family-owned garden centers or Etsy stores that are growing on a small scale.
A small business can make a big difference with each purchase, and I have often found that communicating with them about sustainable gardening is easier. The packaging materials can be reused, plastic packaging can be avoided, or you can ask the company to remove the soil from the roots so that the plant can fit in a smaller box.
When I was buying from a small store, the order I placed was customized based on how cold the weather was when it shipped.
The kind of requests these fulfillment centers would grant are impossible to me.
Buy from local growers
It’s not a secret that I’ve bought plants from big box stores more times than I’d like to admit. While out grocery shopping, I find myself tempted to visit the gardening section. If you can buy the plants for a few dollars, it might be even more tempting.
I think there’s a problem right there, but that’s not the whole story.
For the sake of convenience and low prices, we sacrifice quality and sustainability just like we do in fast fashion and fast food. My goal is to shop at local growers first, so I’ve been vowing to do better. In this way, I am not only helping a small business stay afloat, but I am also reducing plant miles (the distance the plant must travel from the grower to the end-user).
Buy from growers that care about sustainability
The sustainability of the houseplants is a serious consideration for some greenhouse operations, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Despite all the hard work and commitment that goes into it, they make it a point to mention it frequently on their websites. These details are usually listed on their About Us page.
Swap plants with people in your community
Probably the most sustainable houseplant behavior you can engage in is propagating your own plants and sharing them with other plant lovers. Additionally, this is a good way to build a community of people who share the same values to exchange tips, insights, resources, and ideas.
In addition to distributing and receiving houseplants using social media channels such as Craigslist, Facebook and Instagram, I have also done so with neighbors and friends. Plant lovers – those who are really passionate about plants – love to share their passion with others; but of course, you should always do your due diligence before meeting someone new.
First, look at the “as-is” section of your local plant store
The policy of the store, of course, plays a large role in this. In many garden stores, as well as upscale retailers such as Ikea, items are available “as is.”. The plants that you find are usually not in the best shape, but they can still be brought back with some pruning, watering, and sunlight.
In addition to staying away from waste, this strategy will also save you some money.
Buying from the “as-is” section has only resulted in one miss, with a very stubborn succulent that wouldn’t grow back. Apart from that, I have revived all the sad houseplants that crossed my path from the discount shelf.
Get plant containers from the thrift store
It’s not hard to come up with this one, I admit that. It’s nevertheless worth mentioning just to make you think outside of the box. It would be better to say outside of the flowerpot. People I know who tend to repurpose the wackiest of containers, such as tea tins, beer cans, baskets, drawers, old boots, old jeans, and even tea kettles, as containers for their plants.
In my opinion, the best thing about thrift store finds lately is getting old plates and using them as water-catching trays or saucers for pots that come with a drainage hole. By reusing old, often chipped plates, we prevent them from going to waste and reduce the need to purchase plastic saucers (which, for whatever reason, can sometimes cost as much as the pot they match).
Offer excess containers for free to a local nursery or garden center
Plastic nursery pots taking up space in the shed or garage – we’ve all been there. This happens a lot to gardeners, as well, especially when they purchase seeds. Most of the time, these types of pots can’t be recycled.
Usually, I keep half of them for propagation and sharing (this is also a very affordable and sustainable way to grow houseplants), and donate the rest to a local nursery or garden center.
Before returning them, ask them if they will have any use for them. Garden centers can be simple retail operations or they can cultivate their own plants. We ask that you remove any labels or barcodes that might cause confusion when using the pots again.
Look for biodegradable containers
The nursery containers I can sometimes find in my area are biodegradable. I can sometimes find plants here (mainly herbs). The materials often used in making them include cellulose, natural resins, and compostable materials.
In addition, although they may look like plastic pots, they can biodegrade in a municipal compost pile or even in your own garden.
My pleasant surprise came when I pulled out some that I had stored only to discover they had broken down in the shed over the winter.
Stay away from synthetic fertilizers
It might be controversial to say this. The plants in my house have never been fertilized, and they are all doing fine without any fertilizer. With this, I avoid synthetic fertilizers and the plastic waste that goes with them (not to mention runoff, which would also require proper disposal of the bottle.
However, how can I keep my plants healthy and growing without fertilizer?
I find the best way to grow is by paying very close attention to the soil. Fertilizer is often needed when the soil is depleted of nutrients. At that point, the plant suffers and dies.
My soil is kept healthy and nutrient-rich by repotting the plants every spring (and sometimes in the fall too, depending on how fast the plant has grown).
Whenever I notice that the soil level in my flower pots has dropped – this is due to compaction of the soil or soil escaping from drainage holes – I top the flower pots with fresh soil.
Once a month, I aerate the soil with popsicle sticks or a chopstick. My method of breaking down soil clumps is to make a few holes in the surface of the soil, and gently move my stick across it. It is important to aerate soil so that the roots can access oxygen and receive more water.
Take care of your plants to minimize damage and loss
As you know, we all strive for excellence. Furthermore, I’ve heard from most plant owners that they have lost at least one green friend. Even with our best intentions, accidents can happen and houseplants will die.
Essentially, this advice is more about not turning houseplant care into another chore that we’ll procrastinate on until finally do it out of guilt. In the end, the most sustainable houseplant choice is to have only as many plants as you can realistically maintain.
For a variety of reasons, including time and financial management, buying plants just for the sake of buying them is not a sustainable habit.
You should always make sure to properly care for the plants you already have before you buy new ones. Taking care of your plants goes beyond watering them. Having time, energy, and passion for the mundane aspects of plant care will allow you to keep your plants healthy, such as repotting, soil aeration, dusting, pruning, and moving the plants around the house so they receive the best light.
If you order online, choose smaller plants or cuttings
I understand the appeal of buying plants online. Just a few days ago, I ordered some succulents from Sedum, and I’m looking forward to getting them in the mail.
However, the larger the package, the more resources it takes to get to our homes. You may be able to find a smaller version of your favorite plant in an online store. In many cases, this will be cheaper (both in terms of purchase and delivery cost) and will have a smaller environmental impact.
You may also find that small plants can sometimes be more easily acclimated to your indoor environment. The plants shouldn’t be damaged during shipping, so at least you won’t lose much money.