On Instagram, Houseplant Sellers Turn Likes Into Green Thumbs


Ever heard of a plant coach?

They don’t wear whistles or train plants to grow. No, they instruct people on which plants will survive in their homes, teaching them how to take care of their chlorophyllous children and the way to style the greenery to their liking.

The playing field for these coaches is often Instagram, which has in many ways become a modern iteration of a department store for young people. Businesses tailored to the platform sell clothes, shoes, makeup, wigs, kitchenware — the list goes on.

And houseplants, popular among millennials, have increasingly taken root on the app. As begonias, monsteras and cactuses join microbladed brows, marble countertops and snow white apartment walls as hallmarks of the Instagram aesthetic, young entrepreneurs — or plantrepreneurs, as some call themselves — are building businesses selling plants and teaching others how to keep them alive.

In 2018, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for 25 percent of total lawn and garden spending in the United States, up from 23 percent in 2017, according to the National Gardening Association. Last year, millennials spent over $13 billion on gardening, the association said. Many nurseries have waiting lists for their most sought-after species.

“I am running the Instagram account more as a gallery, including what is happening in the larger landscape of indoor planting,” he said.

According to Mr. Sabharwal, nearly all of the company’s plants are imported from Florida to nurseries on Long Island that distribute them. “Time is money for most of these growers,” he said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nurseries are also eager to profit from the rise of plant sales on social media.

Hirt’s Gardens, a plant seller in Ohio that has been in business for 105 years, has experienced a 30 percent increase in profits over the last decade because of social media, said Matt Hirt, one of the company’s owners.

Mr. Hirt, 42, said that the strong sales were in spite of buyers who take advantage of propagation, the ability of certain plant species to spawn new plants from cuttings. (He can tell when someone buys a plant to “love it,” he said, as opposed to buying it simply with a plan to propagate it and sell it forward.)

“It doesn’t take away from my profit,” Mr. Hirt said, adding that his internet sales for 2019 were around $1.5 million — nearly double the previous year’s.

Blane Turiczek, 24, the company’s social media manager, said that customers’ habit of tagging the nursery on Instagram helped keep plants flying out of the greenhouse.

“Some of the really cool ones right now have a waiting list,” she said.

A current Instagram favorite, with a six-person waiting list, is the “Pink Princess” philodendron, a houseplant that sells for $50 in a six-inch pot and has pink and dark green leaves. Some stems unfurl and reveal entirely pink leaves. The nursery usually gets two a week.

A spokeswoman for Instagram said that the company did not have any information about an uptick in plant sales on the platform, but added that “selling plants is popular on Facebook Marketplace.” (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

“You might be told that this cutting came from a variegated plant, which are rarer and susceptible to disease,” Mr. Cutsumpas, 27, said. “You might get a plant that is perfectly green and then two years in, you don’t see anything.”

And it may remain a mystery: “You won’t know if you didn’t give it the right environment or if it’s plant fraud,” he said.

But for most people, Mr. Cutsumpas said, keeping a plant alive that they bought online should be relatively straightforward, as long as they give it the proper attention.

“No one is born with a black thumb,” he said.


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