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Sustainability and Plant Parenthood: Part 3

Acquiring Plants

Today is the day! I have reached part three of a three part series aimed at improving my carbon footprint as a budding houseplant aficionado. A couple of months ago, I embarked on some self-directed learning. I wanted to take a deep dive into what aspects of plant parenthood are the least sustainable, and leave the biggest carbon footprint. It’s been enlightening, to say the least! I’ve learned that black plastic pots can’t be recycled, and that we may be using peat moss at an unsustainable rate. But my last topic is the one that I think can have the greatest impact: acquiring houseplants sustainably.

Ten months ago, I began to seriously invest in my house plant collection. I went from two plants to twenty five (and counting) in a matter of months. The plants came from a variety of sources, some local, some not. And I’ve been thinking: is there a right way to acquire houseplants? Is there a wrong way? Are some of the ways I’m sourcing my plants having a negative environmental impact? The answer, of course, is yes. I’ve mentioned before that I believe in micro-moves: small decisions and changes that add up to a greater difference. And as a consumer of anything, there is always a responsibility to be conscious of your carbon footprint. So, in the spirit of growing and changing and getting better, I wanted to share some of the ways I acquired the plants in my collection, and reflect on the impact these methods could have on Mother Earth.


1. Online Greenhouses

My first bulk purchase was last winter, and I bought five plants from an online greenhouse. The pros: the packaging was sustainable and the company was located in my province. The downsides: the shipping would obviously contribute to greenhouse gases, and I definitely wasn’t supporting local small businesses.


2. Big Box Stores

Once I’d decided to dive into plant parenthood head first, I started to notice plants everywhere! I realized that it's almost impossible to walk through a big box store and not see a wishlist plant nowadays. It’s just as impossible to leave that store without at least contemplating an impulse purchase. To be honest, the prices at these stores can be hard to beat. But the staff aren’t specialists, and the poor plants often don’t receive proper care or attention. 


3. Local Nurseries

I don’t know why it took me so long to visit my local nursery. I think I was intimidated, and the online options and bix box stores were reassuringly anonymous: if I killed the plants, I wasn’t disappointing anyone I knew personally. The community I live in is quite small. Whether you’re grocery shopping or plant shopping, you are bound to know the staff. But here’s what I learned: it’s pretty priceless to have an expert on the scene when buying a new plant. Once I admitted to the nursery staff that I was new to plants, and that I was still learning how not to kill anything, they recommended an adorable pothos. The plant is my healthiest to date, and it was a perfect match for me. 


4. Digital Marketplaces

I was shocked to find that there are entire communities of people on social media selling plants! The best thing about these plants is that they are often well loved and cared for. Sometimes, people are looking to free up space, and you can acquire a large, mature houseplants for an incredibly reasonable price. Much like my beloved rescue dog, why buy new when you can rehome something beautiful with lots of life left to live?


5. Swaps and Props

Last but not least, I have come to my favourite way to build your collection: swaps (trades) and props (propagation). I’m not looking to spend a ton of money on new plants these days, and have realised that there are other ways to get plants that don’t require you to open your wallet.  Many of my friends and family are plant owners. Why not share the love? Months in advance of birthdays or holidays, I begin propagating my favourite plants so that I can share them as gifts. Sometimes I swap cuttings with colleagues. And I am the proud new owner of an aloe vera that came from a friend’s mother plant. 

It’s been a journey to get this far: I’ve gone from anonymous purchases to fostering relationships during plant trades. That’s something pretty unique and beautiful about this hobby: it might be all about the plants, but the people you meet along the way are one of the best parts. So my advice would be to look locally when you’re building your collection. You might find the perfect plant, and meet some like-minded people.

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