The Quest for a Greener Houseplant

Photo Credit: Stacy Graff.

Houseplants, with all of their air-purifying, stress-reducing beauty, deserve a place in just about every home and office. We've all done it: grabbed an impulse philodendron or African violet from the grocery store or bought an orchid or bromeliad that was just too gorgeous, too vibrant, to pass up.

And we should do that. It's good for us! But there are things that go into the growing and shipping of houseplants that many of us don't consider:

  • Most houseplants (especially those carried in large retail chain stores) are shipped from across the country, in large cooled or heated (depending on the season) trucks.
  • The overwhelming majority of houseplants are grown using conventional fertilizers and pesticides.

These are the same arguments we hear in regard to our food: how many miles they travel to reach us, and how the way they are grown affects the environment and the people who grow them. We rarely, if ever, hear the same related to houseplants. Just as many of us are striving to "buy local" when it comes to food, clothing, and furnishings for our home, it makes sense to start looking for local, organic houseplant options.

While many states have at least a few houseplant growers, organic houseplant growers are nearly non-existent. Growth regulators and conventional pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers are all common for most growers.If you're looking to reduce the environmental impact of your houseplant buying, there are a few options:

1. Find a local houseplant grower. Even if it's not organic, local is a good place to start. You can do a lot with the plant once you get it home to start raising it organically (more on this below.)

2. Look for houseplants that are part of the Veriflora program. While not perfect, growers who are part of this program are inspected and expected to use ecologically-friendly practices (including using organic methods whenever possible, and only using more drastic measures when those organic methods aren't working) and practicing soil conservation and erosion control methods. (Learn more about Veriflora's plant requirements here.)

3. Grow your own, from seed. You can grow many houseplants from seed, including African violets, cacti and succulents, palms, clivias, and others. You can order seed for these plants from several online and traditional catalogs -- just search online for "houseplant seeds." And don't stop there -- certain common outdoor plants such as coleus and geraniums (Pelargoniums) make great houseplants. Or grow houseplants from fruits and veggies such as pineapples, sprouted sweet potatoes, and orange seeds -- even better because you're using something that would have been tossed in the compost bin and giving it new life.

Grow Your Houseplants Organically
Photo Credit: Lisa Rae.

If you've purchased a conventionally-grown houseplant, you can still start using organic methods. Growing houseplants doesn't mean you have to go buy that "blue stuff" to keep them thriving. Top your houseplant soil with a bit of compost or vermicompost. Feed leafy houseplants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion (deodorized versions are available), diluted vermicompost leachate, or seaweed-based organic fertilizers.

When it's time to re-pot your houseplant, use organic potting soil. Many plants will thrive if you mix it with some of your own compost or vermicompost.

As always, pay attention to your plants' water and light needs, because plants are less likely to develop pest and disease problems when they're not stressed from poor light and too much/too little water. Inspect your plants regularly for pest and disease problems, and deal with them as soon as you find them. There are organic solutions for just about all common houseplant ailments.

While finding and growing a more sustainable bromeliad may not be Earth-shattering in and of itself, it's the small, every day decisions like this that combine to make a big difference. If you're interested in growing a "greener" houseplant, I hope these tips help you do just that!

More on Growing Houseplants:
Another Reason To Keep Your Houseplants Alive -- They Tell Time!
Umbrella Pot Waters Your Houseplants with Rain Water
How to Grow Fresh Air

Tags: Buy Local | Gardening | Pesticides

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