San Diego partners simplify houseplant care with new easy-feed tablets
Eco-friendly fertilizer comes in self-dissolving tabs that eliminate measuring, mess
Sometimes, timing can bring surprising opportunity. For landscape experts Ari Tenenbaum and Jeff Robbins, the idea had been brewing for years: Create a product that would make it easier and cleaner for people to feed their houseplants.
Amid a pandemic, Instant Plant Food is coming to fruition.
The partners founded Revolution Landscape in 2008 with a focus on sustainable practices, and they already have a thriving business designing and installing comprehensive outdoor projects.
The two pals grew up together in San Diego, surfed together, went to the same high school and kept in touch even when they went their separate ways for college. When they both landed back in Southern California, the landscape company was born.
While building their business, new ideas kept coming. All plants need to eat — especially houseplants in pots — which deplete nutrients in the soil more rapidly. And many people struggle with how to care for them. Questions pop up: What type of fertilizer do I buy? How much do I use? Am I mixing it the right way?
“I noticed a lot of my friends (and also landscaping clients) were getting into houseplants and killing them,” said Robbins, who initially had the idea for a tablet in 2018. “The idea was to create a dissolvable tablet plant food that would take the guess work out of feeding house plants.”
From there, the pair dedicated themselves to creating “the most user-friendly, eco-friendly, plant-benefiting houseplant food possible,” Robbins said. He went back to school to develop the concept, which evolved into Instant Plant Food.
Robbins realized that potassium, a key ingredient in fertilizer, has similar chemical properties to sodium, used in soluble fizzing tablets, meaning that potassium might easily swap in for a plant food tablet. The partners found a manufacturer, tested it, and Tenenbaum and Robbins wrote two patents on the formulation. After two university-level studies, the state Food and Agriculture Department reviewed and approved it.
The end product is a general-purpose fertilizer designed specifically for houseplants. Users drop the self-dissolving tablet into a cup of water or small watering can, and pour it into the plant.
The primary ingredients are derived from abundant, naturally occurring minerals and an eco-friendly live fermentation of waste feedstock and molasses.
“We wanted a super easy, clean way for people to feed their houseplants,” Tenenbaum said. “People want something simple.”
But after the first test run in January and February of this year, the pandemic hit. In March, everything shut down.
For about two months, Tenenbaum said, there wasn’t much in landscaping, so they turned their attention to the new product. “The timing worked out,” he said. Meanwhile, demand for houseplants soared and their popularity exploded on social media. As people hunkered down during coronavirus restrictions, they sought out bits of nature to bring life inside with them.
And the timing worked out once again for Tenenbaum and Robbins.
“We’re excited about the product because so many people don’t have a yard, and it’s super important for people, even if they just have one or two houseplants, to be able to liven up an interior,” Tenenbaum said.
Robbins concurred: “When you have success with growing a house plant, it connects you with nature, it gives you an identity, it brings you into a community, and makes you think a little deeper about the earth and how protecting and connecting with it feels really good.”
They’re also enthusiastic about Instant Plant Food’s smaller carbon footprint: The vast majority of houseplant fertilizers are liquid, because it’s the most effective way to feed your plants, Tenenbaum said. Liquid distributes nutrients evenly throughout plant roots. But he points out that shipping liquid, whether locally or across the country, is expensive and energy-intensive, as is the packaging.
“When you have success with growing a house plant, it connects you with nature, it gives you an identity, it brings you into a community, and makes you think a little deeper about the earth and how protecting and connecting with it feels really good.”
“Our product has all the same benefits, but instead of shipping liquids, we’re providing a dry tablet that is exponentially less expensive and better for the environment,” Tenenbaum said. “We’ve gotten so used to ordering things online that people don’t think about all the carbon that’s emitted. This is really lightweight, compared with liquid, so the energy savings is huge by comparison.”
A Kickstarter campaign to pay for their first production run was fully funded. Tenenbaum and Robbins plan to start filling orders in the next couple of months.
“We’re still working with plants, helping people connect with nature; that’s one of the things that’s a common thread through these two businesses,” Tenenbaum said. “We love spending time outside, surfing, hiking, so that’s our personal passion — we like to spread that around.”
The retail price will range from $9.99 to $14.99. Each four-tab package contains enough tablets to feed one large plant or several small ones for a year. To preorder, visit instantplantfood.com. To learn more about their separate landscape and build services, visit revolutionlandscape.com.
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