Raising houseplants offers a slew of psychological benefits, plus they look pretty when properly cared for (and there are plenty of low-maintenance choices for the lazy and forgetful). But as anyone who has acquired a few of them will tell you, once you discover you enjoy the experience of caring for a houseplant, it’s hard to stop yourself from collecting more and more of them—often without considering the longterm costs of keeping them in terms of space, time, and money.
Because houseplants are natural, but they are hardly free. If you’re thinking of acquiring some for your house—or expanding the indoor garden you’re already maintaining—here’s your rough guide to how much your plants will cost you in the long run.
Plants take time
If you’re a person who assumes plants only need air and sun to survive, you’re most likely in for some disappointment (and some very dead plants). While some houseplants require very little maintenance, most any plant will require some maintenance—watering, feeding, re-potting, pruning, etc. And that maintenance will take time.
How much time? While that depends on the plants you have selected, in general, you can assume anywhere from 5-10 minutes per plant, per week, according to Altiné Moumouni, who runs the houseplant enthusiast site Plant Heaven. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you have a dozen houseplants, you could be looking at 1–2 hours of work every week. This will vary, too; as noted by Flourishing Plants, some weeks you’ll simply be watering and doing some light pruning, but others you’ll find yourself re-potting plants or setting up supports for crawling vines, which will take more time.
That’s why it’s a good idea to start modestly if you’ve never cared for houseplants before—one low-maintenance houseplant will take up just a few minutes of your week, and you can get a good sense of how committed you are.
Plants take up space
Every inch of your home you allocate to plants is an inch you can’t use for something else, so you need to consider your “space budget.” Again, the type of plant you choose will have an impact on how much space you need, but in general, you should assume a minimum of one square foot per plant. As explained by My City Plants, houseplants need a little space around them for air flow, and your typical round pots can’t be slotted together like an enormous living game of Tetris.
That minimum amount of space isn’t precise, however; once you get to half a dozen plants or so, you’ll probably find the real space requirement is somewhere between 1 and 2 square feet per plant, unless you’re sticking with something compact, like small succulents. That’s because different species of plants have different growth patterns—some spread out, some grow straight up, some will crawl everywhere. If you plan to have a substantial indoor garden, estimate about 2 square feet per plant.
Finally, consider the fact that plants grow, and you might need to allocate more space in the future as they do. How much of your living space you’re willing to give over to plants is a personal decision, and if you have more plants than space, you can try hanging them, which opens up floor and window space…for more plants, probably.
Plants cost money
Houseplants have a cost in terms of both initial investment and maintenance—they’re a commitment, especially since many can live for decades with proper care. So having some idea what that’s going to cost you is essential.
The price range for indoor plants ranges far and wide. According to Simplify Plants, you can expect to spend anywhere from $6 to $150 for a single plant, depending on the variety you choose. On average, you can estimate $25 per plant. You can sometimes avoid this startup cost if you know someone willing to give you some cuttings or bulbs from their own plants, of course.
Once you have your plants, you need to maintain them. Sunlight is free, and tap water isn’t terribly expensive—but you’ll also need fertilizer, soil, pots, and possibly more advanced equipment like grow lights. The average cost of maintaining your plants is about $23 per plant per year, with most people spending about $75 on the hobby annually—though that number can rise fast if you add more plants to your collection.
Something you can consider, if you’re determined to keep your houseplants alive, is what’s known as “plant insurance.” While your houseplants might be covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance as assets (you’ll need to check with your insurer about that), this kind of plant insurance is all about keeping them alive. For a monthly fee, a company like Horti will advise you on how to keep your plants alive (you can send them photos if you suspect a beloved plant is dying). Whether or not this additional cost is worth it depends on you—maybe you are particularly emotionally attached to your houseplants?—but it’s something to consider, especially if you’ve killed a lot of plants in your life and are determined to stop the carnage.