Retailers find success pairing houseplants with a new breed of hard goods
Judy Alleruzzo has witnessed many different trends during her 35 years at Al’s Garden & Home in Woodburn, where she is the houseplants and perennials buyer.
In the past six to seven years, succulents have been the go-to plants that reignited the houseplant craze for the Millennial generation. Alleruzzo said while succulents are still popular, now the focus has shifted toward variegated foliage and hard goods items like moss poles and 1970s-style macrame hangers.
A self-described plant geek, Alleruzzo said she started bringing in the more eye-catching and colorful foliage. They took off with customers, especially those who discovered the plants on social media platforms like Instagram.
“It became a big swell of interest I think,” she said.
Al’s has a variety of hard goods to help make plants more successful, from bug spray and moss poles to aesthetic pottery and self-watering pots. Alleruzzo particularly likes the ceramic self-watering planter called the Jett pot by Accent Decor. It uses an exposed rope at the base of the potting soil to carry water from the saucer below, ensuring the plants get just the amount of water they need.
Alleruzzo also recommends organic soils and fertilizers from Espoma and organic, natural and synthetic options of pest control from Bonide.
Chelsey Greene, general manager of Cascade Tropicals in Snohomish, Washington, joined the wholesale grower in 2019 after a six-year career in the fishing industry of Alaska.
“I was looking for something equally fast-paced and a fun production environment and that’s how I ended up here,” Greene said. “I had no experience in the houseplant industry but as soon as I started here I realized it’s a similar environment where things move in and out really quickly, and it’s been amazing so far.”
Cascade Tropicals supplies retail stores and online sellers with houseplants, succulents, seasonals, Hawaiian plants and rare plants.
Greene said Cascade Tropicals prioritizes having high-quality plants on display in its greenhouse.
“We make sure the plants look beautiful when they go out because they’re basically a piece of furniture in someone’s house,” Greene said. “We need to make sure every leaf is beautiful.”
Greene said she stays on top of seasonal changes and plants for different holidays.
While the go-to plants like pothos always sell well, Cascade Tropicals also caters to those looking for more expensive collector plants like pink princess philodendrons. The wholesaler also offers indoor plants that can go outside during the summer, like ferns, cactus and citrus plants.
Alleruzzo also promotes putting houseplants outside in the summer.
“If you’re interested in doing something different, try putting houseplants in outdoor containers,” Alleruzzo said. “Try to bring them back inside in the fall, or choose an annual and let it go with the season and try something else next year.”
Keeping up with trends
“Trends change quickly in the house environment,” Green said.
Greene said it’s important to stay on top of market trends, as what was popular last year might be different this year.
While future trends are hard to predict, Greene says she tries to stay close to the market and get new cuttings in so Cascade Tropicals can start growing them for the next season. The wholesaler also brings in new plants from growers across North America and Hawaii.
Kelley Kenyon is a fourth-generation family member involved with Dennis’ 7 Dees and the current general manager of retail divisions. Her father is one of the current owners.
All the Dennis’ 7 Dees locations across Oregon have expanded their indoor plant presence, but the Bridgeport Village location in particular specializes in houseplants and accessories.
Kenyon said the market is highly competitive right now, and she strives to keep up with the demand for popular items, like air plants and colorful variegated plants.
“Pink foliage and striking patterns are continuing to be big trends,” Kenyon said, adding that resilient plants that are easy to care for are also popular.
She said customers have been looking for versions of products like watering cans and misters that are more aesthetic than purely utilitarian.
“It’s different from a watering can in a shed, it’s something that looks nice on a shelf next to a plant collection,” Kenyon said. Consumers also favor pottery and decor items made by local and small makers instead of mass-produced items.
“There are tons of local makers in our community,” she added.
Philodendrons have remained go-to houseplants over the decades, but the posts used to support them have changed in popularity. While bamboo sticks can hold up lighter plants like orchids, more durable moss-covered poles are the new supports that customers are turning to for philodendrons and other heavier plants.
