With the increasing popularity of houseplants, the online plant market has also exploded.

I started purchasing houseplants online because I found this was a way that I could source rare or hard-to-find plants. In this post, I will share with you what I have learned (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) from purchasing plants online so that you can have successful experiences buying your own!

Why do people buy houseplants online?

People buy houseplants online for 3 main reasons:

  1. Convenience
    Convenience is the #1 driving factor for people to shop online these days and this is also true for houseplants.

    Unlike in-store shopping where you don’t know what is available until you get there, online shopping allows you to see everything that is available at your fingertips.
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  2. Access to rare or hard-to-find plants
    The online world of shopping makes it possible for consumers anywhere in the world to have access to a plant that is kept anywhere else in the world.

    The more firmly entrenched I have become in the online houseplant community, I have learned that people often purchase houseplants from enthusiasts and vendors located in other countries that they aren’t able to find in their own country.

    This not only makes it possible for people who collect rare plants to expand their collections when they would otherwise be limited to what they had access to locally, but it also often makes these rare plants available locally.

    Why? Because many houseplant enthusiasts love to propagate and share or sell their plants with others to spread the plant love!
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  3. Price
    It is possible to pay more or less than you would locally for plants online. The key to finding good prices, if that is a motivator for you, is shopping around!

    People can find sites that run regular promotions, that sell small plants for very reasonable prices, or can find online forums where people sell plants they no longer want.

    People will also arrange houseplant swaps or trades where no money is exchanged, just plant cuttings or rooted plants sent between houseplant enthusiasts. What a cool way to grow your collection without spending a cent!

    These are just a few of the ways that you can source plants at cheaper prices online.
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Do I (the author) buy houseplants online? Why?

Yes! I would guess that about 50% of my houseplant collection was purchased online.

I am very interested in hard-to-find plants that aren’t available locally. For me, this is the #1 motivator to buy plants online.

I purchase small, reasonably priced plants, and grow them out over time. I really enjoy the process of watching small plants become large, mature plants.

How successful is buying houseplants online? Why?

My guess is that I have a 90% success rate – which is pretty good, I think! Buying houseplants online can be a pretty successful adventure if you are okay with the following:

  • Taking the time to find a vendor with a good reputation and positive reviews

    Doing this will set you up to have the biggest chance for success because you KNOW that others have had success many times before.
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  • Receiving an imperfect plant

    Plants are always imperfect and anyone who keeps houseplants probably knows that anyway, but this is especially true if you are buying them online.

    They are being shipped in a box. The shipping and handling process isn’t always kind to them and even in the best circumstances they are usually feeling a bit stressed on arrival.

    It is EXTREMELY normal to have a leaf or two that is bent or dropped OR to receive a plant that looks a little grumpy about the shipping process. Most plants arrive looking pretty good and bounce back fairly quickly.
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  • Things not going according to plan occasionally

    Packages get lost in the mail, arrive a few days late, or aren’t treated with the kindness you were hoping. Or sometimes they arrive on time and in perfect condition, but the plant inside just didn’t fare well in shipping despite everything else going well.

    You have to decide you are okay with purchasing online despite the risk of something going wrong.

    I decided I was okay with that because I now have plants that I never see in a shop locally – and I know because I frequent the local shops all the time! 🙂

What should people consider when buying houseplants online?

Reputation / Reviews of the Houseplant Vendor

The best way to know whether your experience is likely to be positive is to see what other people’s experiences have been like. Pay attention to both good and bad reviews.

Does this mean you shouldn’t buy from someone without reviews? Not necessarily. Every business has to start somewhere and have a first customer!

Location of the Houseplant Vendor

Make sure to note where the vendor/seller is located. There are quite a few vendors that will sell to other countries (for example) from outside of that country.

This isn’t a deal-breaker for your purchase, but you should be aware that it WILL complicate your purchase.

Plants imported from outside your country will often take much longer because they have to go through special screening processes to enter your country AND they may require extra paperwork.

If you only want to purchase domestically, be sure to confirm that the location of the seller you choose is located in your country (especially important for sites like Ebay or Etsy).

The Longevity of the Houseplant Vendor

How long a seller has been sending plants to people will give you some idea about how experienced they are.

Prices of Houseplants in Comparison to Other Vendors

You will notice that some shops will sell the same plants at much higher price points than other shops. Sometimes there is a good reason for this and the plants are in great health and are very large, mature plants. Other times this isn’t the case, they are just charging more!

