By: Mary Ellen Ellis
The millennial generation is known for many things but one of the most positive is that these young people are gardening more. In fact, a trend started by this generation is the idea of plant parenting. So, what is it and are you a plant parent too?
It’s a term coined by the millennial generation, but plant parenting isn’t really anything new. It simply refers to caring for houseplants. So, yes, you probably are a plant parent and didn’t even realize it.
Millennial plant parenthood is a positive trend. Young people are increasingly interested in growing plants indoors. The reason behind this may be the fact that millennials have put off having children. Another factor is that a lot of young people rent rather than own homes, limiting outdoor gardening options.
What older gardeners have long known, a younger generation is beginning to discover – growing plants is good for your mental health. People of all ages find it relaxing, soothing, and comforting to work outside in a garden but also to be surrounded by green plants inside. Growing plants also provides an antidote to being hyper connected to devices and technology.
To be a plant parent is as simple as getting a houseplant and caring for it as you would a child or pet to help it grow and thrive. This is a great trend to embrace wholeheartedly. Let it inspire you to grow and nurture more houseplants to brighten and reinvigorate your home.
Millennials particularly enjoy finding and growing unusual plants. Here are some of the houseplants trending in millennial homes across the country:
While you may be used to finding new plants at your local nursery or through neighborhood swaps, another millennial trend to is buying online, also popular during the Covid pandemic. You can find a wider variety of unusual, beautiful plants and have your new “plant children” delivered right to your door.
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I’ve killed plenty of houseplants. It feels wrong to lead with this – an early admission to herbicide – in such close proximity to the words ‘parenthood’ and ‘love affair.’ But it’s best to be honest about these things – my own relationship with plants hasn’t always been an easy one.
My mum started heaping house plants on me when I moved into my first apartment. Every week or so, she’d turn up with a new one, her gaze pivoting between used Ikea furniture and shoebox kitchen, doing her best to ignore the mild-to-serious cockroach problem. I couldn’t understand why she’d decided plants were such an important addition to this ecosystem – whether she thought the cockroaches might see them and decide, ‘OK, pack it up, these people clearly care about their home. Let’s go elsewhere.’
It didn’t matter ultimately, because one by one, the plants my mum brought got knocked off. It was usually neglect or ignorance that killed them – underwatering, inappropriate placement (ferns singed by direct sunlight succulents left to wither in pools of shade, where I’d put them to brighten up a gloomy corner). To me, they were just decorative objects – bursts of colour that could be used to spruce up an otherwise barren windowsill – not living things with needs of their own.
How a plant dies says a lot about its owner – overwatering signals inexperience and the nervousness of early love, while neglect is a sign of disinterest or a touch of self-absorption. In young adulthood, I oscillated between these states, and my plants suffered.
That all changed one day. I sometimes think that my love of plants grew as I grew up. I went from considering the idea of keeping something else alive an annoying burden, to thinking of it as a fun project, an opportunity to watch and facilitate new growth.
I bought a couple of starter plants – devil’s ivy (‘impossible to kill,’ any plant veteran will tell you) and an autograph tree (whose thick, upright sturdiness signalled hardy toughness). I went from registering plants in my natural environment as uniform green blurs (in an article about her own burgeoning love affair with the leafy world, Jia Tolentino refers to this as ‘plant blindness,’ a term describing ‘the widespread non-noticing of plants in one’s environment and the ranking of plants as inferior to animals’) to noticing everything from genus to stage of growth, and coveting the thriving indoor gardens of friends.
‘Your monstera deliciosa is doing so well,’ I commented recently, on a Zoom call with a friend in Paris. ‘I’m so jealous that you have a rubber plant – I’m desperate for one of those,’ I said to another.
This would be pretty tedious chat if so many others were not interested in plants in the same way I am. In the past few years, the take-up of the house plant trend among millennials has been enormous, with this generation’s rate of spending on plants having ‘grown at a higher rate than any other age group since 2014.’
This interest is partly explicable by the state of perpetual adolescence that’s both a running joke and a critique of my generation. Cait Munro writes for Refinery29, ‘it’s hard to deny that houseplants reveal a Goldilocks-style level of maturity that many young people crave. Healthy houseplants say that you have your shit together enough to take care of something, but that you could still take off for a spontaneous music festival or weekend camping trip at the drop of a hat. And isn’t that exact kind of the vibe a lot of us are trying to cultivate?’
