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As hobbies/lifestyles/collections go, houseplants can occupy whatever price bracket you wish.
If you’re in this thing long term, buy yourself a spider plant, pothos, or other easy-to-propagate plant and off you go.
But if plants are so easy to propagate, why are houseplants so expensive?
Supply and demand
Pilea peperomioides was extremely difficult to get hold of (and expensive if you could find one) in the US until relatively recently. In Europe however, they’re fairly common and cheap – mine was £10. They’re not difficult to propagate though and I know this because LOOK AT THE ROOTS ON THIS BAD BOY:
It’s all about supply and demand. Remember when Philodendron Pink Princesses were SUPER cheap? WHOOMF the pandemic set in and the prices were RIDICULOUS. Aaaand now you can pick one up for under £20. Crazy times.
Even Monstera obliquas, which are so rare it has its own hashtag #itsneverobliqua can be picked up for £50.
Slow growing houseplants can be more expensive
Time is money when it comes to running a successful business, and plants that root quickly are often far cheaper than ones that can only be grown from seed, or just take a lot longer to grow.
One of the reasons that Monstera deliciosa is so popular as a house plant is that, given the right conditions, it grows like a weed. It’s literally an invasive species in every country that doesn’t experience frost.
However, plants like Amydrium medium are known to be slow growers. Unless there is sufficient demand, prices will remain very high, because it’s expensive for growers to nurture them.
Some houseplants are difficult to propagate
When you’re first getting into houseplants, you may think that professional nursery just do a lot of chopping and propping. And they might, but plants that have been chopped and propped are pretty expensive, because that is a really inefficient way to propagate plants en masse.
Another, more efficient way to propagate plants is by growing them from seed, but again, this is still a pretty expensive way to grow a plant. Different plants need different conditions to produce fruit and seeds, and some refuse to go to seed in, er, captivity.
You can get Monstera to fruit, but unless you have naturally favourable conditions, it can be a chore.
The reason plants seem to go from super rare and expensive to common and cheap is tissue culture.
Tissue culture allows growers to grow hundreds of plants from a single explant, which is just a section of a plant. It can be a small piece of node, a leaf, an axillary bud etc. The plant is a clone, so properties like variegation can be carried through.
Plants like Philodendron Spiritus Sancti gain popularity because they’re so rare. Once enough demand is drummed up, growers research the protocols that will allow them to tissue culture the plant. One single plant can be turned into literally thousands. A super rare plant can cease to be super rare very quickly.
Plant trends are short-lived, and tissue culture allows growers to both satisfy demand and get as much money as they can before moving onto the next trend.
Some perpetually rare plants can be grown in tissue culture, but not with 100% success at the moment.
For example, Aglaonema pictum tricolors can be cloned using tissue culture BUT the resulting plants don’t have quite the same variegation. I have no doubt it’ll be done in the future, but currently you can get TC ones cheapish, but proper ones are very expensive. They’re often poached from the wild, so I’m waiting on someone to crack the TC code.
Where are houseplants grown?
One of the biggest costs that large houseplant producers have to cover is transport. Not really a problem for people growing houseplants in the UK, but they’re few and far between, and tend to be small business owners selling more specialist varieties.
Most of the plants supplied to the garden centres and supermarkets of the UK are from Holland. In order to shift the plants across the channel, costs are incurred – there’s the obvious ones – the vessel in which they’re transplanted, but also smaller costs such as import costs and any possible quarantines.
Is it easy to transport houseplants?
I scoured the internet trying to find out how the big companies transport houseplants, but they’re keeping their methods close to their chests.
Still, regardless of whether you’re posting your plants by sea or air, houseplants aren’t big on being moved.
Although I found that mine quite like to be moved around the house, they don’t like big changes. Even considering companies that specialise in growing plants will be experts at keeping these plants alive, casualties are inevitable. The cost of these casualties will be reflected in the cost of the rest of the shipment.
In order to keep the number of surviving plants high, precautions will be taken. I’m talking humidifiers, grow lights, temperature stabilising equipment, and packing materials. See how the costs mount up?
Plants that are more tolerant of sudden changes in temperature such as spider plants, yucca, and succulents are therefore cheaper because there are fewer losses.
Cheap places to buy houseplants
Firstly I’ll cover the general places to buy houseplants on the cheap, and then I’ll name and shame the actual places I go to.
Supermarkets have plants that fall into three categories:
Trendy & easy to keep – currently pothos and zz plants in the UK. I’m not mad. I got myself a golden pothos for myself and one for my dad because they were a decent size and only £5 from Sainsbury’s. My dad LOVES plants but my mum can kill every plant in the world just by looking at it. They don’t have a pothos and I thought it would be a good contender for the title of Plants Even My Mum Can’t Kill.
