Houseplants have infiltrated every room in my house. The foliage hoarding started long before the pandemic, but I, like the legions of housebound plant parents everywhere, doubled down. Of the pandemic-borne hobbies, raising plants has it all: physical health benefits, mental health benefits, and a very low barrier to entry. In a time that felt stagnant, nurturing growth was the antidote.
Your green thumb could be worth more than you think. If you’ve ever thought of selling plants online, now is the time.
Unsurprisingly, searches for “buy plants online” surged in the middle of March 2020, just as retail businesses and greenhouses everywhere were shutting their doors against COVID’s first wave. Unspent going-out funds collided with our collective need for at-home joy.
More online plant stores sprung up from garages and garden sheds to answer the demand—a demand that doesn’t show signs of slowing. Your green thumb could be worth more than you think. If you’ve ever thought of selling plants online, now is the time.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll take you through the steps of starting your own plant selling business and consult experts to bring you tips on how to succeed. Learn everything from planting the seed to cultivating your brand to nurturing your customers.
- Meet the experts
- How to sell plants online: getting started
- Cultivating your plant brand
- Pricing plants to sell online
- Inventory and plant care
- Photography for online plant businesses
- Start selling plants online: build your online store
- Marketing and social media for plant brands
- Shipping and packing plants
- Customer care for plant brands
- Selling plants online FAQ
Meet the experts
Danuelle Doswell and Mignon Hemsley, Founders, Grounded
Danuelle Doswell, a marketer and brand strategist, and Mignon Hemsley, a graphic designer, photographer, and DJ, met and bonded over their lifelong love of food. But it was another part of their similar upbringings that inspired their business, Grounded Plants. “My mom would always encourage me to keep a garden at the house,” says Mignon. “We would grow strawberries and tomatoes and peppers.” And Danuelle recalls the houses of all of her relatives being filled with plants.
When Danuelle saw a stat that 33% of millennials, like themselves, owned plants, the two paired up to serve that audience. Grounded now sells houseplants and accessories from their Washington, DC, headquarters to customers across the country, and offers services like “planterior design” to corporate clients.
Sonja Detrinidad, Founder, Partly Sunny Projects
Sonja Detrinidad started dabbling in plants as a distraction from her stressful career in the mortgage industry. When she discovered her knack for sourcing greenery and inspiring audiences with her straight-shooting plant content, she quit her job. During the pandemic, her California-based plant business exploded. The bulk of Sonja’s sales and traffic come from TikTok, a platform she uses to share humorous and helpful plant advice to more than 350k followers.
Read more about how Sonja discovered the formula for succeeding at TikTok for business.
How to sell plants online: getting started
Yes, you can ship live plants in the mail! As someone who made her first plant order during the pandemic, I can attest to this fact. Three succulents, two cacti, and a string of dolphins arrived in a cardboard box, unharmed and ready to be repotted. Ready to propagate this trend and grow your own plant selling business? Let’s dig in.
Finding your niche
There are more ways to get into the plant selling business than simply shipping houseplants in the mail. How you decide to define your own offerings may depend on the climate where you live, your access to wholesale greenery or space to grow, and how much you’re willing to invest upfront.
Here are a few ideas to get you started selling plants online:
- Houseplants. Will you specialize in succulents, cacti, or air plants, for example? What can you reliably grow or buy wholesale where you live?
- Outdoor plants. Consider seasonality not just where you live but also where you sell to. Will you run a seasonal business or sell all year round?
- Seeds and bulbs. West Coast Seeds doesn’t sell live plants but it does ship seeds, bulbs, and growing supplies across Canada.
- Plant care products. Think soil, fertilizer, growing medium, and grow lights. These items can also be sold in tandem with live plants and work well with an upsell strategy.
- Home decor. Decorative plant pots, trays, and hanging planters can be sold as a business on their own or sold alongside the plants that fill them.
- Terrariums and kits. Sell a combination of live plants and supplies to build terrariums at home.