Judah Guttmann / Unsplash
Plants also jigsaw perfectly into the millennial desire for beautiful, curated lives. While keeping houseplants is nothing new, according to Casey Bond for the Huffington Post, ‘visually driven social media [has prompted] their resurgence in popularity. Instagram, in particular, has become a haven for foliage fanatics.’
But the conversion of so many small-apartment-dwellers into hobby gardeners also reflects something more universal – a drive to care for and cohabit with living things. It makes sense that the uptake among millennials is so high, then – as Lily Ewing, a therapist in Seattle, puts it, ‘people are designed for connection and nurturing, but with more millennials waiting until later in life to have babies and settle down, young people are turning to plants.’
My friend in Paris has a thriving indoor garden, made up of 40 or so potted plants. They overwhelm her one-bedroom apartment, a jungly mass creeping across her living room. She showers every one of them weekly to reduce the risk of pests. ‘I know that sounds insane,’ she said. ‘But honestly it’s worth it for me to know they’re healthy.’
I kind of get it. One of my plants recently had a fungus gnat infestation, and it was GNAT good (bear with me) – it played on my mind constantly, and I mentioned it to everyone I spoke to for two weeks. Plant parenthood strikes me as something like actual parenthood – lower intensity, of course, but also frustratingly more cryptic, because the thing you are trying to care for can’t cry or communicate that it’s not getting what it needs from you.
Despite these occasional stresses, any plant owner will tell you it was all worth it. That’s the joy of parenthood, I guess.
And especially for those currently confined to small spaces, or living in big cities, plants are a huge comfort. Mine certainly have been for me. Knowing that there is life nearby provides a sense of solace and hope, which we all need right now.
Hi, my name is Erica. I’m a bad plant parent.
The irony that I work at the Chicago Botanic Garden is not lost on me. (Please don’t fire me, plant bosses.) The problem is, I have no idea how to take care of plants. Not really.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
Walk into my apartment and tell me what you see: A wasteland of unsuspecting money trees and innocent spiderworts. A drooping pothos in the corner, desperate for water. Squeezing the life out of my little green pals does not bring me joy. And yet, here I am, a lone wolf among my jungalow-dwelling, millennial peers: A plant-killer.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever asked these questions: Does my monstera prefer direct sun? Will an aloe vera kill my cat? What if I get too caught up in my very important plans (read: binging Mindhunter on Netflix) that I forget to water my fern every day? Why would I even want a plant? (More on that later).
One of my goals is to have more life in my home to lay down some roots, so to speak (plant-pun intended). And so I invite you to follow along with me as I chronicle my gardening adventures in Plant Parenthood—a blog series about growing a relationship with plants.
With the Garden’s horticulture staff as my guide, I’ll learn the ins and outs of soil, pests, and shade. I’ll make mistakes. I’ll definitely kill more plants.
But along the way, I’ll learn something. And I hope you will, too.
One thing I’ve learned so far is I’m not the only young person new to gardening. The 2016 National Gardening Report found of the six million Americans new to gardening, five million of them were 18- to 34-year-olds. Millennials, according to a widely shared Washington Post article last year, are gardening indoors because they’ve moved to small, urban apartments and crave nature. Look no further than Instagram to see the evidence: hashtags like #urbanjungle and #jungalow call up all sorts of gauzy photos of apartments brimming with foliage.
What’s more: These plant parents seem genuinely proud to show off their blossoming, plant-baby families. How do they do it, I wonder? Where is a recovering plant-ignoramus to start?
I went to Fred Spicer for advice. As executive vice president and director of the Garden, he understands plants. Plus, he wears a gardening hat 80 percent of the time, so I figure he must know something.
Turns out “plant blindness”—or the inability to notice, appreciate, and understand plants—is a common problem among humans. The term was coined in 1998 by botanist-educators James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler, who argued humans generally connect more with animals, despite the fact that plants fuel all life on earth. Think back to grade school science class, when you first learned about photosynthesis and plant biology. Have you thought much about it since? I began to worry about the imbalance of affection toward my cat versus my definitely dead lemon cypress.
“Humans generally don’t think too much about plants, unless we’re eating them,” said Spicer. “We’re animals, our pets are animals, we generally know what animals want. Plants are different. They don’t have the same biology we do. So they’re mysterious to us.”
For instance, plants aren’t active, at least not in the way animals are active. Their activity happens on a different timeline than ours. Humans pay attention to big and rapid changes, like when the leaves change during the fall, or when trees are bare in winter. But the small things, like a budding leaf, we don’t always stop to notice.
