How the pandemic has changed the houseplant industry—and why

When onetime personal plant shopper and aspiring "Martha Stewart of Succulents" Sonja Detrinidad opened her website, Partly Sunny Projects, in Southern California just weeks into the pandemic, she didn't have high hopes for it. Detrinidad figured people wouldn’t have the expendable income to spend on plants while they were instead scrambling to find groceries and toilet paper. But the opposite happened: She was flooded, shipping out 1,200 orders in June of 2020 alone. In the past year, Detrinidad estimates that she’s sent out more than 70,000 plants. Her success is just one example of increased time at home leading to an explosion in the houseplant industry.

Detrinidad, who runs a plant-focused TikTok account with over 285,000 followers, has clearly had an outsized impact on her customers; one wrote her a note that read: "Thank you again for sharing your videos on TikTok. Not to put pressure on you, but you have changed my life. I finally found something that helps me with my anxiety and sad days."

Detrinidad says that this is not the only note like this and admits she’s gotten many from customers talking about how plants have gotten them through particularly difficult times. "Where I live I have these great outdoor areas, but other people are trapped in a studio apartment in a city and can’t get out,” says Detrindad. “They want to see a tree. I think that it gave an opportunity to people that didn’t have a chance to slow down to slow down and really embrace the space that they live in."

Plus, Detrindad points out, houseplants can become a (healthily!) addictive hobby: "You buy one and then you see the leaves of another one and you see the color and shapes of another one and you buy another one,” she explains.

The plant industry has been on the rise for a while; the UK's Garden Centre Association deemed 2019 the "year of the houseplant" with impressive year-over-year growth, but the pandemic further pushed the industry forward. According to the plant retailer Breck’s, while many industries suffered in 2020, the gardening industry saw close to 9% in growth last year, and a Nursery Management survey says that more than 50% of businesses experienced a bump in profits over 2019.

"Plants are in fashion right now, but COVID fast-tracked it," says Dr. Melinda Knuth, Post-doctoral Research Assistant in the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida. And there's a good reason for that. Knuth specializes in researching the effects of plants, green spaces, and nature on humans, and was part of a recent study about the benefits of plants. "People who live in plant-rich environments report a higher life satisfaction rating, more than people who don’t live in a plant-rich environment," she says. "Adding more nature to our environment can have such a great impact and can change our mood and how we think."

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