My boyfriend bought me my first zz plant for £9 (also from Sainsbury’s).
I also got the Boston fern in the pic below for £3.50. It was in a sorry state but it perked up after spending a month or so in my bathroom.
Plants old ladies like: peace lilies, tiny roses, and African violets.
Old ladies love plants and seem to intrinsically know how to look after them – which ones need a bit of bleach in the water (!), which ones like to go outside in the summer, and which ones to attack with scissors. It’s like they have to take a class when they become grandmas.
Orchids: probably with a dyed flower that will die in two weeks and the plant will never flower again because they’re picky bastards that want to live parasitically in the rainforest.
WELL, DON’T WE ALL?
My tip for supermarket orchids is to remove all the substrate and keep them bare root in a jar. Soak the roots for an hour every week. Mine actually flowered despite already having two flower spikes.
House plants are becoming more wide-ranging in garden centres, but prices vary MASSIVELY. I’ve also noted an irritating phenomenon whereby instead of saying what the plant is, it’ll just be labelled as ‘foliage’.
Yeah, great, thanks.
Please note that garden centres seem to have a policy of watering their plants every damn day, so you may need to leave your most recent purchase a week, or even two, before watering it again.
I spent £14 on a string of pearls that I’ve had for nearly a month that’s still sodden to the point of growing mushrooms. I know I mention that a lot but I’m shocked and appalled.
A quick note of buying plants from the reduced section
This applies to both garden centres and supermarkets.
Then general advice that experts give is not to buy plants that have been reduced – they’re reduced for a reason. They might have a fungal infection or even an infestation of pests.
HOWEVER, if you spot a bargainous specimen, sad-looking or not, it’s worth checking it over. If you can’t see any signs of disease or bugs (and look really hard) it may just be a victim of overwatering.
A lot of plants are watered every day, especially in supermarkets, where the employees are unlikely to be house plant experts (and even if they are, they’ll be forced to follow store policy).
If you do decide to buy a reduced plant, I’d recommend keeping it away from your other plants until it perks up, or you’re certain it won’t infect anyone else.
Facebook Marketplace is for buying sad, overwatered aloe, copious spider plant babies, and cactuses that are so big they pose a threat to the seller’s kids. Often free, as long as you collect. I advise bubble wrap and a pair of oven gloves (used for cactuses only) to aid in transport.
Before the golden pothos trend hit Sainsbury’s, I bought a cutting for less than £4 (free shipping) from this shop on Etsy. It arrived in perfect condition, with a little handwritten note, and has since produced a new leaf. Can recommend.
*Plantinka closes in winter, as a lot of online places do. Plants don’t travel well in the cold, and if vendors replace dead plants that’ll drive the price up further.
There are so many awesome Etsy shops selling pretty cheap plants.
You can also keep an eye out for plant swaps and meets.
Specific actual places I buy cheap plants
If you don’t live in North Yorkshire or the general North East (of England, you know, the old one, then you can leave now. However, for the dozen or so of you that are left, here are the specific supermarkets I visit to get my houseplants:
It’s not a very big branch, but it tends to have more houseplants than the bigger ones in York or Harrogate. I got my Boston Fern, Golden Pothos, and ZZ plant from here.
This is very hit and miss – I got my Peperomia hope from there for a POUND. If you’re new to houseplants and you want an easy one, Peperomia hope is the GOAT.
The absolute best for if you’re getting started because they sell teeny, CHEAP plants – the reason they’re tiny and cheap is that they’ve come from tissue culture.
Buying baby plants is great way to get less common houseplants without breaking the bank. Plants like Philodendron verrucosum and melanochrysum are available for under £10 and grow pretty quickly (if you look after them well).
I got my Florida Ghost from there for £16.99 which is bargainous. They’re not rare, but they’re VERY in demand.
Dobbie’s Garden Centre
These are fast spreading over the country.
They have a fairly basic selection of houseplants BUT I like to check their selection occasionally for mislabelled plants.
Dobbie’s have also started selling small, more unusual house plants at reasonable prices – I got a massive philodendron Green Wonder for £18.99 and a little stromanthe for £4.99.
So, why are houseplants so expensive?
Supply and demand. Try not to act too quickly if you like a trend and it’s super expensive. Chances are, the price will decrease over time.
I bought my Monstera dubia for £135 and now they’re like £40. At least I can chop and prop though! Or TC them at home.