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With Martha Stewart's launch of her own branded gardening collection, there can be little doubt: the plant business is flourishing. Gardening has become the second most popular leisure activity in the country — second to walking — according to New York-based Scarborough Research. In fact, the National Gardening Association (NGA) reports that most American households (80 percent) tended to plants last year, up from 64 percent in 1996.

The purchase of indoor and outdoor plants represents a thriving market — one that is poised to grow even larger over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates consumer spending on indoor houseplants at more than $6 billion in 2000, up 58 percent since 1990. But outdoor plants and landscaping are far bigger businesses, which Bruce Butterfield, the director of research at the NGA, pegs at over $46 billion in 2001, and increasing at about 5 percent a year.

Several demographic trends are feeding the plant and flower industry — along with the associated businesses of greenhouses, lawn and garden products, and landscaping. These trends include a record number of homeowners, as well as the rising disposable income and growing size of the 55- to 64-year-old age group — the cohort that spends the most on horticulture. This age group, now made up of so-called War Babies, will be composed of Baby Boomers in 10 years.

Though conventional wisdom suggests that today's busy Boomers are not yet at the life stage where they have the time to invest in the care of plants, many do have the money to pay someone else to tend to their gardens. If having exotic blooms arranged in a spectacular landscaped setting becomes the preferred way to distinguish one starter castle from the next, spending on landscaping and garden-care services will skyrocket.

Lush gardens and landscaping that show a decorator's touch are becoming the latest showcase for American homeowners. As the number of homeowners grows, so will the number of individuals who want to make a statement with their home landscaping. The Census Bureau reports a record homeownership rate in the U.S.: In the suburbs, where half of all Americans live, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of households are owner-occupied. During the 10 years between the 1990 and 2000 census surveys, the number of owner-occupied units rose 18 percent, while renter-occupied units edged up only 8 percent. During that decade, more than 1 million owner-occupied units per year were added to the housing stock — and virtually every one of those homes had plants of some kind.

How much do all these plants and related services cost? The average homeowner spent more than $350 on indoor and outdoor plant- and landscaping-related expenses in 2000, up more than 50 percent since 1990, according to the BLS. The addition of a million owner-occupied households will add about $350 million a year in spending to horticulture-related expenses. Plant collections can require everything from particular soils to special tools to greenhouses. If flowers are displayed outdoors, they are often set in a designed landscape. Americans spent over a billion dollars on such design services last year, according to the Washington, D.C.-based American Nursery & Landscape Association, which just started tracking these services.

The impact of Boomers on this industry will be significant. The average homeowner today is 52 years old. During this decade, as Boomers — currently 38 to 56 years old — age into the 55- to 64-year-old group, spending on plants and flowers will surge. Homeowners in the 55- to 64-year-old age group already spend more on horticulture than any other age group, according to 2000 BLS data on consumer spending. But the changing demographics of this cohort — the combination of rising incomes and the increase in the number of households — should more than double expenditures. Just the 48 percent increase in the number of 55- to 64-year-olds projected by the Census Bureau should add about $2 billion a year to spending on plants.

In addition to the blossoming home-plant industry, there has also been a proliferation of botanical gardens. Unlike home gardens, botanical gardens include a wide variety of plants cultivated for scientific or educational purposes. Over the past decade, the number of botanical gardens has quadrupled, from 100 to 430, as reported by the Kennett Square, Pa.-based American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta. That organization's individual membership roll has jumped more than 250 percent since 1990.

For some, collecting rare plants is a status symbol. But even the more exotic plants are gaining a wider audience. Orchids, for example, are no longer the sole province of well-heeled collectors. Martha Stewart sells lower-priced potted orchids to the masses, which no doubt contributed to the 50 percent increase in orchid sales between 2000 and 2002.

Plant lovers remain in the elite, however, when it comes to education. Overall, they appreciate higher learning: College graduates spent more than twice as much on plants in 2000 as non-college grads, according to the BLS' Consumer Expenditure Survey. An increase of more than 5 million college-educated households to the 55- to 64-year-old cohort will likely add more than $2.2 billion a year to horticulture industry revenues. Whether that money will be spent on prizewinning roses, bouquets of daisies or dwarf flowering trees is anybody's guess. But set aside some time to smell the flowers, because there's sure to be a lot more of them.

Peter Francese is the founder of American Demographics. He can be reached at [email protected] .


Individuals with a graduate degree spend more than twice as much as the average household on indoor plants and flowers, while non-college grads spend 30 percent less on indoor plants and flowers.

Not college grad 72 70
Bachelor's degree 170 172
Graduate degree 189 220
All households 100 100
Note: The index average is 100. Individuals with a Bachelor's degree (index = 170) spend 70 percent more than the average household on indoor plants, while individuals without a college degree (index = 72) spend 28 percent less.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000 Consumer Expenditure Survey


A look at heads of households age 25 and older, by educational attainment and income, reveals that education does indeed pay: More education leads to a higher annual salary. Householders with a Bachelor's degree or higher represent 27 percent of all householders and earn 42.2 percent of all aggregate consumer income.

Less than HS diploma 15.8 -19.5% $29.400 8.0% -7.5%
High school diploma 30.8 2.0% $45,400 23.9% 12.3%
Some college 18.2 21.2% $56,000 17.4% 36.4%
Associate degree 8.2 63.0% $60,300 8.5% 80.1%
Bachelor's or higher 27.0 29.3% $91,100 42.2% 54.0%
Graduate degree 9.5 22.3% $104,200 17.0% 44.5%
All households 100.0 10.1% $58,300 100.0% 33.7%
Source: Census Bureau March 1991 and 2001 Current Population Surveys
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