The increasing hours of spring sunlight and rising temperatures across the country bring thoughts of greenery and new life, and adding a houseplant or two to your home is a great way to brighten your space without spending a lot of money.

The best way to buy houseplants is to go to a local nursery and ask an expert there for help. Nurseries, greenhouses and some florists have a variety of houseplants to choose from that will thrive in varying light conditions, and the staff members or owners typically can let customers know which varieties will work best for the inexperienced or slightly lazy plant person, as well as the seasoned plant parent.

But not everyone lives near a greenhouse or has a car, so websites are a good alternative. But in what condition will a plant shipped in a box be when it reaches your doorstep? Will it get mangled en route? Will the lack of sunlight leave it limp? Will the soil spill everywhere?

We put three websites to the test. Each one ships nationwide and has a variety of plants and prices. The plants all were ordered in late March when temperatures had climbed above freezing and shipped to Chicago. Here’s an assessment of each plant, along with the total cost and information about each site.

Plant ordered: Costa Farms 2-foot live ficus lyrata (better known as fiddle-leaf fig)

Cost: $29.97, plus $1.87 in state tax

Condition: The box was badly dented, but the plant, which came in a basic plastic container, was in good shape with shiny green leaves after it was freed. According to the listing, the plant was shipped straight from the farm.


Site: Navigating the Amazon behemoth can be frustrating because of the sheer volume of sellers. If you know what kind of plant you want, you can streamline this process. Be sure to specify live plants or your search will turn up faux ones (yuck). There were several photos of the fiddle-leaf fig that was ordered, and the plant was available in three sizes. Basic care instructions also were spelled out, along with several consumer reviews.

Takeaway: Amazon’s speed, cost and convenience are tough to beat. The plant, which is about 18 inches tall, is healthy-looking and it arrived three days after it was ordered.

Plant ordered: Ponytail palm tree, pot included

Cost: $65, plus $3.44 in state tax, free shipping over $50, $10 off code provided

Condition: Bloomscape plants are shipped direct from the greenhouse and the plant looked healthy and vibrant right out of the box. The clever packaging — a box within a box, a blanket-like wrap, strategic tape placement and a mat to keep the soil in place — perfectly swaddled the plant and pot. It was like a happy baby in a car seat.

Site: The attractive site has information about which plants work best in whatever situation you have. You can filter for pet-friendly plants, ones that require bright sunlight and ones that are good for air quality. Plants come with pots and saucers that use up to 80 percent recycled plastic, much of it fished from the ocean. If an ordered plant dies within 30 days, Bloomscape says it will replace it for free.

Takeaway: The site, helpful tips pamphlet that came with the plant, recycled pot and beautiful plant, which is about 15 inches tall, made for a winning combination. Bonus: The box is made of fully recycled materials, according to the site.


Plant ordered: Monstera (aka Swiss cheese plant), medium size, with Dolores ceramic planter (free tote bag included with order)

Cost: $62, plus $4.76 in state tax, $10 for shipping

Condition: The small plant was tightly swaddled in bubble wrap, perhaps a bit too tightly. Three of the leaves had broken off and the plant was a bit crushed. There were hand-warming packets in the sturdy box to help keep the space warm, which was a nice touch.

Site: This appealing site has loads of information for the newbie plant person. You can search for pet-friendly plants, ones that are easy to care for and ones that don’t need much light. You also can order pots in various styles and colors to go with your plant. After ordering, you can opt to receive emails with helpful plant tips.

Takeaway: The plant size (about 8 inches tall) was disappointing for the price point, but the monstera, which is enjoying newfound popularity, was potted in good rich dark soil, so it should grow quickly. The ceramic pot is heavy and attractive, but you can order a plant without a pot, if you want to spend less.