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How to Pack Plants

In our mobile society, it is common for folks to move in pursuit of their careers, or if they are lucky, to a climate better suited for their orchids! Several times over the last few years the question has come up forums, “How to pack plants for moving?”  And, as we communicate with others ion the internet, it pays to know how to pack plants for shipment, too, as you might want to share divisions.

Having moved my own collection a half-dozen times, this is one area in which I can claim expertise! I also used to employ these same techniques for shipping plants to my customers, and frequently get complimented about the packing and great condition of arriving plants, so it must be OK…

  1. Prepare the plant for travel. In general, it is better to have the medium be dry while the plants are en route. Those with pseudobulbs will not have any difficulty in any case. For those plants with minimal water storage structures, we try to keep the medium only barely moist if they will be traveling or shipped in cool weather. In warmer weather, it pays to have the medium be a little damp for all plants, as the cooling effect of evaporation can be a benefit. Do not pack a plant that is in very wet medium.
  2. Anchor the medium in the pot. Using wadded-up or shredded paper (so-called “Easter Grass” works well), or polyester fiber (available as batting at fabric stores or loose for aquarium filtration), pack the free space inside the pot tightly to ensure that the medium does not shake out while being handled in transit. Be sure to include areas between pseudobulbs and under leaves. Anchor the packing material with lots of masking tape.
  3. Prepare a bed for the plant. Lay several sheets of newspaper out on a table. On top of them, about nine inches from one corner, spread out a pile of shredded paper or polyester (loose is better than batting). The pile of padding material should be thick enough that it supports the plant with its pot laying flat. Carefully lay the plant on the pile. Plants with pseudobulbs can be bunched up a bit, and for those with spreading leaves, such as phalaenopsis and paphiopedilum, gently bend the leaves upward, and surround with more padding material and fill the central void. Be generous with the padding material, it protects from mechanical damage, and is great thermal insulation as well.
  4. Wrap up the plant and pot. Fold the nearest corner over the now-padded plant from the side, and continue to roll it up, being sure to fold over the ends early in the process, so they are held in place. Wrap the plant firmly, to hold it in place. Too loose and it might slap around inside the wrapper, too tight and you could break something. Secure the newspaper with masking tape.  When you are done, it should be reminiscent of a submarine sandwich coming from the store.
  5. Box the plants up. Place as many plants in a box as you can, in whatever orientation works best. Fill the open space with more packing material, such as foam “peanuts,” and tape the box closed. If this is a cold weather transport, you may wish to line the box with insulation in the form of flexible sheet foam, thin foam, or at least, several layers of newspaper, and add heat packs, such as those sold in sporting goods stores for stuffing in skiers’ gloves and pockets, using the ones with the longest duration possible.

    A note about heat packs:  The disposal heat packs contain iron filings, carbon and salt.  They generate heat from the chemical reaction that causes the iron to rust, which is accelerated by the salt.  However, they must have moisture (humidity) and air (oxygen) for that to work.  I found that placing some saturated paper towels in a zip-lock bag and poking a few holed in it, when placed in the box, provides plenty of humidity, and using an awl to poke several holes in the box (2 for each of the 4 sides works fine) allows sufficient oxygen without losing the heat.

Now your set to go! If you are moving the plants in a car, be sure to cover the boxes so they won’t be in direct sunlight, and crack the windows if you stop on the way. If your trip involves overnight stays en route, you might want to take the plants into the motel room at night.

One of my longest moves involved a rental truck, and I got one that the cab was open to the back so that it could be ventilated during the day, and I put a small electric heater in the back with the plants overnight.

If you’re shipping them, I highly recommend using a reliable express service – 2 days is about the maximum transit time I trust in cold weather, when using 72- or 96-hour heat packs. With the proper packing I mentioned above, even a week in mild weather is acceptable, although I prefer to limit it to 3 or 4 days.