Why the houseplant craze is good for growers

June 3, 2019
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Anyone around in the 1970s or 1980s remembers how houseplant popularity soared in that era. But those heights pale next to the current houseplant craze. Jim Schmitz, our Territory Manager in Southeast Florida, reports that many of you who grow interior foliage plants are expanding to meet demand. But tropical plant growers and retailers aren’t the only ones who can benefit. Even if your growing operation focuses on bedding plants or nursery stock, this indoor plant obsession is still good news.

Understanding what’s driving houseplant popularity can help open our collective minds to new ways to promote and sell other plants—to houseplant enthusiasts and other types of gardeners. One of our coworkers here likened it to the easy-to-grow, wildly successful Knock Out rose or the increase in xeriscaping and the rise of low-maintenance, water-wise plants. Capitalizing on the principles behind the popularity can be good for growers in every sector of our industry.

Hop on social media and type in the hashtag #urbanjungle. You’ll need more than two hands to count the people growing scores of houseplants. Several boast more than 200; one estimates his at 500. Another person counts nearly 700 in her urban apartment. And here lies another connection, which should inspire you whether your production plans include interior foliage plants or not: Many of these social media influencers (or “plantfluencers” as they’re sometimes called) say they hope to expand their plant passions into outdoor gardening as well.

Results from recent National Gardening Surveys reveal these sentiments are widespread. Millennials, now 23 to 38 years old, are behind more than 30% of all houseplant sales, but they’re also taking their newly minted green thumbs outdoors. They now account for nearly one-third of all gardening households—that’s an all-time high that’s expected to grow. When surveyed, this group rated landscaping and container gardening as top priorities.

Easy-care houseplants = growing confidence
A look at the most popular houseplants on social media and plant-related mobile apps holds some valuable clues to why houseplant mania keeps gaining recruits. Though the “plant of the moment” changes frequently, the following plants consistently make the top ten:

  • aloe vera
  • cactus family
  • fiddleleaf fig (ficus lyrata)
  • monstera deliciosa (split-leaf philodendron)
  • peace lily (spathiphyllum)
  • pilea peperomioides (Chinese money plant)
  • pothos (especially variegated varieties)
  • snake plant (sansevieria)
  • succulents (echeveria, sempervivum and haworthia, in particular)
  • ZZ plant (zamioculcas zamiifolia)

 

You probably recognize some similarities in these favorites: They’re photogenic (great for social media), easy to care for, and very forgiving. If you’re a grower, we suspect you have several plants in your production schedule that share these qualities, regardless of the type of plant material you grow. As houseplant enthusiasts cross the bridge to other forms of gardening, your healthy, well-nourished, confidence-building plants can help expand horizons and bring new gardeners to the fold.

Thriving greenery = the good life
Dig deeper into the current houseplant fascination in social media or consumer lifestyle magazines, and one thing becomes clear: When you’re living the good life, plants are somewhere in the picture. Understanding the following four goals—frequently expressed by houseplant-hungry Millennials—can help you translate their passions to your products:

1. Create a healthier home environment. Ever since NASA released research in the late 1980s showing houseplants cleanse pollutants from air, the idea of air-enhancing plants has been a powerful draw. While opinions differ on how many plants it would take to make a substantial impact, the allure is still strong. Hang out with houseplant retailers and you’ll hear shopper after shopper looking for plants to “oxygenate” their homes.

As environment-minded consumers shift to outdoor growing, our industry can help educate them about how greenhouse and nursery stock “oxygenate” our outdoor living spaces, too. From bedding plants and perennials to trees, shrubs and natural turf, plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen for the earth. They also improve our personal environments in other ways, including improved water quality, enhanced biodiversity and sound absorption, to name a few.

2. Improve personal wellness through stress relief. Many houseplant devotees report they feel more relaxed and at ease around plants, but they may not realize research supports their claims. The National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) conveniently pulled together houseplant research results in their #PlantsDoThat campaign last year. They reported that houseplants in home and office spaces can help reduce blood pressure and physical tension.

These benefits don’t stop with indoor plants. Additional research shows that outdoor greenery—even when viewed through a window—reduces stress, blood pressure and muscle tension. Plus, that relaxing vegetation increases feelings of peace and happiness. As indoor houseplant gardeners connect to natural outdoor spaces and establish landscapes and gardens of their own, you and your customers can help them discover those effects will grow.

3. Design a more creative, productive home or workspace. Many modern houseplant lovers work from home as freelancers or employees with flexible work arrangements. Many more are “makers” involved in creative projects outside their work hours or students whose homes serve as backdrops for academic pursuits. While houseplants add visual appeal, research shows their presence also improves performance in work and school. Students in classrooms with plants display greater creativity and even earn higher test scores.

You probably see where we’re going with this by now. Outdoor gardening with greenhouse and landscape stock provides similar benefits—we just have to help this new group of gardeners connect the dots. Innovative landscape design combined with top-quality plants can create productive, inspiring outdoor spaces that highlight line-of-sight designs so people experience performance-enhancing plant benefits whether indoors or outside.

4. Connect with nature and nurturing. Last, but not least, is a need that many urban-jungle aficionados express: the desire to feel connected to and responsible for another living thing. Many share that, for now, their houseplants take the place of roommates, pets and even kids. Plants are given names and “plant parenting” groups are popular among this crowd. By giving people something to care for, houseplants help fulfill the need to nurture and connect with nature.

Many would argue that the need for nurture and nature is something most, if not all, humans share. What starts now with hands-on houseplants can grow as thumbs become greener, families grow bigger, and hands of all sizes hit garden soil. Whether you’re growing interior foliage, distributing nutrients or prepping your next shrub introduction for market, you can help interior and exterior plant fans nurture plants and people—and connect with nature on a larger scale than ever before.

At ICL, we’re optimistic about what the houseplant craze means for growers and everyone in the green industry. If hundreds of plants in an apartment seems a little over the top, that’s okay. The passions behind the plants bode well for us all.