- Plant-derived products. Grow your own plants and create products derived from them. The founders of Terre Bleu grow lavender on their farm and sell lavender-based soaps, sprays, and salves online.
- Plant subscriptions. Both Grounded and Partly Sunny guarantee repeat business by offering recurring plant shipments through a subscription program.
- Think outside the pot. Why not start a service-based business to supply plants for events and corporate clients? Or try “planterior design,” a term Grounded uses to describe its private client consultation service. Sonja started her business at first as a personal plant shopper doing one-on-one consultations and purchases based on customer requests.
Should you grow your own plants or source them?
Growing your own plants to sell is possible if you have the right space and conditions to do so. If you’re starting small, you can grow plants in your own backyard garden or create a DIY greenhouse—but do consider space limitations if you plan to scale. Growing your own plants on a larger scale will require a lot more space and specialized plant know-how. There are plenty of free online resources to teach you the production side of the business.
For the purposes of this guide, we will focus on the business of selling plants online by working with a wholesaler, greenhouse, or nursery. Note that you will still require sunny space to store and care for the plants on their brief stop between their origin and final destination, but this method is much easier for new plant entrepreneurs.
When I asked Sonja if she’d ever consider scaling her business to grow her own, she reminded me that in California, she didn’t need to. “I have growers that have been growing certain varieties of plants for 40 years,” she says. “When I’ve got this guy, literally three blocks away from me, I could just buy his product.”
Many local greenhouses, nurseries, and plant suppliers offer a wholesale program. Look for details on their website or inquire directly. There are generally a few requirements to become a registered reseller, including purchase minimums.
Tips on working with nurseries, greenhouses, and plant wholesalers:
- Form a relationship with the supplier. Repeated business and a positive business relationship could help you get the best stock or advance notice on supply.
- Shop around. Some suppliers may have lower minimums than others—perfect if you’re starting small.
- Opt for local suppliers, if possible. Pick up wholesale orders if you can to minimize cost and reduce the amount of stress on the plants.
- Understand seasonality. Which plants will be in stock at which times of year? This will help you plan campaigns and inventory.
- Don’t put all of your seeds in one basket. Source multiple suppliers if you can to ensure that if one is out of a popular item, another may have it in stock. Some suppliers or growers may also only operate seasonally. Sonja frequents several greenhouses in her area and even scours local buy-and-sell groups for rare finds.
- Develop a pricing strategy that accounts for fluctuating wholesale costs by season.
- Try online wholesalers. If you live in an area that doesn’t have a reliable source for wholesale plants, look for online suppliers like Gro ‘n Sell.
- Dropship. Short on space? Some, like House Plant Wholesale, will even dropship! Currently, Grounded works with several greenhouses that ship to them before they ship to customers. “I think, eventually, we’ll cut ourselves out as the middleman and ship directly from the greenhouse,” says Danuelle. “That’s definitely a long-term goal.”
Cultivating your plant brand
Don’t skip this step. Differentiating your business from another website selling plants relies heavily on brand. And we’re not talking about your logo—that’s branding. For plant selling businesses, your brand should achieve the following:
- Take a stand. What are you about? Decide what you will and will not sell and establish quality standards. Create a cohesive set of brand guidelines that you will use to make decisions across the business and help maintain consistency, even as you scale. Grounded’s brand is rooted in the power of plants to bring peace and mindfulness to daily life—a mission clearly captured on the site’s About page and throughout its branding and marketing copy. The founders also want to expand on their plant education focus to launch a sister non-profit to invest in community gardens and gardening education for youth.
- Establish trust. You are shipping live plants—your messaging should reflect that you are knowledgeable and have high care for your shipping process and after-purchase customer support. Using education as part of your brand and content strategy will foster trust. Sonja provides consistent content like plant care tips to build trust with an audience before converting them to customers.
- Help you stand apart. What makes you unique? Tell your brand story on an About page, on social, and even on packaging. Outline your values, share information about any charitable partnerships, and let customers peek behind the curtain. “People buy from people they like,” says Sonja.
