From moody leafy fig plants to sleepy snake plants, houseplants have become ubiquitous in the homes of many millennials and Generation Z—especially as tending them became a soothing, serotonin-boosting hobby early in the pandemic.
New plant parents (including this writer) caused Google searches for popular plants like pothos and prayer plants to spike in early 2020, while seasoned caregivers offered beginner tips on social media platforms like TikTok — the hashtag #plantsoftiktok, for example. The example, has collected more than 6 billion views so far. Creating Instagrammable oases at home is fast and easy, with home delivery sites like The Sill and Bloomscape offering alternatives to local shops.
Houseplants provide medicinal and health benefits, but making them has an environmental impact. attributed to him: Mersa Images / Digital Vision / Getty Images
“Growing indoor foliage plants is a very intensive process,” said Dr. Lauren R. Aoki, a specialist in ecological horticulture at the University of California, Davis and co-director of the UC Davis Nurseries and Florist Alliance. “There’s a high vegetation density, and quick transitions (between the farming and shipping plants). It’s a really complex system… that requires a lot of resources like energy, labour, water, (and) fertilizer, plus pot mix.”
Maintaining an indoor garden has healing and wellness benefits – indoor and outdoor gardening can relieve stress, increase attention and help bring in some much-needed green space in urban environments. But horticulturist Missy Bidwell, who manages the greenhouse at Cornell Botanic Gardens in New York, also said it’s important to consider all the resources needed to grow and maintain houseplants, and try to strike a balance. “When you stop and think about all the inputs, you have to (think) about the outputs – does it have a greater advantage? Does it have a greater impact on your life?”
In recent years, the horticultural industry has made great strides in areas such as energy-efficient greenhouses and improvements in water applications, but the collective and urgent environmental impacts remain.
The billions of dollars behind your local factory store requires massive amounts of resources and produces waste and pollution. attributed to him: Images by Mansoura Motamidi / Moment RF / Getty Images
Aoki notes that insecticides are essential in the industry, because “indoor plants and other nursery products are aesthetic products.” “They have to be perfect. If a plant has a brown leaf, people won’t buy it. So there is consumer pressure that growers have to meet as well.”
Waste is also a problem – as with many industries, the horticulture sector has a serious single-use plastic problem. “Plastic is in everything we do, from pots to dirt bags (to) plastic tags and plastic sleeves,” Bidwell said.
“This piece of nature is coated with one of nature’s most toxic substances,” Andreas Zancay, a botanical store owner, said of the plastic pots the plants are grown in. He and his partner use compostable utensils as an alternative. attributed to him: Roosevelt Nguyen
“This nature piece is coated with one of nature’s most toxic substances,” said Andreas Zancay, owner of a botanical store in Brooklyn. “It really doesn’t have to be this way.”
An alternative is biodegradable pots, which Szankay and his wife Stephanie aim to publish in their shop Pollyn. They replant all their plants in bio-pots made of materials including coconut fibres, cow dung and pulp.
Andreas explained that biopots keep plants healthy because they “allow more air and water exchange,” and can help fertilize the plant’s roots, depending on the material. Easily found through Amazon or Home Depot, Szankay hopes that nurseries that supply the plants will start using them, arriving at stores that have already been potted.
In the scheme of things, your houseplant group will likely have a much lower environmental toll than what’s in your closet or refrigerator. And just as with the food and fashion industries, it can seem as if an individual who adopts sustainable practices is barely walking away from a much larger problem that requires the biggest players to lead the way. But there are decisions you can make if you want a more sustainable indoor garden.
The first thing you can do is consider your “plant miles” when adding new additions to your collection, according to Budwell.
Spreading plant cuttings in water or soil to grow new plants is the most environmentally friendly way to grow a group. attributed to him: Watchwhite IMlerkchi/Moment RF/Getty Images
If you make purchases online, research the source of the plants. Companies like Bloomscape in Detroit and Rooted in New York, for example, ship directly from the greenhouse, reducing your plant’s journey by cutting out the store.
“It’s really important to be a good steward of your plants,” Bidwell said. “Bringing organisms[into the house]is important, and you need to take care of them.”