On the other hand, there are shops that will charge much less than other vendors for the same plants. Sometimes you luck out with these places and they happen to have a lot of stock that they need to clear out so you get it for a low cost. Other times they are selling it at a low cost because the plant isn’t in the best shape. I’ve fallen for this myself.

In the end, as long as you are okay with the price it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it is a price you are comfortable with.

My story: I ordered a Philodendron micans from an Etsy shop for a few dollars. I was very excited that I had found one for such a reasonable cost. The package arrived with the plant packaged inside a plastic bag, nothing securing its dirt so the dirt was everywhere. The plastic bag held in the moisture and prevented air circulation, so powdery mildew (a white powdery looking growth) formed on the leaves of the plant. Over the next week, I had to puck leaf after leaf as it began rotting off.

Two months later, my Philodendron micans is still in quarantine, but it is alive and doing much better (though I wouldn’t say it looks great). I went back afterward, read more reviews, and found some bad reviews from people who had similar experiences to my own. Sometimes you get what you pay for and paying more is worth it. Ah well!

Where You will be When the Houseplant is Delivered

The recommendation, when ordering plants online, is to minimize the amount of time that the box with plants is sitting outside exposed to the elements.

Some sellers will also refuse to offer refunds for plants in poor shape if they were sitting unopened for long periods of time.

What Your Weather will be During Your Houseplant’s Delivery

Both very hot and very cold weather can be taxing on your plants during shipment.

Hot weather

Hot weather complications are fairly easily mitigated when plants are properly packaged to allow for aeration and ventilation AND when a package is retrieved promptly upon arrival so it isn’t sitting outside in the heat.

Signs your plant may have suffered heat damage:

  • brown, crispy leaves
  • curled, wilted leaves
  • leaves that become transparent or faded

Cold Weather

Cold weather can present less easily managed problems for plants in transit, which discourages some people from buying during cold seasons.

The vast majority of our houseplants are tropical or subtropical. They are not adapted to withstand cold, even for brief periods of time.

Ideally, we want to maintain temperatures for them that we are also comfortable in (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, 18 to 24 Celsius) throughout transit. This requires adding a heat pack, which many houseplant vendors offer.

It is important to note that the success of using heat packs is mixed. Sometimes the heat packs are not enough to protect the plant depending on how it is packed or whether the package is delayed during shipping and the heat pack doesn’t sustain long enough to make it to your door.

Signs your plant may have suffered cold damage:

  • leaves that are cold to the touch
  • black or yellow leaves
  • leaf loss
  • wilt
  • an inability to hydrate

What the Vendor’s Shipping, Return, and Damage Policy is

Many vendors will state in their listings that they are not responsible for any damage during shipping and that they do not accept returns.

What this means for you, as a buyer, is that your plant can come dead-on-arrival and the seller has no obligation to assist. It doesn’t always mean that they won’t help you, though, so you can still reach out in the event something goes wrong.

Other vendors will offer refunds under specific circumstances. They often after for documentation, like photos, to issue refunds.

It is up to you to decide when or if this information matters, but being aware that these policies exist gives you the power to make more informed decisions before purchasing.

What types of houseplants do people buy online?

Every kind of houseplant available for purchase somewhere is also available for purchase online!

Where should people buy houseplants online?

Etsy

Etsy has a lot of awesome houseplant sellers that range from individuals growing and selling plants out of their house to people who own commercial greenhouses and sell plants through Etsy.

Pros: The search bar makes it very easy to scan all of the houseplant shops at once for the plant that you want. You can browse the photo for the listing, the title of the listing, the price, and the review for each shop without having to click into the listings at all.

Cons: Etsy is sometimes more expensive than other places. Etsy’s search algorithm favors shops that offer free shipping, so you might miss some good shops that are shown lower in the search results if you stop your research with the first few results.

Greenhouse websites/vendors

Many great greenhouses now offer people the option to purchase plants through their website for shipping directly to a person’s home.

Pros: You can often find a great selection of plants for great prices. These companies sometimes have a larger number in stock, making it easier to obtain some plants.

Cons: You have to search for them or hear about them. There isn’t an easy way, like Etsy, to find all of them. You also have to do a little extra research to find out whether they are a reputable place to purchase. Looking for reviews through Google is a great start. Seeing if there are unboxing videos on YouTube can also be helpful.