Now, you can use your clear vision for your brand to help you develop branding assets and a visual identity for your business.
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- How to Start Your Own Brand From Scratch in 7 Steps
- Selling Through Storytelling: How to Craft a Compelling Brand Story
Pricing plants to sell online
You can follow standard pricing models for pricing most goods for online sale. To find a retail price for your plants or plant accessories:
- Add up your variable costs per product (cost of goods sold, packaging, shipping, etc.).
- Add a profit margin (consider the overall market).
- Don’t forget about fixed costs (overhead expenses, like rent).
Even if we're paying a little more wholesale than usual, we’ll still keep it at that price point just to remain consistent.Mignon Hemsley, Grounded
There are a few other factors to consider when pricing plants:
Seasonality can affect pricing. For example, if you choose to sell a specific plant in a set number of sizes because you have a reliable supply chain, factor in fluctuations to the wholesale cost of the plants (nurseries may adjust prices seasonally). If you want to be consistent with pricing on your site, consider the highest possible cost when calculating retail price. “Say if we sell a golden pothos for $20, we’ll keep it at $20 across the board,” says Mignon. “Even if we're paying a little more wholesale than usual, we’ll still keep it at that price point just to remain consistent.”
Market price is important to keep in mind. While your brand may be very different from another brand, a snake plant is still a snake plant, and you should price within an acceptable range based on the market.
Who is your customer and what do they expect to pay? “We strategically put our price points at a place that is affordable and accessible to most people,” says Mignon. “We want everyone to be able to experience having plants and being able to take care of something.”
Consider labor when calculating your fixed costs. Even if you’re not paying staff to help grow and care for plants, your effort should factor into the overall cost.
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- The Price Is Right: 13 Strategies for Finding the Ideal Price for Your Products
- How to Price Your Product: What You Need to Know About Pricing Before You Launch
Inventory and plant care
While I fancy myself quite the green thumb *gazes with motherly pride over a brood of tomatoes,* there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to cover water and sunlight needs for every species of plant. Once you decide what you will sell, research each variety to understand its specific needs.
Generally, you will need enough climate-controlled space to adequately care for your plant inventory before it ships to your customers. Sonja, who has had to hire staff to manage the volume of orders pouring in, still uses her home’s garage as her headquarters, but has recently announced a move to a dedicated greenhouse space.
For plant businesses, managing your inventory tightly is critical. Developing a relationship with reliable suppliers will help you plan ahead. You should also ask yourself:
- Will your offerings change seasonally based on greenhouse supply?
- Will you run pre-sales for upcoming varieties?
- Should you build in a buffer in case some of your inventory is damaged or dies?
- If you go away for several days, what is your plan for plant care? Automated irrigation systems and timed grow lights can bridge the gap if you don’t yet have staff coverage.
As you are running a business that may have items going in and out of stock seasonally, create a system for yourself that helps you identify and manage inventory within your Shopify store. A consistent naming/numbering convention along with grouping plants into standard sizes can help you keep inventory organized. For example, if you are selling a variety of houseplants, you may want to establish a SKU system as follows: three letters representing the category, three letters representing the plant type, and two letters representing the size.
Example: SUC-ALO-SM could represent a small aloe plant in the succulent family. Define what “small,” “medium,” and “large” mean to you for the purposes of pricing and inventory, as plants will come in a range, usually measured in inches by pot/plant diameter.
Photography for online plant businesses
For any business selling physical products, it’s important to invest time and care into photography. You can either hire a professional or DIY your photography needs. Either way, follow the basic principles of product photography that exist across all product categories.
The last thing you want to do is use filters, because it’s not the reality. It leads people down the road of having unmet expectations of what their gardens should look like.Sonja Detrinidad, Partly Sunny Projects
Photography tips for online plant brands:
- Your product page should feature a variety of shots to help your customer see the product from all angles.
- Include close-up detail shots that illustrate texture.
- Show your product in a scene (also called a lifestyle shot) that provides inspiration to your customer for styling or placing the item in their own space. These are also great photos to use on your homepage as well as on social media.