OK, so plants aren’t animals. How, then, do I begin to understand them?
Here’s what Spicer recommends:
Three things every new #PlantParent should ask:
As I sit with these questions, I think about a plant I picked up from the Garden last week. It was an azalea, a small shrub with white flowers that look like snowflakes. Left over from a recent exhibition, it most likely would die within a week, but nevertheless, as I placed it in the backseat of my car to take it home, I caught myself reaching for the seat belt. I almost buckled it in. Maybe plant parenthood won’t be so unnatural after all.
Plant parenthood is definitely nothing new. Just ask our parents and grandparents, who’ve grown gardens and harvested food in their backyard for decades. But somehow younger generations have embraced plant parenthood, bringing together a digital community of plant lovers, growers, and aficionados that enjoy learning tricks on how not to kill a plant on Instagram.
It’s easy to find account after account detailing the do’s and don’ts of plant parenthood, the trendiest plants to grow, the prettiest pots, the best ways to curate your space to match the oh-so-notorious millennial aesthetic we’ve all grown to… match? The Monstera, the Fiddle Leaf Fig, the Snake Plant… All can be found in a millennial’s home (or at least their Instagram feed).
My love of plants started in 2020, when I moved into a new apartment after 4 years at my old place. The new abode housed over 30 plants, which my now-roommate had collected over the years in an attempt to hold onto the luscious nature surroundings she grew up with in Puerto Rico. I, too, craved this feeling, and had underestimated how much one can miss the greenery of an island in the concrete jungle (where dreams are maaaaaade, oh!). It started with one pathos, which I named Socorro after my mom, and quickly grew into three plants in the span of two months. Now, I also grew a small collection at my mom’s backyard in Puerto Rico, where I’ve been staying for months, and plan to leave her with my plant children (the only grandchildren she’ll know for a while).
It’s impressive how much one plant in a tiny New York apartment can change our mood, especially in the midst of a pandemic and political upheaval. But is it just a trend? So I asked a few of my fellow plant parents, why do you bother?
Ana Perez, Software Engineer
“I’ve been collecting plants since June 2019, but never thought I’d end up with 170 plants. In February of 2020, I began to grow my collection and my love for plants grew even more after the pandemic hit. I’ve always been interested in plants. I was born and raised in Guanajuato, Mexico. My mother used to own so many plants, and I loved helping her care for them. It also made our home look very pretty. Even now, my parents patio is full of plants so I’ve always dreamt of having an apartment full of plants, and I am really happy it’s happening.
I spend my entire day being surrounded by them. I have a room dedicated for the majority of my plants and I also have a desk there, so working from home has been really fun in that way. I get to be surrounded by greenery all day. I do normally spend an average of 3-8 hours weekly just tending to their needs and looking after them. Sometimes it’s less depending on the season, but it is still fun.
When the pandemic hit and we had to adjust to a new way of living, working from home, no social gatherings, and staying indoors. The whole world all of a sudden went into full stop and it really impacted my mental health. But having to own around 35 plants at the start of the pandemic, also kept me busy. I had to continue to care for them and that helped me stay grounded and be more at present with myself.
That is why I continued to buy more plants, learning about them brought a lot of calmness to my mental health. Then I decided to create my instagram account @Plantsnarts. I wanted to share this hobby of mine with my friends, and share all the good things that I had learned from plants. Little by little, I then discovered other people that were passionate about plants just like me and I have now made so many amazing friends all around the world.
I wish people knew that plant parenthood is not about being addicted to plants, it’s more than that. They don’t realize that plant parenthood can be very therapeutic and contributes to the state of your well being. It’s also really fun, and that there is a whole community out there full of plant lovers that will always help you learn to take care of your plants if you don’t know how.
Lastly, something else that I wish people knew about plant parenthood is that it is okay to kill a plant. I’ve killed many plants but I’m still fascinated by them and continue to grow my collection. Just because you kill a plant, it doesn’t mean you are a bad plant parent, it happens to all of us.”
Leomary Rodriguez, Filmmaker and Photographer
“Inside my home, I have 30 plant children. This number grows in the spring, summer, fall, since I have a yard, where I plant vegetables.
Growing up, I did not have a green thumb or trusted myself with plants until I worked at Mind Builders Creative Arts Center in the Bronx. When I began working there, my supervisor gifted me an Amaryllis. I tried my best to take care of this plant but it wasn’t until I took a trip to Costa Rica that same year, with my two longtime friends from college when I felt an even stronger appreciation for plants and the Earth.
