Buying plants Health through gardening

Can We Buy Plants Safely During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

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Question: During this period of COVID-19 confinement, are plants sold in supermarkets and hardware stores at risk of transmitting the coronavirus?

Answer: The quick answer is: no more than any other commodity on sale. But here is a more detailed answer:

A Commodity Like Any Other

Gift plants (pots of bulbs and indoor plants), cut flowers and pots of herbs can be found in many grocery stores, supermarkets and hardware stores, just as they were before the COVID-19 outbreak. Soon, too, there will be trays of annuals and vegetables. In fact, in milder climes than mine, they’re already on sale. Also, some areas, garden centers are already open for business. After all, edible plants and the products needed to grow them really are an “essential service.” You can’t stop people from feeding themselves!

Authorities do not consider plants to be a serious risk to public health; that’s why their sale has never been curtailed. But no, they’re not 100% safe, nor is any other item being sold.

COVID-19 doesn’t live long outside the human body. Photo: U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

We already know that the transmission of this virus via objects is very rare, largely because the virus remains fragile outside the human body. In addition, COVID-19 does not multiply on objects, including plants, and ceases to survive soon after it has been ejected from the respiratory system of an infected human being. In three days at most, any COVID-19 virus will have been eliminated. 

Also, the virus survives longer on smooth surfaces, like metal and plastic (up to three days) than on “absorbent surfaces,” like plants. On them, the virus is likely to be eliminated within 24 hours. Still, that’s in theory. Better to stay on the safe side and consider three days as the potential viability of a coronavirus on plants.

So, the risk is minimal, even very minimal, but not entirely zero. A sick employee could have left traces of COVID-19 by sneezing or coughing near a plant or handling it. And it’s by manipulating it yourself, then bringing your hand to your mouth, nose or eyes, that there is a risk of transmission. True enough, it’s a very minor risk, but still a risk.

So, What to Do?

If you spot a great plant while shopping, sue: go for it! But do wash up afterwards! Photo: http://www.trtworld.com

If you are going to shop for the plant yourself, wash your hands before and after buying it. At home, clean the pot with soapy water and place the plant wherever you want. Then wash your hands again. After, don’t touch it for three days.

If you have a plant delivered to your home, again, wash the pot with soapy water, then thoroughly wash your hands. And again, don’t touch the plant for three days. Or instead, leave the plant in its packaging for three days before opening it.

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After this three-day quarantine, you can touch the plant as often as you like, even give it a big, welcoming hug! There is no longer any risk to your health.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “Can We Buy Plants Safely During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

  1. Margaret

    Thanks, Larry, for the timely info 🍁🍁🍁

  2. Margaret

    Mail-order nurseries are experiencing unprecedented demand and so are experiencing major delays. Word to the wise . . .

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