- Consider getting your products shot in 3D so customers can use AR technology to place the item in a room.
- Your smartphone is perfectly capable of capturing great behind-the-scenes shots, plant care tutorial videos, and other images for use on social media.
- For greenery, you’ll want to shoot it in the most natural light possible so your customers have realistic expectations for the plants you’re selling. “The last thing you want to do is use filters, because it’s not the reality,” says Sonja. “It leads people down the road of having unmet expectations of what their gardens should look like.”
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- Product Photography: DIY Guide for People on a Budget
- DIY Natural Lighting for Product Photography: 6 Steps to Better Photos
Start selling plants online: build your online store
The best way to sell plants online is through your own website. Sonja started her business by taking orders through a WhatsApp group chat and invoicing each customer. When too much of her time was spent making invoices, she opened a Shopify store. The switch allowed her to spend less time with paperwork and more time building her brand.
Start selling plants online and try Shopify free for 14 days
Shopify themes for plant sellers
Shopify is designed to make starting a business simple, even if you have no coding or design skills. Use one of the preset themes in the Shopify Theme Store, then customize with your own branding, fonts, colors, and unique layout.
These themes are our top picks for plant stores:
- Cascade Theme ($$): great for plant sellers who have a strong brand story.
- Artisan Theme ($$): a theme that lets you sell both products (like plants) and services (like plant styling).
- Editions Theme ($): a simple theme with lots of white space that lets your brand shine.
- Narrative Theme (free): puts big lifestyle images first and supports small catalogs (say, you only sell air plants).
As you grow, you can continue to customize your online store. Shopify Experts are trusted professionals who can help you improve the design and function of your store if you’re much better with plants than computers.
Shopify apps for selling plants online
Layering apps onto your Shopify store increases functionality and allows you to customize your site to your—and your customers’—individual needs. Browse the Shopify App Store for apps that plug in to your site and make it easier for you to sell plants online.
A few highlights:
- Offset is an app by Shopify that neutralizes your shipping emissions. With each order, you are investing in sustainability initiatives to counteract your impact on the planet.
- Route offers additional protection and tracking for your packages—especially important when shipping live plants.
- SmartTabs adds product page tabs so you can nest important care instructions in each product page without crowding the selling features or overwhelming your customers.
Product pages for plants
Your product pages should include standard information like plant species, description, and size, along with clear product photos. Consider also using this space for education. You’ll want to ensure that your customers are equipped to care for their new plants indefinitely. After-care customer service is important—and we’ll cover that later—but you can minimize the burden on your customer service team (or you, if you’re a team of one) if you provide helpful care instructions upfront.
The product page is a perfect place to include plant education. Use tabs to keep the page uncluttered or link out to the resource elsewhere on your site.
The product page is a perfect place to include plant education. Use tabs to keep the page uncluttered or link out to the resource elsewhere on your site. West Coast Seeds packs each product page with useful info like hardiness zone, difficulty level, ideal pH for growing conditions, and detailed planting instructions.
As you sort products into collections, you can organize by species, size, or, like Grounded, helpful categories such as “pet friendly” and “beginner friendly.”
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- How to Start an Online Store with Shopify: A Step-by-Step Guide
- How to Build a Website From Scratch: A 9-Step Quickstart Guide for Beginners
- Product Page Tune-Up: 9 Timeless Ways to Increase Conversions
Alternate sales channels
Consider gaining more exposure for your brand and accessing new audiences by selling plants through online marketplaces or finding local retail opportunities. Beyond opening your own brick-and-mortar store, there are many affordable ways to add in-person selling to your mix:
- Open a booth at a weekend farmers or arts market.
- Run a pop-up event.
- Partner with an established retail business to sell plants from their space. They benefit from the decor upgrade and take a commission for each sale.
- If you grow your own plants or work from a dedicated facility, offer limited hours for customers to browse your inventory in person, say through a monthly event.
