REGINA — As Kait Waugh closed the doors of her indoor plant shop when COVID-19 hit in the spring, she thought "uh-oh."
"When people are out shopping and almost panic buying and looking for toilet paper, houseplants I definitely thought would not be on top of people’s minds," says Waugh, owner of Fat Plant Farm in Regina.
Nine months later, when her shop reopened with limited customer capacity, pickup and delivery service, she says her "doom and gloom" worries didn't materialize.
Instead, it's been a "plant boom."
"I definitely did not expect sales to double."
Waugh and others in the plant world say millions of Canadians working from home and dealing with pandemic stress have spurred a growth in demand for greenery — from big, leafy houseplants and cacti to seeds for gardens.
"It’s probably one of our best years yet," says Bryan Moffat, retail operations manager at West Coast Gardens in Surrey, B.C. "We’ve never seen so many people want to start growing seeds."
He attributes that to people's anxiety about access to groceries and wanting to grow their own vegetables.
The Canadian Garden Council reported an increase in people tending their gardens, although some greenhouses struggled under provincial COVID-19 restrictions.
Waugh admits it has been difficult to get her hands on plants and even pottery because of demand and supply-chain challenges.
She says many requests have come from people looking to set up home offices and wanting to bring some of the outdoors inside.
Snowbirds who are forgoing their annual escape south to warmer temperatures also seem to be making a return to houseplants, Waugh adds.
"Nurturing houseplants really nurtures yourself."
Waugh believes her business boom is due to her having an online presence and to customers shopping locally.
Moffat's garden centre sells a mix of plants, lifestyle items and decor. He believes "people just need their home environment to feel good" or may be seeking air-purifying plants.
"If they were short of money, it didn’t seem to be holding (them) back when it came to spending on that."
He says more people in their 20s and 30s have been coming in. There have also been more customers who are new to houseplants.
Moffat notes an uptick in the sale of tropicals, which he believes homeowners like because their lushness provides the feeling of being somewhere else.
"I think that’s what people are looking for."
Cheney Creamer of the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association says people talking to their plants used to be a joke, but that may be the only option now for workers stuck at home without colleagues.
Creamer says a simple houseplant in a windowless room can reduce stress. Therapeutic gardening is helpful to those who feel alone, like seniors.
"Being able to have gardens or a houseplant to be able to care for, that sense of caregiving is a really big aspect of people not feeling so isolated."
There are some plants that haven't seen as much demand.
The president of the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance says sales of some flowers were down because weddings were postponed. And shutdowns that include flower shops with cut blooms are also problematic.
"Highly perishable plants don’t wait … when they need to go to market," Dave Captein said in a statement.
Sue Baker, a vice-president at Sheridan Nurseries with eight stores in Ontario, says being unable to socialize has meant fewer sales of blooms such as potted lilies or daffodils often given as gifts.
It's why over the holidays the vibrant red leaves of poinsettias are missing from many countertops.
"Corporate offices aren't decorating. A lot of schools ... every year used to do a fundraiser with poinsettias.
"That didn't happen this year."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2020.