How To Make Sure Your Houseplant Collection Isn't Harming The Planet
Unless you're a serious collector, your houseplants probably come at a way smaller environmental cost than, say, your closet or your car. But hey, there are still plenty of opportunities to reduce the impact of your at-home jungle even more. Here are five starter tips for making sure your greenery is actually green:
Beware of plant poaching.
Like animals, rare and endangered plants can be illegally taken from the wild—often in South Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia—and sold for exorbitant amounts of money. Bárbara Goettsch, Ph.D., a conservation biologist and the co-chair of the IUCN SSC Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group, tells mbg that just last year, 1,000 Chilean cactuses were poached in Chile's Atacama Desert and shipped to Italy to the tune of more than $1.2 million.
Although many cactuses are listed on the CITES treaty of protected endangered species, Goettsch notes that their unique colors, shapes, and highly prized flowers still make them a target for illegal trafficking. And with all the #plantlife on social media these days, Goettsch has even seen evidence of such trafficking on sites like Instagram and Facebook.
Plants that are rare and time-consuming to grow in a nursery are oftentimes the ones being poached. Goettsch says that in addition to succulents, certain carnivorous plants, orchids, and aloes are at risk.
To avoid accidentally buying into this harmful trend, she suggests shopping from a supplier who is transparent about where their plants come from. As always, shopping from smaller, local shops is a good idea because you can cut down on shipping miles and really get to know the people who work there and their practices. Monai Nailah McCullough, the horticulturist behind Planthood plant shop in the Netherlands, adds that these shops often have more communication with nurseries and growers than large corporations that also happen to sell plants. (For those in the Baltimore area, B.Willow is one shop Goettsch recommends, as they've partnered with the IUCN CSSG on some pretty cool conservation initiatives.)
Grow your own greenery.
Ultimately, the only way to know for sure where your plant comes from is to grow it yourself! That's why yogi and eco-conscious plant lover Roos Kocken likes to buy small plants and nurture them to life, or propagate plants using leaf cuttings she gets from friends.
Though growing your own houseplants takes more patience, it'll save you money—and potentially some hefty carbon emissions, if you're used to ordering large plants online—in the long run. "Taking cuttings is also a really good way to learn to take better care of your plants," Kocken tells mbg. "Since you're starting fresh, it's all up to you."
Use peat-free soil or reusable growing medium.
In addition to poaching, another dirty "P" word on the lips of houseplant enthusiasts these days is peat. A common additive in most potting soils, it's a layer of decayed organic matter that takes years to form over peat bogs. Critics of the material say that its endless extraction is disrupting these valuable ecosystems and releasing carbon that's been buried underground ground back into the air.
To avoid it, you can look for a peat-free potting mix (often made with coconut coir, a byproduct of the coconut industry) or ditch soil altogether and go for a reusable potting material like LECA. (Just make sure you know how to use it first.)
Be cautious with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are usually more destructive when used on outdoor gardens, where they can harm pollinators and leach into nearby ecosystems. Still, opting for natural alternatives with your houseplants is a smart move, as they're usually made with organic materials that can strengthen soil health.
Swap synthetic fertilizers for organic ones made from liquid humus, composted manures, or seaweed, and replace chemical-heavy pesticides with natural alternatives like neem oil. Or, take a note from Kocken and invite some beneficial bugs into your home to fight off any potentially harmful ones. She likens integrative pest management kits to the lazy person's pest protection. Now that she's gotten used to having small critters in her pots at all times, she sees them as "my little army of warriors so I don't have to spray all my plants."
Get nifty with your plastics.
Don't want to write off those throwaway pots that plants come in as yet another piece of single-use plastic? Use them more than once! Kocken always keeps hers around to house future plants, and if she's ever looking for a certain size she doesn't have, she's found that garden centers are usually happy to give her their leftovers for free instead of throwing them away.
Another opportunity to reuse plastic waste comes during the seed germination or propagation phase. Old egg cartons, lettuce containers, or tomato tubs can be a perfect size and shape for starting your seeds or giving your propagations some extra humidity. Kocken adds that you can even place old plastic bags on top of any plant that's infested with pests, to keep them from crawling over to the rest of your collection.
People are always looking for ways to create drainage in ceramic pots. Cut the plastic pot in half, flip it upside down (drainage hole side up). Cover the plastic pot with landscape fabric, and plant in your Rainwater!
The bottom line.
Bringing houseplants into your home is a wonderful way to connect with nature, which has sustainability benefits on its own. And with these little tips and tweaks, you'll ensure your indoor jungle is as planet-friendly as possible.
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.