Marketing and social media for plant brands
Good news: with the rise in searches for plant content online, there are opportunities to grow your audience with the right mix of search optimization, social media, and content marketing paired with a unique and cohesive brand.
Content and social marketing
If you’re starting out with a limited budget, grow your social audience and email list organically with consistent posting and incentives for those who sign up. You can add value through social media or a blog by establishing yourself as an expert, sharing free advice about plant care. Invest time in a content marketing strategy and learn how to optimize content to rank. Content that lives on your site can help drive organic traffic that you can convert into sales.
Sonja has positioned herself as a subject matter expert on TikTok and has found that she doesn’t need to lay on a heavy sales pitch. “Make yourself valuable on the platform as a source of information, then do a little sidestep like, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s the link to my website,’” she says. “And they’re going to trust what you’re putting out there because they’re seeing results from the things that you’ve advised them to do.”
As Grounded was gearing up for the big launch in 2020, it struggled to get initial traction on social and with its newsletter. “Danuelle made her dad an Instagram so he could be our hundredth follower,” says Mignon. Then Danuelle wrote a press release and shopped it around to local DC publications. One picked it up and their follower account surged to 8,000, and 700 people signed up for their newsletter.
The press release caught attention because it highlighted the brand’s subscription program—a feature that was different from other businesses in the area—and tapped into the need for joy in a world entering a long pandemic lockdown.
Take it from me—buying one plant is the gateway to a house full of them. While you absolutely want to attract new customers to your site, don’t forget about your existing customers. These are easier sales to make because they already trust you, you’re top of mind the next time they’re looking for plants, and you have direct access to them via email, mail, and/or social.
Subscription boxes are an easy way to guarantee future purchases and continued engagement with your loyal customers.
Consider loyalty programs that give your customers even more incentive to come back: points programs, referral rewards, and exclusive discounts or promotions for those already on your subscriber list.
Grounded recently ran an experience survey to gain valuable feedback from their loyal customers. The partners use data to drive decisions around marketing and other aspects of the business.
Subscription boxes are an easy way to guarantee future purchases and continued engagement with your loyal customers.
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- Authenticity Sells: A Beginner’s Guide to Marketing on TikTok
- Driving Growth: 11 Best Marketing Strategies Any Small Business Can Execute
- How to Start a Blog You Can Grow Into a Business
- 7 Innovative Customer Loyalty Programs (And How to Start Yours)
Shipping and packing plants
“Imagine that your package is going to be in a rugby match until it gets to its destination,” says Sonja. “You have to do everything you need to do in order to protect it.” Packing your plants for shipment is extremely important to ensure their survival—and customer happiness. “The plant community will tear you apart if your packaging is not up to par,” she says.
Imagine that your package is going to be in a rugby match until it gets to its destination.Sonja Detrinidad, Partly Sunny Projects
There are many factors to consider depending on shipping location and method, climate, and hardiness of the plant. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you determine your packing and shipping processes:
- Shipping soil and organic matter. There are laws that govern how soil and organic matter can travel over international borders. For example, Canada allows imports of soil from the US if accompanied by the correct certificate/documentation but will not allow imports from other countries.
- Shipping to—or from—areas with extreme climate. If your plants will be subject to below freezing temperatures in transit, consider adding heat packs to the packaging and/or only shipping express methods to ensure plants aren’t exposed to cold for too long.
- Cutting down on shipping costs. Soil can add a lot of weight to a final package. Some plants can be shipped without the soil (bare root), then planted in soil by the customer.
- Ensuring plant survival. Minimize messy soil spillage by wrapping a cardboard collar or wood excelsior around the base of plants. This will also provide some stability to the plant. Ensure the plant has adequate water for the trip and wrap the entire plant and pot in bubble wrap or something similar. Nest wrapped plants in a box with plenty of packing material (newsprint paper or biodegradable packing peanuts).
- Choosing a carrier. Work with carriers that deliver seven days a week to avoid weekend interruptions, and consider offering only express methods for locations beyond your local area.
