“There was a period when the economy was bad and people were economizing. They’d say, ‘We don’t need it!’ But you really do need houseplants. They clean the air. They make us feel better,” said Kifumi Keppler, owner of Sacramento’s Exotic Plants, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this September. “People are realizing that now.”
Millennials such as Tyler Davis, Orchard Supply Hardware’s green merchant, are helping drive a current houseplant trend.
“We’re seeing sales explode,” the nursery expert said.
Davis, 31, is himself a houseplant lover. He has more than 150 specimens at his Visalia home.
“They’re natural air purifiers,” he said. “Some of them, such as Snake Plant, release oxygen at night. That actually helps you sleep.”
Air seems to be a big part of the current houseplant trend.
“The trend we see is the growing interest in houseplants that filter the air — such as Peace Lily and Red-Edged Dracenea — and ‘air plants’ — Tillandsia,” said Tami Kint of Sacramento-based Green Acres Nursery & Supply, which also has seen an uptick in houseplants. “Air plants are super easy to care for and can be fun to incorporate into unique displays.”
Air plants can live without soil and tend to stay small. That makes them ideal for terrariums as well as hanging displays.
Garden Design magazine noted millennials, who are now mostly in their 20s and early 30s, tend to shop for houseplants like they would for furniture or accessories. They’re decorating with living things.
“Houseplants let you create your own space,” Davis said. “Everything old is new again. People are still going back to the classics. There’s a little bit of nostalgia, too. People remember houseplants they grew up with or at their grandparents’ house.
“Houseplants transcend generations,” he added. “It’s not just millennials. Everybody is getting into houseplants, even my mom.”
His favorite is Snake Plant (Sansevieria), also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.
“It’s just so easy,” Davis said. “It’s a foolproof houseplant. You don’t need to be an expert to make this plant grow in your home. It’s also very structural. Snake Plant was really popular during the 1950s and ’60s, the same period as midcentury modern furniture, which is very popular right now, too. They’re perfect together.”
Overall, though, this new wave is not the same old houseplants.
“Back in the ’70s, it was all hanging plants — Boston ferns, piggyback plants and wandering Jew,” said Keppler, of Exotic Plants. “Now, people are looking for something different.”
Large specimens such as 7- or 8-foot-tall fiddleleaf fig trees, an indoor star for decorators, “fly out the door,” Keppler said.
Customers also gravitate to colorful foliage such as neon-green pothos or variegated Chinese evergreen. Easy-care orchids such as phalaenopsis and dendrobium also grab attention — and sales. Such orchids offer weeks of eye-popping flowers with little water or care, even in low light.
“Just water them once and a while and put them in the right space,” Davis said.
Many people kill houseplants with kindness, Keppler said. The most common problem is overwatering.
“The plant gets too much water, their roots start to die and their leaves turn yellow,” she said. “People see yellow leaves — and they give the plant more water. It dies. Instead, check the soil before watering and see if the plant really needs it. For most houseplants, water them once a week.”
Plants in low light need less water than those in bright spots, she added. Also, plants in clay pots dry out faster than those in plastic containers.
With a little attention, these indoor companions will invigorate you, Keppler said. “I have to have plants in any environment,” she said. “A room without plants looks stark and lifeless. Add a couple of plants and it really comes alive. They enliven the space and give it life energy.”