“The roots can grow right into the moss,” Alleruzzo said.
Lucas Picciolo, founder and CEO of Mossify in Toronto, Canada, created a bendable version of the moss pole.
“The bendable moss pole really was an innovative idea, so we’re proud to say we’re the first on the market and the innovators of that,” Picciolo said.
This moss-covered support can bend into different shapes so plants will grow around it however the customer wants. Picciolo belives it’s a great way for the customer to bring creativity to their indoor plant collections.
Mossify also sells misters to keep the moss moist, as well as raw moss to add to potting soil or to decorate pottery.
Picciolo has always loved plants and remembers admiring the beauty of moss when he was growing up.
As a former construction worker, Picciolo had been working on a construction site when he was inspired to reuse the large amount of excess wood that went to waste.
“I really wanted to do something with that wood,” Picciolo said. “A couple years down the line I would collect the wood and carve names and images in it and put moss inside of it.”
He would sell these moss-filled carvings and plant a tree for every order to offset the wood consumption. Thus was the beginning of Mossify. Though he doesn’t collect and carve wood anymore, he grew the company and still plants one tree for every order. Now, Mossify sells to more than 400 garden centers across North America and more than 5,000 homes.
“We’re excited to grow along with the industry as a whole,” Picciolo said. “The general population is getting more into plants, which is good for the whole industry. It’s super exciting.”
Picciolo plans to display Mossify’s products at the upcoming Farwest Show August 24 through 26 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. It will be his first Farwest Show so he said he’s looking forward to meeting other retailers in the garden and nursery industry.
“It’s really important to meet everyone in person and support businesses in North America,” Picciolo said. “It’s important for consumers and businesses to try to stay local as much as possible.”
Kenyon said Dennis’ 7 Dees’ brick and mortar stores are navigating the competition from online sellers and those who sell houseplants through social media platforms.
She believes excellent customer service and merchandising are the best ways to provide value that a consumer won’t be able to get online.
The beauty of the plants themselves gives people a reason to shop in person.
“It inspires people to find ways to live among indoor plants,” she said.
Alleruzzo has been using social media tools to create a buzz about the new plants and hard goods she gets in store.
“Every Thursday or Friday we’ll post the houseplant of the week and what’s cool about it to lure people to the store,” Alleruzzo said.
“I watch different Instagram accounts and see what’s going on,” she added.
Al’s also has an assortment of houseplants available through e-commerce so shoppers can make their purchases online and sit in their car for curbside pick up.
Alleruzzo also co-hosts the Garden Time TV show each week, featuring about seven segments that are around five minutes long about all sorts of plants, containers and textures that are hot in the garden industry.
Kenyon said while the indoor plant boom of the beginning of the pandemic has settled, there is still a lot of demand.
During the first part of the coronavirus pandemic era, when many people were staying at home, the houseplant trend grew even more.
Greene said Cascade Tropicals was also seeing a stark increase in demand.
“Over the last two years we were barely able to keep plants in stock. Everything we brought in would go right out,” Greene said, adding the pandemic brought an increase of customers wanting to sell plants online.
“A lot of people switched to online and saw a good market there so customers are continuing to do that,” she said.
Alleruzzo believes the industry is still catching up to the demand, and supply chain shortages are still affecting the availability of hard goods.
Now that people are able to go back to work in person and travel, the desire for indoor plants has changed but still remains strong.
“It’s a different feeling after people come out of that horrendous time,” Alleruzzo said. “Plant breeders helped because there are more interesting plants on the market to discover.”
Greene also thinks 2022 has come with some changes to the past couple years.
“It’s a little bit different from last year, but we’re still excited about the movement and still trying to provide all the plants we can to garden centers,” Greene said. “I don’t think the interest in houseplants is going to go away, we just need to make sure we have the right plants.”
Emily Lindblom is an Oregon-based freelance journalist covering business, environmental and agricultural news. She has a background in community reporting and a master’s degree in multimedia journalism. Visit her website at emilylindblom.com or reach her at email@example.com.