After that trip, I felt increasingly in tune with nature, I got my green thumb and began taking more care of my Amaryllis while accumulating house plants and vegetable seeds. I love seeing them grow, morph or multiply as a direct result of my actions.
Being able to work remotely as a result of this pandemic has been a positive thing for me because I am able to spend a significant amount of time with my plants. I have at least two in every room and, when I take a moment to either work out or during my lunch break, I am right beside my oldest and largest house plants on a daily basis. In the summer, I spend at least one hour a week or bi-weekly maintaining my vegetable garden.
Since getting into plants, I’ve always felt that my plant children’s state of being is a direct reflection of my state of being. When they look neglected, I check in and notice that I feel the same. When they are flourishing or multiplying, I check in and notice that I feel the same. Taking care of my plants has helped me check in with my state of being on a daily basis. I don’t take this for granted.
Your plant children can have children of their own, which can make you a plant grandparent! All jokes aside, I wish more people knew that plants, like people, are an expression of nature. Everyone can benefit from pouring empathy into each other, like we do for plants.”
Alejandra Ramos, On-Camera Host
“I have 32 plants (40+, if you include succulents!) I’ve had several succulents that I barely paid attention to for several years, but it wasn’t until April of this year that I made a conscious decision to bring plants into my home in a serious way. I’ve always loved the look of lush tropical plants they remind me of Puerto Rico where my family is from, and of the cities that during normal times I get to visit and work in regularly like Miami, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.
I started out by ordering a few plants online. My first two were a 40” cat palm and a 36” white bird of paradise that I ordered on Wayfair (which until then I didn’t even realize sold live plants!). I immediately went back on the website and ordered a couple more and then a few more, and then started browsing around online looking at other options. I got some from big box stores, some from private vendors on Etsy. For a period of about 6 weeks, new plants kept arriving every few days, much to my husband’s chagrin who moaned every time UPS showed up with a new box labeled “LIVE PLANTS INSIDE.” In June, when I finally left the apartment for the first time in 3 months, the first thing I did was go to a plant store and buy myself a gorgeous Alocasia Polly!
Around this time, I also started gardening outdoors. I started a huge container garden in our building’s outdoor community space, growing vegetables and herbs and some outdoor plants, too. I was unemployed for about 6 months so my life just became 100% about the plants both in my apartment and in my garden.
When I first got the plants I spent a lot more time on them– about an hour or two a day, sometimes even more. I was still trying to figure things out like placement, watering schedules, soil type, fertilization, humidifiers, pruning, repotting, etc., plus was actively working on my garden. Now in winter, it’s probably only about 15-30 minutes a day of upkeep, unless there are any issues (like the occasional spider mite or gnat attack). I’ve set up things to help like indoor plant lights, humidifiers, self-watering containers and water globes to help keep things consistent.
Caring for plants is a form of meditation or even therapy. I work as an on-camera host and when lockdown started, all the studios shut down and my previously full and constantly booked calendar was suddenly empty for months and months. The plants and garden gave me a way out of my head and gave me something to focus on that wasn’t just dwelling on the feelings of sadness and despair.
They also can take a lot of hits and still come back strong and thriving. I’ve had a couple plants seem like they were about to die– losing all their leaves, having stems broken, or pest attacks, but with the right care they’ve all bounced back better than ever. Plants are constant living metaphors!”
Elizabeth Hernández, Process Management Analyst
“I have 55 plantitas now! It really doesn’t feel like that many. A year and a half ago, my fiancé and I had received a couple of hibiscus trees and ferns as house warming gifts and that got me started in researching their care. From there, I began exploring different kinds of plants for indoors, since I wanted to make our home more cozy.
Then, suddenly, we were in this pandemic and one of the safer things we could do was visit nurseries. It’s amazing what happens when you take time to nurture something. It’s become my Sunday ritual to get my week started right. Most times, I either put on some cumbias just to block out background noise, but my favorite is when the house is completely quiet. I take my time to examine the leaves for pests or any yellowing.
I wipe down the leaves to remove any dust since dusty leaves make it difficult for them to soak up sunlight. If I have a cutting that has grown roots, I mix the soil and prepare a pot to plant it. I take time to water them and let the water drain. All the while, my thoughts and worries are kind of silenced and there’s just peacefulness. The whole process can take anywhere from an hour to two hours. It differs since not all plants need watering every week and if they need rearranging. I honestly believe that caring for my plantitas has really helped me during this pandemic.
