Trading Plants: How to Pack Plants for Shipping by Mail
Photo by Melody

Trading Plants: How to Pack Plants for Shipping by Mail

By Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologist)May 29, 2008
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Although some swapping is done locally or at DG roundups, a lot of the plant trading at Daveís Garden happens by mail. How can you pack plants so they survive several days of cross-country transportation? How can you package plants so they donít end up being heavy and costly to ship? This step by step guide to packing bare root plants for shipping will show you.

Gardening pictureDave's Garden started as a site for trading seeds and plants, and the Plant Trading Forum (subscribers only) is very active at this time of year. With all the work that goes into growing, digging, and dividing plants, and with the rising cost of shipping plants, it pays to pack plants carefully for shipping so they'll travel well. We want the people we trade with to unwrap our offerings with exclamations of delight rather than dismay.

swishing dirt off roots of a bundle of mint in a bowl at the kitchen sinkPREPARE THE PLANT

For many plants, sending them bare root works best. You don't want to pay for shipping dirt or pots, you want to pay for shipping actual plants. Also, you don't want rigid pots or clods of dirt in the box that can rattle around and bruise or damage the plants. When you dig and divide the plant or take it out of the pot, a good shake may remove most of the soil from its roots. Anything that remains may be rinsed off at the hose or by holding the plant by its top and giving the roots a gentle swish in a bucket of water.

WRAP THE ROOTS

The roots do have to stay moist and protected during shipping in order to keep the plant healthy. Moist paper towel works well to wrap the roots. Run the paper towel under the tap, then wring it out so it's nicely damp but not dripping wet.

I give the roots a reservoir of extra water by adding a couple spoonfuls of hydrated regular or powdered polymer moisture crystals. Half a teaspoon of powdered polymer can be stirred into about a cup of water to make a slurry for dipping roots or smearing onto the surface of a damp paper towel. I keep a covered jar of polymer slurry on hand for quick wrapping jobs.

adding spoonful of polymer slurry to roots starting to fold moist paper towel around rootspaper towel bundled around roots of plant
Add hydrated polymer moisture crystals and bundle roots in moist paper towel.
starting to fold over press 'n seal plastic wrap around rootsfolding wrap over from the other sidefolding wrap up and over bottom of rootball
Bring Glad Press 'n SealTM around and up from bottom of rootball to form a watertight packet.
making tidy packet of roots with the wrapfinal tail of wrap goes around base of stems3 plants with roots bundled and wrapped for shipping
Plastic wrap should completely cover paper towel and be snug around base of stems.

Gather all the stems and foliage into one hand, then lay the roots onto the damp paper towel with its coating of polymer slurry. Wrap the roots into a bundle with the paper towel, trying to keep the foliage relatively dry.

Now you need a way to keep the water from evaporating from around the roots during shipping. Plastic is the answer, and there are many ways to wrap the root ball in sandwich bags, saran wrap, etc. One of the best materials I've found for wrapping the roots is Glad Press ‘n SealTM, which seals to itself to form a tight, waterproof packet.

Whatever material you choose, make sure the plastic completely covers the paper towel around the roots and does NOT come into contact with the stems and foliage. Plastic around leaves leads to condensation and rot. In hot weather, plants completely covered in plastic may arrive at their destinations steamed and looking as limp as cooked spinach.

WRAP THE TOPS

folding corner of paper over wrapped roots of planttucking leaves into cylinder of paper as plant is rolled up
plant rolled up in tight cone of newspaper
folding paper over bottom of rootball and taping folding paper down over top leaves of plant taping top of paper cone over leaves

 

With the roots wrapped to stay moist and protected during shipping, turn your attention to the top of the plant. Stems and foliage should not touch plastic, as explained above, but some wrapping is good to cushion and insulate them. The method I use involves wrapping the entire plant in a tight cone of newspaper, similar to the way a florist might wrap a bouquet of flowers. Lay the plant down at the edge of the paper, gathering the foliage together into a bundle with the leaves pointing upwards. As you roll the paper around the plant, tuck and smooth any wayward stems so the foliage fits into a fairly compact cylinder or cone of paper. Use a couple pieces of tape to secure the bottom and top of the paper.

LABEL & PACK

writing
2 wrapped plants placed in box with some packing peanutsmore paper wrapped plants added to center of box
wrapped plants nearly covered in packing peanuts closing box, shows box is slightly overfilled with packing peanuts add protective description to box, Live Plants Protect from Heat & Cold

Don't forget to label the plant! Whether you include a nice garden marker taped to each packet or simply write the name of the plant on the paper enclosing it, be sure to clearly label each plant.

Choose a box that will hold all the plants you're sending with extra room all around for insulating material. Shredded paper, styrofoam packing peanuts, crumpled newspaper, bubble wrap, and even crumpled plastic grocery bags work well to cushion and insulate plants during shipping. Insulation is important to protect the plants from any extreme hot or cold temperatures along the way. Slightly overstuffing the box will ensure that nothing can rattle around once the box is sealed.

If you're sending a single plant, or including a heavy item with the plants in your box, you might want to secure it to the box with tape. If you tape anything to the inside of the box, please consider what will happen at the other end. Make the tape easy to remove or cut so the item can be removed without damage or the possibility of unladylike language.

shows row of several plants with roots wrapped for shippingWhether you use the postal service or a private carrier to ship your box, be certain your shipping label is clearly printed. Although your plants should be well protected by your packaging, it's not a bad idea to add a cautionary "Live Plants!" label in the hopes that the box will be handled gently. Before you ship, check restrictions and regulations at the other end. Some states have strict rules now, and international trading is another thing entirely. You don't want your carefully packed plants to be confiscated and destroyed!

SUMMARY

photo of Bloody Dock planted in the groundFor bare root plants, wrap the roots with damp paper towel, hydrated moisture polymer, and plastic. Wrap the tops in paper. Surround with some sort of packing material to cushion and insulate the plants. Send them on their way and cross your fingers. With a little luck, your plants will soon be flourishing in another garden!

Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus. Thanks to Defoecat for sharing the final photo of our subject plant in its new home in her garden!


  About Jill M. Nicolaus  
Jill M. NicolausBetter known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. The birds are mobbing our feeders lately, so Sunshine Girl and I have a job keeping the Flyby Cafe' open for business! This year, we put out a special feeder just for the squirrels, filled with a seed & corn blend. We still see them acrobatically snatching food from the other feeders, but at least now they let the birds get a beak in edgewise! (Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Excellent Advice for Shipping Plants MoringaMorey 1 11 Feb 27, 2011 4:25 PM
hey that's great onewish1 21 167 Jun 10, 2008 4:23 PM
OH to have had this.... Chantell 3 72 May 29, 2008 8:39 PM
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