“This is kind of embarrassing, but at the beginning, we did not have packaging for the dirt specifically,” says Danuelle. “I remember hearing the dirt sliding around inside of the boxes when USPS came to pick them up. I would pray over each packet like, ‘This is in God’s hands now.’”
I remember hearing the dirt sliding around inside of the boxes when USPS came to pick them up. I would pray over each packet like, ‘This is in God’s hands now.’Danuelle Doswell, Grounded
Grounded’s founders learned from their early mistakes and now secure the soil as well as the pot and plant so customers don’t open a box full of loose dirt. “That can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a new plant parent.”
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce Shipping and Fulfillment
- How to Reduce Shipping Costs as a Small Business
Customer care for plant brands
Like plants that need adequate sun, water, and nutrients to thrive, your customers require care before and especially after their purchases. As we discussed in our content marketing section, customer education is a huge opportunity for plant-selling businesses to gain exposure and establish trust.
People can sign up for free Zoom office hours. It’s easier for us to assess the issue with the plant through video and help bring it back to health.Mignon Hemsley, Grounded
But beyond marketing benefits, education ensures that your customers are equipped to enjoy their plants for a long time—and even become repeat purchasers.
Customer service tips for plant brands:
- Explicitly communicate your refund policy and guarantee. Give customers peace of mind in ordering from you by letting them know you stand by your plants arriving safe.
- Include clear plant care instructions in order confirmation emails, in the shipping box, on packaging, and/or in a reference guide or blog on your site.
- Pack your FAQ page with common plant care concerns and troubleshooting tips.
- Make yourself available: be sure customers know when and how to contact you with plant concerns. As you scale, hire or outsource customer care to knowledgeable people.
“We have a plant specialist who speaks with our customers whenever they have an issue with their plants,” says Danuelle. Grounded mitigates customer disappointment by investing heavily in education and customer support. “People can sign up for free Zoom office hours,” says Mignon. “It’s easier for us to assess the issue with the plant through video and help bring it back to health”
🌵 Grow your knowledge:
- Customer Service 101: A Guide to Providing Stand-Out Support Experiences
- The 13 Skills Needed to Provide Memorable Customer Support
For those looking for a more hands-on business to nurture, selling plants is a rewarding one. Studies show that plants reduce stress and increase productivity, counteracting the hectic pace of being a new business owner. And, with interest in plants blooming since the pandemic, the time is now to harvest that dream!
Selling plants online FAQ
Is selling plants a good business idea?
Although selling plants requires more specialized knowledge (plant care), and has specific needs for space and shipping, it is a great business idea in 2021. Interest in plants trended through the pandemic and shows no signs of stopping.
What are the best plants to sell online?
With the right care in packing and shipping, many varieties of plants can be sold online. If you’re new to selling plants, try succulents. Many varieties are hardy and compact, making them easy to package, and most don’t require much water to survive the trip. Succulents come in many varieties, are common houseplants (therefore easy to source), and most are uncomplicated to care for.
Is it legal to sell plants online?
Yes, it is legal to sell plants online in most places. That said, there are laws that vary from country to country regarding the import and export of soils and organic matter. Look into the regulations where you sell and in all of the territories that you plan to sell.
Do I need a license to sell plants online?
This may vary from country to country or even state to state, but in some places you may be required to obtain a business license or a specialized permit for selling plants. California, for example, requires different permits for selling “nursery stock” and selling seeds.
What plants can be sold from home?
If you live in a home that has the ideal conditions for caring for a large inventory of plants, you can pretty much sell any plant from home. Consider space, water, and sunlight needs as well as each plant type’s vulnerability (i.e., will it survive shipping?).
Can you make money from selling plants online?
You can absolutely make money selling plants online. This guide has everything you need to get started building a profitable business. Remember that many businesses take a while to earn a profit, often investing back into the business to buy inventory or run paid ads. Temper your expectations at the start and keep a close eye on your finances. You may need to adjust your pricing strategy or rein in expenses—this is all part of growing a new business.
Illustration by Leonard Peng