Read This Before You Buy Plants Online
How to shop for greenery from the comfort of your sofa, explained.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:42 AM
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In the age where you can get anything online, from a date to your groceries, it should really come as no surprise that you can get live greenery delivered straight to your door at the click of a button and the entry of a credit card number. But if you think buying something online that seems difficult to transport and requires constant care sounds like a risky move, you’re not alone—choosing the right plant online and putting your faith in the postal service can be daunting. We get it. Which is why we tapped some experts to squash the myths and shed some light on the process.
The biggest myth? “That all online plants are grown and shipped equally. The absolute easiest way to ensure you can successfully care for plants is making sure they’re shipped from a greenhouse and in pots that are made for plants,” says Justin Mast, the founder and CEO of
Bloomscape. “Years ago, big box retailers eliminated plant saucers and drainage holes from pots to make it easier and cheaper to sell plants, but this is also why so many plants die.”
In fact, shipping considerations are of the utmost importance in more ways than one. According to Chris Satch, resident plant scientist over at The Sill, be prepared that your new green friend may arrive on your doorstep a little worse for wear—but don’t worry, because that’s normal.
“FedEx/UPS/USPS do not have temperature control for packages!” he says. “If you’re ordering in the winter, expect some cold damage on the plant and get it indoors as fast as possible. In the summer, get that package [inside] because it may cook to death if left outside. Understand that some damage may occur to leaves and such during transport; that’s ok. The plant will grow more leaves to replace the damaged ones.”
Here’s what else Mast and Satch had to say about all things online plant-buying; from the red flags to the plants you should only buy IRL to everything in between.
Always select the fastest shipping option.
It may cost more, but it’ll be worth it. “Plants generally don’t like to travel, and some don’t travel well,” explains Satch.
There are certain types of plants you should never buy online.
And that list includes endangered species, illegal plants, and plants which harbor diseases. While those seem like pretty obvious choices to leave out (it’s not worth risking jail time in the name of shrubbery), Mast also advises against purchasing plants that may be extremely light or environment-sensitive.
When in doubt, buy a seed.
“Although it’s possible to order cucumber sprouts online, be cautious that some will arrive broken or dead,” cautions Satch. Opt for shipping delicate plants in seed form to minimize damage during the transit process.
Be wary of how everything looks online.
For one, size matters: “It’s difficult to show size and scale of a plant in a photo,” says Mast. “We’ve also noticed some sites can be misleading about the plant size. You’ll often see a photo of a fully grown plant online and then when you unbox the plant, it’s actually a seedling plant that grows into the size seen online.”
In addition to size, you might want to double check the color of your selected plant, as Satch says the photos on many websites are overly generous. “These photos are generally taken of super high-quality and often larger plants, and the colors in photos may not reflect the actual color of your plant,” he explains.
Look out for red flags.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, be wary of any retailer promising that all its plants are easy to grow. “Many plants—such as the Fiddle Leaf Fig—are not that easy to grow,” says Satch. “Trust your gut. Look for a place that allows returns.”
Feeling more confident in making your online plant purchase? Here, a few of our favorite virtual nurseries with plenty of options to choose from.
The Sill actually has two brick and mortar outposts in New York City, but with so many varieties of plants on the site, you never have to leave your sofa. They also offer plant accessories to dress up your new greenery, making the site basically a one-stop shop for all things gardening.
In three to four days, you get “living room ready” plants delivered straight from a greenhouse. Plus, all packages are made from 100 percent recycled materials—so your green purchase is actually, you know, green.
The catch: This store only delivers to the New York/New Jersey area. The good news: The smaller company size and shorter travel distance means that next day delivery is available, and you can be sure your order has been well taken care of. It’s a particularly great option for plant newbies, as you can shop according to light, size, type, and even benefits to narrow down your search and ensure you choose the right plant for your lifestyle.
Suffering from a black thumb? A hard(er)-to-kill succulent may be for you. This company offers a subscription service wherein you get two succulents a box, complete with full care instructions.
That’s right. The online giant really can take care of all your shopping needs—and as of late 2017, this now includes a full virtual plant shop. A lot of the options are available via Amazon Prime, so you can get your new plant delivered even faster with two-day delivery.
From flower bulbs to full-on bouquets and everything in between, Terrain has so much more to offer than just chic gardening tools. Many of the items are on the pricier side, but if you’re in need of a thoughtful gift, this is the place for you. If not, don’t worry: There are plenty of more affordable items to weed through (sorry) and add to your home.
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