Facebook groups

There are many Facebook groups where hobbyists and full-time sellers post plants for purchase.

Pros: You can find rare and hard-to-find plants in these groups often. You can also find plants at a reasonable cost in these groups. It is also possible for you to sell plants (perhaps that you propagate or that you no longer have room for) to other people.

Cons: You can find people who will try to sell plants for more than they are worth, who are not reputable sellers and will try to take advantage of people, or who aren’t timely in their customer service.

Make sure to research the seller, when possible, if buying a more expensive plant AND to pay a seller through a buyer-backed payment site, like Paypal.

Ebay

Ebay is similar to Etsy as it has both small houseplant sellers and large greenhouse owners selling plants here.

Pros: You can search a huge amount of vendors worldwide for the exact plant you’d like. You can see how much experience each seller has and what the reviews of that seller have been in each of their listings.

Cons: You do have to click into each listing to see what the reviews of the vendor are. You may have to bid on a listing, which is different than any other venue where the price is static (You can avoid this by filtering on “Buy It Now” listings.

Amazon

Amazon is, well, Amazon. It has everything including houseplants!

Pros: You can search vendors, browse listings, and read reviews easily.

Cons: There aren’t as many vendors on Amazon currently that have the plants that I personally am interested in. The more common houseplants are there. The less common ones aren’t there to my knowledge. I am sure that will change over time though.

How often does something go wrong with purchasing houseplants online?

My personal experience shows that about 10% of the time something goes wrong. This number includes minor problems like packages not arriving on time, plants not being packed well but still fairing well, etcetera.

To date, I’ve only had 2 purchases that went significantly wrong. I think that is pretty good!

What kinds of problems have you had with purchasing houseplants online?

  1. Carrier Service Mishandling Plants
    • This is my #1 problem. Even when the boxes are labeled with stickers that say “FRAGILE” and “LIVE PLANTS,” I often have packages arrive in pretty rough condition.

      The good news is that the vendors who are experienced know that happens and pack their plants expecting it to happen. Amazingly a lot of the plants still make it through in fantastic condition, thanks to the sellers’ great job packing!
  2. Bad Packing
    • This is my #2 Problem. Even if the package is handled pretty well by the carrier service, poor packaging by the seller often means the plant won’t arrive in the best condition. Many plants are delicate and can’t handle a lot of jostling, so good packing is essential.
  3. Bad Customer Service
    • Honestly, this has been a really minor problem.

      I had one company that sent me plants that arrived dead and never answered my message. Every other issue I have ever had was responded to and promptly cared for (and there hasn’t been many).

      I have also had two sellers stop responding in the middle of a sale, even though they were supposed to be very reputable sellers. That’s okay, I moved on and didn’t purchase from them.

      Besides that, I have had no customer service issues!
  4. Plants Not as Advertized
    • This is another minor one! Sometimes the advertising photos utilized do not reflect the plant that arrives at your door.

      I have had plants arrive smaller than I thought they would be, but they were healthy so I was okay with it.

What are the reasons NOT to purchase houseplants online?

To Support Your Local Businesses

Our local greenhouses and plant shops need us to keep shopping at them to keep them open! I will always shop locally first and only buy what I can’t get from my local shops online.

To See Your Plant BEFORE Purchase

Being able to see your plant in person before you purchase is a huge advantage. You can determine how healthy it is, whether you see any pests, you might be able to check the roots, and you can prevent the stress and damage of shipping by getting to be the one to carry it home.

To Be Environmentally Friendly

One major downside to purchasing online is all of the packing materials needed to ship your plant to you. Some companies and sellers are very conscientious and use only recyclable materials for shipping. Others will use styrofoam packing peanuts and plastic materials. Either way, it requires additional materials to get from the seller to you that can be saved by purchasing locally.

Big Takeaways:

Shopping online for houseplants can be an exciting way to get new and sometimes rare plants if care is taken to find the right vendor.

While nothing can or should replace the feeling of going to a plant shop and walking amongst the greenery to find the perfect new addition, buying a plant online can be another way to add a plant to your home when you aren’t able to go to a store or when the store isn’t able to sell the plant you’ve been dreaming of.

I hope my tips and experiences with online houseplant shopping help to make your own experiences more fun and successful!

A Natural Curiosity
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