From lush, whimsical fiddle-leaf figs to laid-back snake plants, indoor houseplants have become ubiquitous in the homes of many millennials and Gen Zers — especially since caring for them became a hobby. soothing and boosting serotonin at the start of the pandemic.
New plant parents (including this writer) caused a surge in Google searches for popular flora such as pothos and prayer plants in early 2020, while seasoned keepers offered newbie tips on social media platforms like TikTok – the hashtag #plantsoftiktok, for example, has amassed over 6 billion views to date. Creating Instagrammable oases at home has become quick and easy, with home delivery sites such as The Sill and Bloomscape offering alternatives to local stores.
Indoor plants offer therapeutic and wellness benefits, but their industry has an environmental impact. Credit: Morsa Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images
“Growing indoor foliage plants is a very intensive process,” said Dr. Loren R. Oki, environmental horticulture specialist at the University of California, Davis and co-director of the University of California Nursery and Floriculture. Alliance. “There are high plant densities, there are rapid turnovers (between growing and shipping plants). It’s a really complex system… They require a lot of resources like energy, labor -work, water (and) fertilizers”, as well as the soil. .
The hidden fees
Maintaining an indoor garden has therapeutic and wellness benefits – indoor and outdoor gardening can alleviate stress, sharpen attention and help bring some green into urban environments. But horticulturist Missy Bidwell, who manages the greenhouse at Cornell Botanic Gardens in New York, also said it’s important to be aware of all the resources needed to grow and maintain your houseplants, and to try to find a balance. “When you stop and think about all the inputs, you have to (consider) the outputs – do they have a bigger benefit? Do they have a bigger impact on your life?”
In recent years, the horticulture industry has made progress in areas such as energy-efficient greenhouses and improved water applications, but the collective and pressing environmental impacts remain.
The multi-billion dollars behind your local plant store require vast amounts of resources and produce waste and pollution. Credit: Mansoreh Motamedi/Moment RF/Getty Images
Pesticides are needed in industry, Oki points out, because “houseplants and other nursery products are cosmetic products,” he said. “They have to be perfect. If the plant has a brown leaf, people won’t buy it. So there are consumer pressures that producers also have to deal with.
And waste is also an issue – as in many industries, the horticulture sector has a serious single-use plastic problem. “Plastics are in everything we do, from pots to soil bags (to) plastic labels, to plastic sleeves,” Bidwell said.
“This piece of nature is wrapped in one of nature’s most toxic materials,” plant store owner Andreas Szankay said of the plastic pots the plants are grown in. He and his partner use biodegradable pots as an alternative. Credit: Roosevelt Nguyen
“This piece of nature is wrapped in one of nature’s most toxic materials,” said Brooklyn plant store owner Andreas Szankay. “It doesn’t really have to be like that.”
The alternative is biodegradable pots, which Szankay and his wife Stephanie aim to popularize with their shop, Pollyn. They replant all of their nursery plants in bio-pots, which are made of materials such as coconut fiber, cow manure and paper pulp.
Bio-pots keep plants healthier because “they allow better air and water exchange,” Andreas explained, and can help fertilize a plant’s roots, depending on the material. They’re easily found on Amazon or Home Depot, and Szankay hopes the nurseries that supply the plants will start using them, as they’re already coming to stores in pots.
In the scheme of things, your houseplant collection probably has far less impact on the environment than what’s in your closet or refrigerator. And, as in the food and fashion industries, it can feel like one individual adopting sustainable practices is barely solving a much larger problem that requires the bigger players to lead the way. But there are decisions you can make if you want a more sustainable indoor garden.
According to Bidwell, the first thing you can do is consider your own “vegetable miles” when adding new additions to your collection.
Propagating plant clippings in water or soil to grow new ones is the most environmentally friendly way to grow a collection. Credit: Wachirawit Iemlerkchai/Moment RF/Getty Images
If you’re shopping online, do your research to find out where the plants come from. Companies like Bloomscape in Detroit and Rooted in New York, for example, ship directly from the greenhouse, reducing your plant’s trip by eliminating the store.
“Being a good steward of your plants is really important,” Bidwell said. “Bringing living things (home) is important, and you have to take care of them.”