How green is your Pinterest-perfect plant collection? – KION546

Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

From lush violin-leaf figs to laid-back snake plants, indoor houseplants have become ubiquitous in the homes of many millennials and Generation Z, particularly as their care has become a calming and serotonin-stimulating hobby. beginning of the pandemic.

New plant parents (including this writer) caused a spike in Google searches for popular flora like pothos and prayer plants in early 2020, while expert caretakers offered tips for newbies 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 like The Sill and Bloomscape offering alternatives to local shops.

But how green is your vegetation? It seems logical that more plants should be beneficial to the environment: after all, they produce the oxygen we breathe. But recent research has shown that houseplants don’t do as much in terms of improving air quality as initially believed. And they have an impact on the planet, belied by their ecological aspect.

Although it is difficult to quantify the environmental impact of indoor plants – outdoor gardening, cut flowers and potted flowers are often grouped together with houseplants in horticultural business studies – behind your local plant shop or and -tailer there is a multi-billion dollar industry that requires an enormous amount of resources for growing and transporting vegetation to reach your home. In the United States alone, there are more than 2,300 indoor plant growers, and sales were $ 691 million in 2019, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture census report.

“Growing indoor foliage plants is a highly intensive process,” said Dr. Loren R. Oki, an environmental horticulture specialist at the University of California, Davis and co-director at the University of California Nursery and Floriculture Alliance. “There are high plant densities, fast exchanges (between growing plants and shipping). It’s a really complex system… They require a lot of resources like energy, manpower, water (and) fertilizers ”, as well as the potting mix.

The hidden costs

Maintaining an indoor garden has therapeutic and wellness benefits: both indoor and outdoor gardening can relieve stress, increase attention, and help bring some much-needed greenery into urban settings. But horticulturist Missy Bidwell, who runs the greenhouse at New York’s Cornell Botanic Gardens, also said it’s important to be aware of all the resources needed to grow and maintain houseplants and try to find a balance. “When you stop to think about all the inputs, you have to (consider) the outputs: do they have a greater advantage? Do they have a bigger impact on your life? “

In recent years, the horticulture industry has made great strides in areas such as energy-efficient greenhouses and improving water applications, but collective and urgent environmental impacts remain.

Water use further stresses drought-prone areas, while nitrates from fertilizers have contaminated the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, as well as California’s drinking water, according to a 2012 report from the United States. UC Davis. Nitrous oxide is also emitted by these fertilizers, a greenhouse gas that heats the atmosphere nearly 300 times more than carbon dioxide.

Pesticides are needed in the industry, Oki points out, because “houseplants and other nursery products are aesthetic products,” he said. “They must be perfect. If the plant has a brown leaf, people won’t buy it. So there are consumer pressures that growers also have to meet. “

Then there is the potting mix your plants grow in. This is often made up of peat moss due to its ability to retain moisture and nutrients. But, beyond harvesting, the world’s bogs are rapidly depleting due to fires and development, making its use in horticulture particularly strained. Peat protects the environment with its prodigious ability to absorb and store carbon – damaged peatlands do the opposite, emitting at least 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to Nature.

And waste is a problem too: As with many industries, the horticulture sector has a serious single-use plastics problem. “Plastic is in everything we do, from pots to dirt bags (to) plastic labels, plastic sleeves,” Bidwell said.

Grab the petroleum-based plastic pots your houseplants come in. According to the USDA, large growers and nurseries use tens of millions of plastic pots in a single season. They are not recyclable in many places and 98% end up in landfills. In 2009, the USDA calculated that the container growing industry had produced 4 billion units, or 1.66 billion pounds of plastic.

“That piece of nature is wrapped in one of nature’s most toxic materials,” said Andreas Szankay, owner of a plant shop in Brooklyn. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

The alternative is biodegradable cookware, which Szankay and his wife Stephanie aim to popularize with their shop, Pollyn. They replant all of their nursery plants in organic pots, which are made of materials including coir, cow manure, and paper pulp.

Bio-pots keep plants healthier because they “allow for more air and water exchange,” Andreas explained, and can help fertilize a plant’s roots, depending on the material. They are easily found through Amazon or Home Depot, and Szankay hopes the nurseries that supply the plants will start using them, since they arrive in stores already in pots.

Conscious changes

In the scheme of things, your houseplant collection likely has much less environmental impact than what’s in your closet or refrigerator. And, as with the food and fashion industry, it can appear that an individual adopting sustainable practices is barely solving a much bigger 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 Bidwell.

Local buying helps, “so you don’t use fuel emissions and things like that to get the plants,” he said. But you can also use clippings to create new plants, a process called propagation, with a little help from the internet. “Can you trade plants and share with neighbors,” Bidwell suggested, “especially with some of the houseplants that are super easy to propagate?”

If you shop online, do your research on 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 travel by cutting the store.

To avoid using peat, TikTok users recommend alternatives such as fibrous coir and carbon ash residue known as biochar, both of which have been studied as viable alternatives.

But the best thing you can do is pay attention to the plants you own. Research whether or not you have the conditions (and motivation) to keep picky plants happy, and if not, opt for a less fussy resident. According to a recent Business Insider report, Americans kill nearly half of the houseplants they bring home, and plant death in supply chains and stores has been exacerbated by recent demand. Social media trends have also made rare plants like white variegated monsters or pink philodendron princesses very coveted, but just because you can find a plant on Etsy doesn’t mean you should buy it on impulse. Focusing on water-efficient, low-light plants will make it easier to care for your collection and create less demand from growers to supply high-maintenance varieties.

Not everyone is perfect plant parent (again, like this writer), but it’s wise to relocate the ones you can’t take care of, and there are options if a plant looks discolored, withered, and stubbornly determined to die. YouTube and TikTok videos provide an endless number of tutorials on how to save your collection from pests or over watering: in a viral video, TikTok user @ the.plant.baddie provides helpful tips on root rot causing anxiety, set on a relaxing soundtrack of lo-fi rhythms. You can also learn when and how to repot or how to propagate healthy pruning to create an entirely new plant. (Make sure you compost anything you can’t save.)

“Being a good steward of your plants is really important,” Bidwell said. “Bringing living beings (home) is important and you have to take care of them.”

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