Caring for plants has taught me patience, to slow down, and to really enjoy the little things. They have also helped ease my anxiety tremendously during this tough year. If I was feeling overwhelmed, I would shut the world out and tend to my plants. If I needed to get away, I would visit a nursery and being surrounded by plants would boost my mood. It also led me to have a creative outlet by painting pots for mine and other people’s plants. I wish people knew how therapeutic plants were. They’re not just for creating a vibe in your home, but they also really bring good vibes to your body and soul. And I think we all need that now more than ever.”
Sue Lee Ng-Espada, Digital Content Manager
“I stopped counting [my plants] after I had to start figuring out the best way to maximize vertical space in my apartment for plant placement. I started in 2017 it was the summer of my junior year of college and I was living with my partner for the first time.
At the time, I was living in Humboldt Park in Chicago and was surrounded by homes that had beautiful front-yards with various potted plants colorfully displayed that made me think of my Tata’s own front-porch. I’d walk past these houses everyday on my way to the bus and get home-sick. To add to this, at the time I was broke (still kinda am) and one thing I did to get some side cash was house-sit apartments that belonged to established families these apartments normally had a garden and various house plants indoors and created a comfortable environment. So, I saw it as a way to feel closer to my home of Puerto Rico, as well as a way to establish a sense of comfort and familiarity in a new, unfamiliar apartment space while I simultaneously learned and explored how to live with my partner for the first time.
There’s also obviously a rich, deep culture of human relationship with nature and plants on a medicinal + functional level I’ve always been privy to and exposed to early on (Puerto Rican and Chinese family are deep into herbal medicine, etc.) so there’s that previous connection and appreciation for them. Getting plants kinda just seemed like an “of course” moment when I decided to start bringing em into my home, idk.
I spend at least five hours weekly on my plants. There’s a strong sense of fulfillment that comes from plant care, which is a heady remedy for other overwhelming emotions that come as a consequence of our current times and can easily dominate one’s emotional availability. Having plants has really helped craft a space in my head and heart that’s reserved for them. Being bound to the home because of the lockdown, I was able to focus on my plants and throw myself into that without necessarily feeling “trapped” by my space.
I wish people knew how easy it was to apply what you’ve learned from taking care of plants to just real life management across the board. I wish people or prospective plant parents knew that we’re consuming a lot of what it means to be a plant parent and indoor plant culture through a heavily curated lens for written and visual content. Shit’s gonna look perfect on your phone screen and it just ain’t strictly that you can be oversold and underprepared, but it isn’t your fault and like with any other parenthood, of [insert hobby or noun] or whatever, it’s mega-okay if it isn’t for you. But if you’ve decided to try it out, then that’s already a fulfilling step one and you won’t regret what you tried, whether at least for clarity on how you feel about plants, or for seeing your first new leaf on a plant.”
Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.
Millennials are all about buying, caring for, and sharing their houseplant stories on social media. And why not! There is such a great community of plant parents out there to bond with and online houseplant experts, called influencers, who want everyone to be successful growing plants. These influencers share information via blogs, vlogs, podcasts and courses on how to care for each specific plant. Summer Rayne, from Homestead Brooklyn and bona fide plant parent with over 750 houseplants, wrote a book about taking care of plants.
Social media has given people from all walks of life, all over the world, with the same interests, the opportunity to teach and learn about their plant babies. Some have even taken to joining in on plant swaps or sending each other cuttings of special or unique plants. Lifelong friendships have been created over showcasing houseplants (and gardens) on social media.
Check out Laura with Garden Answer she has a following of over 2.5 million people, because of her love for and creativity with plants, who treat her like a friend even though they’ve never met her in real life.
The gardening industry, specifically houseplants, was looking at a decline in popularity a few years back however that has changed. According to GardenResearch.com, 30 percent of all households bought at least one houseplant in 2017. Social media has helped turn this entire industry around.
How to Get Involved
Join the conversation, whether you are a new plant parent or an experienced plant expert. The influx of social media posts has created daily hashtags supporting some of the most popular plants – #MonsteraMonday and #SanseveriaSunday just to name a few. Follow communities of people using #IHaveThisThingWithPlants, #PlantLadyIsTheNewCatLady or our favorite #plantparenthood.