Welcome to Bad at Plants, a new column in which plant expert Maryah Greene, of Greene Piece consulting, answers your questions about plants so we may all become at least slightly better at keeping them alive.
Is buying plants environmentally friendly? I am interested in starting a plant collection, but I seriously wonder about the environmental harm of growing plants for beauty and entertainment purposes. Different places selling plants have different environmental impacts … maybe Home Depot isn’t as sustainable as a local nursery. Ultimately, I’m questioning whether I should hop on the trend of having houseplants based on the trend and the industry’s sustainability. Going further, how can I become a sustainable plant owner on the basis of resources used to fuel this hobby?
I don’t want to claim to be an expert on this side of things, but your question made me take a step back and ask how I’m being sustainable in my practice as a plant stylist. I think people are so focused on the idea of plants as self-care and what can this plant do for me, but we don’t often consider what we’re doing for the planet while we’re hopping on this trend.
Some countries, especially in Asia, don’t have to meet the same health standards as far as the kinds of chemicals used to grow and harvest cutting flowers, and that can cause chemical pollution. There hasn’t been as much research done on houseplants, though, so I thought I might answer your question by … asking more questions. These are things you can ask yourself and your local plant shop in considering how to be a responsible consumer.
1. What does your plant shop do with the plastic pots?
When the store takes a plant out of a nursery pot and puts it into a new one to sell, is it reusing those plastic pots when it goes to pick up more plants from the nursery, or does it just throw them away? Do they get recycled? Some plant shops will give customers nursery pots for free or at low cost, if you ask. I know some people who don’t use ceramic or terra-cotta planters at all and just use those plastic planters for the sake of reusing what they came in, which is amazing.
2. What are your plant shop’s watering practices?
Is there some sort of continuous sprinkling system, which obviously uses more water, or are the plants hand-watered? These might seem like small things, but collectively they make a difference.
3. Do you order plants online?
The e-commerce plant business has grown exponentially in the past three years. Plants are usually treated as rush items, shipped in two or three days so they stay alive. Because these packages go through expedited shipping, that likely means they’re flying, which contributes to congestion and pollutants. Amazon Prime is a major hub for two-day plant shipping, and that’s encouraging other plant shops to try to match its speed.
Here, it’s also important to consider the packaging: Is it ecofriendly? Is the shipper using a crap-ton of plastic? Is the paper recyclable? That’s something consumers should start asking.
4. Do you use grow lights?
When I was living in a basement apartment, all I could rely on was my grow lights, so in some ways I was doing damage by keeping them on all the time rather than using natural light. For those people living in low-light settings, consider getting a timer for the grow lights so they’re not on all the time.
5. Whom are we supporting with our plant purchases?
Is your shop local, or is it Amazon? Plants are now in demand, so companies are trying to meet that demand by making plants accessible, cheap, and online, which is awesome for us, but I think we need to hold these companies accountable, on packaging and shipping especially.
I prefer to go to a local plant store to shop for my plants, but I get that not everyone has the time or access. If you’re shopping online, you might be able to research the website’s ecopractices before choosing a store. For instance, Rooted NYC, which I work with, sources plants locally to reduce carbon emissions, and the Sill just eliminated Bubble Wrap.
Do you have questions for Maryah? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll try to get you an answer.