Here’s How to Buy Plants Online
The plant-tastic world of Josephine Heilperin.
Recreation Center ceramacist Josephine Heilpern isn’t quite sure how she became obsessed with plants, but she’s in too deep to look back now. After seven years of filling every nook of her Brooklyn apartment (including her own sharply angled planters) with greenery, she’s had to turn to the internet to find specimens she doesn’t already own. “Buying plants on eBay is a pretty recent discovery, but I’m totally hooked,” she explains. “I’ve never seen a lot of them in person, so it’s always a fun surprise.” Here’s her guide to filling out your frond fam, via FedEx (it’s weirdly like online dating).
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
“If you have something specific in mind, it’s usually pretty easy to find. I follow a lot of plant people on Instagram (like @houseplantjournal and @echinopsisfreak), so that’s where I find new species. I just started hunting for something called a spiral leaf begonia—their leaves curl following the Fibonacci sequence.”
MAKE SURE YOU’RE READY TO COMMIT
“Most local stores sell the same kinds of common houseplants—and the reason they’re called that is because they’re easy to take care of. [Ed. note: Get Josephine’s guide to the most resilient varieties here]. But if you’re going online to buy something specific, it’s probably rare—and might require a little bit more attention. So you want to do your research and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. I had a pitcher plant, which is carnivorous—they have flowers like little cups that hang down, you fill them with water, and the water forms a mucus to attracts flies. But that’s a swamp plant, and it was too dry in my apartment. Because you can get pretty much anything on the internet, it’s important to consider whether you’re actually going to be able to keep it alive.”
New euphorbia friends, fresh outta their bubble wrap.
DON’T JUDGE A PLANT BY ITS PROFILE PIC
“As with anything on the internet, the image on the post isn’t necessarily the thing you’re getting. Usually what you’re purchasing are cuttings from larger plants, and a lot of times sellers will post an image of the full, mature mother. Read closely for details about what you’re buying. Measurements are great if the they can provide them.”
CONSIDER THE TRAVELING CONDITIONS
“Cactuses and succulents are really great because you propagate them by taking off the leaves, and those can live for days in the mail. [Ed. note: We have a full guide to propagating here!]. Rooted, leafy plants are harder because you have to trust the seller to package them well. I just got a small begonia, and it actually came in shoebox—I was like ‘wait, what did I order?’ There was bubble wrap everywhere, and the plant itself was loosely wrapped in newspaper and masking tape. And it was totally okay!”
LEARN THOSE RETURN POLICIES
“It’s very possible that you could get your shipment, and it’s messed up. You want to be sure that the people on the other end are receptive to giving you your money back or sending you a new plant. I’ve had really good luck so far, though.”
THINK SMALL—AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT SHIPPING
“One of the best things about buying plants on eBay is it’s really inexpensive! Because most people are just clipping off of their existing plant, it costs them pretty much nothing. I don’t pay more than ten dollars for anything. But I don’t like to go too big because the shipping cost goes up so much. Getting a little piece is less of an immediate reward—because you have to go through the work of planting it and growing it—but if you love plants, that’s the fun part.”
REALLY GET INTO REVIEWS
“Ebay is really great, as opposed to other buying platforms, because people can leave reviews. You can see how things are packaged and how well the person on the other side did at growing their cutting. I compare as many options as I can.”
ROLL OUT THE WELCOME WAGON
“Plants, especially leafy ones, really do feel trauma. So when you get them, you should be ready to get them into a pot right away and put them in the place they’re going to be happiest. I love watching my piece of a plant that’s a part of something someone else owns grow up. They’re family, to put it in our own human way of thinking of things.”