Interest in houseplants has exploded in recent years – and some green-thumbed individuals have managed to turn their hobby into a lucrative side-hustle.
I’ve gone through many, many houseplants. There was Lily the peace lily, who my flatmates failed to water when I went home for a month. There was Richard the cactus, who flew off my windowsill when I’d neglected to close the window one stormy morning. There were Queen Victorias I, II and III, the maidenhair ferns. And then there were the houseplants who were victims of one-year leases – given away to friends in the process of moving, or simply turfed out onto the street (I’m sorry, Queen Victoria IV).
For some hapless plant-lovers like myself, houseplants can be a complete drain on one’s finances. Replacing dead houseplants at more than $20 a pop from your local garden centre isn’t the best move for your wallet by the fifth (or sixth, or seventh, or eighth) dead fern. So in a bid to get my houseplant fix for cheap, I turned to the favourite resource of bargain-hunters everywhere – Facebook Marketplace. After endless doomscrolling, mostly of overpriced monsteras and other huge but unaffordable mature plants, I noticed another kind of listing kept popping up: sellers advertising the most adorable wee cuttings of various species for prices starting as low as $5.
Turns out for those who manage to keep their plants alive and thriving, houseplants can grow – pun intended – from a hobby to a full-blown income stream.
“I’m not very entrepreneurial, but I just thought, well, why not try and make [plants] a side hustle?” says Marie Knowles. “I was already taking the cuttings anyway, so with very little extra effort I could start selling them online and have a little bit of extra money coming in.”
Knowles is a mother of two young children who currently works part-time in the marketing industry. She says she’s always loved nature and gardening, and thinks of her plants as “a way to bring nature inside”. Knowles says she’s always collected houseplants, but didn’t get serious about it until around eight years ago, when she moved back to Aotearoa from the UK to settle down. Now, she’s a self-described “plantaholic” and says her friends and family encouraged her to start sharing cuttings between them, which eventually led to Knowles selling cuttings online.
Nishu Sachdeva has a very similar story. She’s also a mother of two young children, and started collecting plants for herself when she settled into her current house. A forensic biology technician by day, Sachdeva began trading plants in the evenings, and now she’s on maternity leave has expanded her plant hustle to include dried floral bouquets.
“If you’re just at home and you want side income, why not?” she says. “My day job doesn’t pay me huge money, so it’s good to have that side income… it makes you feel more productive. I have control over this income.”
Sachdeva specialises in “unkillable” plants, selling mostly to her South Auckland community. She has different varieties of pothos, monsteras and philodendrons which she’ll take a few cuttings from, selling up to 60 baby cuttings at a time at a price range of $5 to $20 per plant.
The income varies week-to-week, says Sachdeva, but it adds up to a couple of extra thousand dollars a year, and she puts the money she earns from the enterprise into investments. “I feel like I’m doing it for my future,” she says.
Kayden Odendaal, a 22-year-old plant enthusiast in the insurance business, started off with just four plants, but over the years he’s grown his collection to around 100. “[The plants] were taking up a lot of space,” he laughs. “That was the main drive for me. And obviously being able to earn money is a big thing.”
Odendaal, Sachdeva and Knowles all mentioned the potential to make big money in the plant business. Plants that were difficult to grow and plants with rare features would fetch the most money, like the variegated monstera that sold for $5,000 on Trade Me in 2020.
“I do want to get into more plants, like the variegated ones,” says Sachdeva. “But then the business [might] change as soon as you buy a very expensive cutting.” That’s why she sticks to her “unkillable” species, where the market price tends to be more steady.
It’s “the basic economics of supply and demand”, says Knowles, who notes that because some of these houseplants are easy to grow, rare varieties may start out at eye-watering prices and then come down in value as more people begin to propagate them. That’s why she’s planning on propagating more hoyas, which have been grown and traded within her family for three generations. They’re not the easiest plant to grow, Knowles admits, which means that if she propagates them she can “put in the same amount of effort as I do with common plants, but get a greater return”.
But although there’s the potential for a good return on investment in the houseplant trade, it’s not the main reason Odendaal, Sachdeva or Knowles give for their indoor gardening enthusiasm.
Sachdeva grew all her own houseplants from cuttings, and she says that’s the most rewarding part. “They just grow and they bring me so much joy. Everyday I look at them and there’s new leaves and new growth – it’s quite exciting.” She admits that without plants, her home feels “very bland and empty”.
Odendaal feels the same way. “It’s a lot of love and attention you’ve really got to give [the plants],” he says. What drew him to the hobby was “really being able to watch something grow”. Odendaal’s been working at home since September last year, which means he’s had a lot more time to devote to the hobby. “My plants are my escape,” he says.
For Odendaal, selling plant cuttings is really about building a community around shared interests. He’s started his own Instagram page for selling his plants, and says “it’s a lot about sharing knowledge with other plant enthusiasts”.
And it seems there are more plant enthusiasts now than ever. Knowles says she’s noticed the houseplant community growing since the pandemic began. “People feel isolated in their homes away from the outdoors for sure,” she says. “Bringing nature inside [feels] like gaining back some sort of normality.” Houseplants are also “inherently home-based”, she notes, which means people don’t have to go anywhere to participate in the hobby. She suspects the extra time spent at home has contributed to the increase in interest around houseplants.
For Knowles, her houseplants are also essential for her mental health. She suffers from anxiety, and says that “getting my hands in the soil and connecting physically with nature is literally grounding”.
“When I’m selling my plants, I feel like I’m sharing the plant love,” she says. Her listing on Facebook Marketplace touts “Baby houseplants for sale”, which she says is exactly how people like her feel about their plants. “They’re babies, because they’re something that you can nurture.”
“It’s quite an egalitarian [hobby] too,” says Knowles. “It’s something that everyone can be involved in. There’s newbies getting into [plants] as well, which I think is great. I’d love for there to be more sharing of tips and advice.”
So what are these enthusiasts’ top tips for growing your own houseplant collection?
“Don’t overwater your plants,” emphasises Sachdeva during our morning call. That afternoon, Knowles repeats the same advice just as emphatically. I laugh before remembering the slow death of Celeste, my kalanchoe. Knowles reassures me it’s a common mistake. Perhaps with a little more patience, there’s still hope for my own burgeoning plant collection yet.