Last week, while in Ft. Lauderdale to attend the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE), I spent a most wonderful day with two lovely and generous people – Justin Hancock of Costa Farms and Stacey Pierson of Garden Media Group – at Costa Farms.
Costa Farms is a third-generation, family-owned grower of tropical plants, houseplants, annuals and perennials. Beginning in 1961 when Jose Costa, Sr. purchased 30 acres near Miami to grow tomatoes in the winter, Costa Farms now grows on about 1,000 acres in Florida and a total of 4,500 acres at all their locations around the world. They employ 5,000 people that function as an amazing team to share plant-love.
Never was their teamwork more evident than in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, when the staff pulled together to save as many plants as possible. Everyone was in the fields of obliterated greenhouses passing plants along assembly-type lines. Current CEO Jose Smith (husband of Maria Costa-Smith, Costa’s Color Division President) worked side by side with staff.
They are proud of the plants they grow and display them beautifully in their offices.
I asked Justin about the most popular houseplants. “The trendiest houseplant right now is Pilea peperomioides or the pancake plant. It is all over Pinterest,” he said. “The best-selling plants are currently fiddle leaf ficus (Ficus lyrate) and split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa),” and favorite reliable sellers continue to be snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) and pothos (Epipremnum aureum).”
Costa Farms does not sell directly to consumers, but are always considering them. They have done extensive market research to discover how their plants impact the lives of consumers. As a result, Costa Farms has developed collections of plants to meet the needs of the different types of houseplant purchasers.
Houseplants included in their Plants of Steel collection are perfect for those just beginning to grow houseplants or people, like me, who can never seem to remember to water them. This group includes plants like Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.), snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) and ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). For plants to be tough enough to earn a spot on the Plants of Steel team, they must thrive despite spending two weeks in a closet with no light or water. If they are as pretty as they were before their two-week banishment, they make the Plants of Steel team.
People interested the air-purifying benefits of houseplants can choose from plants in the O2 for You collection. These plants are the very best at removing toxins from the air. Boston fern, Dieffenbachia spp., peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) and Philodendron spp. are just a sampling of houseplants in the O2 for You group.
The Exotic Angel brand was not started by Costa Farms, but was acquired with the purchase of Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses in 2014. Recognizing the value of these branded, mostly tried-and-true varieties, they go to great lengths to grow the best and healthiest plants in the Exotic Angel collection. Aralia, corn plants, crotons, Dracaena spp., Ficus spp., pothos and spider plants are just the beginning of the more than 400 plants in this group. They are available in all sorts of tabletop containers and hanging baskets in sizes from big to bitsy.
Costa Farms also offers systems of growing houseplants. WaterWick® is a pot-in-pot system that takes the guesswork out of watering. A wick in the bottom of the growing pot reaches into a cover pot with a water-filled reservoir. There are styles for a single plant or for combination containers. A houseplant container garden designed as easily as dropping pots into a decorative container – how quick and easy is that?
It is hard on houseplants to change environments. To prepare their nearly 1,500 varieties of houseplants for a home’s lower light conditions, Costa Farm grows their houseplants under shade cloth.
And they do little things that make a big difference for consumers, too. They add hooks to pots of cacti so fingers won’t be pricked while reaching in to make a selection.
Costa Farms grows beautiful tropicals and orchids…
…and air plants and succulents, too.
As the interest in houseplant surges, Costa Farms is responding with breeding programs to build new collections like this group of beautiful and easy-to-grow Aglaonema.
The two-acre Trial Garden was our next stop. The growing season in Miami allows for two evaluation periods – one from June to November and another from December to May. The Trial Garden is divided into two parts. A typical trial garden, arranged in straight rows, is planted with six plants of each variety to be tested. Plants are provided by breeders and horticulturalists from Costa Farms photograph, record growing details every week, and report info back to the breeders.
The Landscape Garden allows breeders to see their plants in a typical garden setting. Justin designs these gardens with the plants breeders send. The Landscape Garden was just planted a couple weeks before and was already looking amazing. Plants grow quickly in Florida!
I was so impressed by Costa Farms and their commitment to growing healthy, beautiful plants. If you would like to purchase houseplants or tropicals grown by Costa Farms, they can found at some independent garden centers and at Lowe’s, Walmart, Home Depot and Ikea.
All reports point to a resurgence in the popularity of houseplants. Can macramé hangers be far behind? Grow houseplants with me!