How to Pack Plants

Oct 4, 2020


Packing your plants effectively is an essential step when selling plants online. There isn’t one right way to pack plants and different plants have different needs. 

Start with the Roots 

Do some research regarding the plant variety before choosing a method of preparing the plant’s roots for shipping. Some states have regulations regarding roots when shipping plants. This may impact how you choose to pack a plant’s roots. 

Generally, there are 3 main methods for preparing plant roots for shipping:

  1. In the container: Some plants grown in a pot may fare better if shipped in the pot they’re growing in. However, the weight of the container and soil will likely impact the cost of shipping the plant.

If you’re shipping potted plants it’s important to secure the soil. Many plant shippers place damp paper towels, batting, or sphagnum moss on top of the soil. Some shippers use a collar of cardboard to secure the soil. You’ll then want to cover the top of the pot to keep everything in place. Options include a plastic bag, bubble wrap, masking tape, and wax paper. Make sure the cover is secure.

Once you’ve secured the soil, try gently turning the plant upside down to make sure no soil falls out and that it doesn’t leak.

  1. Root ball method: Many professional plant sellers ship with the root ball method for plants grown in soil. Once you’ve removed the plant from the dirt, give the roots a gentle shake. Excess soil will fall off. You can then gently wrap the roots (along with whatever soil that did not shake off) into a loose ball. 

Some online plant sellers wrap the roots in a damp paper towel (Viva “Signature Cloth” paper towels are a good brand for this), but many professionals recommend using damp sphagnum moss. If you are worried about the roots drying out in transit you can add half a teaspoon of polymer moisture crystals into a cup of water and dip the roots in this mixture, or dampen the paper towel or moss with the mixture before wrapping. 

Be wary that too much moisture can cause the plant to rot or encourage mold growth. When wrapping the roots in anything damp, make sure you are wrapping only the roots to avoid rot. You do not want moisture to come in contact with stems or foliage. Do your research regarding what the type of plant you are shipping likes (Do your research on the preferences of the type of plant you are shipping), for example some plants like cacti fare better when shipped with dry, bare roots.

Once you’ve wrapped the ball, you’ll need to secure it. Often shippers will wrap the root ball in saran wrap, Glad Press ‘n Seal, thick paper, waxed paper, or place it in a plastic bag. When you’ve wrapped the root ball you’ll want to gently secure it. You can use string, twine, or cut rubber bands. Some use painters, masking, or packing tape. 

Often shippers will wrap additional paper, bubble wrap, or fabric around the root ball to further protect the plant’s roots. You can also wrap the roots of cuttings that were rooted in water.

  1. Bare root: Some shippers choose to ship plants with a bare root. This may be to make shipping costs cheaper, because of state regulations, or because certain varieties of plants fare better when shipped bare root. Some succulents and cacti transport best when shipped bare root.  If you choose to ship a plant that was grown in soil with the bare root method, don’t wash the roots after shaking off the soil. Residual soil contains microbes that can help the plant acclimate to its new home. However, regional regulations may require all the soil be completely removed before shipping. Research regulations in your area and in the area of the plant’s destination.   

Do not ship anything that will leak! Make sure the roots and soil are secured in such a way that there will be no leakage. 

How To Pack A Plant 

After you’ve secured the roots, wrap your plant to protect leaves and stems from damage. 

Many plant shippers pack poly-fil around the leaves and stems then wrap the plant with paper. Others use substances like tissue paper to protect the leaves and stems before wrapping the plant in paper or paperboard. Twine, string, and tape can be wrapped around the paper to secure it in place. It’s good to wrap your plant snugly, but be careful not to wrap the plant so tightly that it causes damage. Leave an opening at the top so the leaves can breathe. 

If you’re wrapping a thorny plant, make sure the thorns are covered before placing it in a box for shipping. One option is to wrap the plant with puncture proof paper. You can also place packing peanuts on the spines before you wrap the plant.  

Plants with long vines or hanging strands can be a challenge to pack. Secure strands to avoid tangling. Padding each strand with poly-fil or tissue paper and then loosely coiling them is an option. Some plant shippers have also gently wrapped strands around cardboard toilet paper (or paper towel) rolls to help prevent vines tangling. Make sure there is sufficient padding inside the box to prevent strands from shifting around in transit. 

Securing Your Plant For Shipping

Your plant shouldn’t bounce around in the box. Securing your plant is often vital to successful plant shipping, and there are two main ways to do so. 

  1. Secure the plant to the box: Securing the plant to the box is a good way to prevent plant damage during shipping. 

If you are shipping a potted plant, secure the pot to the box so the pot doesn’t smash the plant. 

One way to do so is to cut some cardboard so that it fits snugly inside the box. Then cut a hole in the cardboard just big enough for the base of the pot to fit through. Place the pot through the hole and securely tape the pot to the cardboard. Then put the pot and the cardboard into the box and tape the cardboard to the box. 

Additionally, you can add wooden dowels to help secure potted plants. You want the dowel to be longer than the plant and slightly shorter than the box. Stick one end of the dowel into the pot and place the pot into the box. 

Another way to secure a plant is with zip ties. You can cut two slits in the box and slide the tie through these slits. Rest the pot or wrapped plant between the two ends of the zip tie then thread the appropriate end of the zip tie into the square notch. Tighten as desired. 

An easy way to secure a pot or wrapped plant is by simply taping it to the box. Make sure you tape it securely but in a way that is easy for the buyer to remove without damaging the plant.

If you secure a plant to the box you should externally mark which way is up and which way buyers should open the box!

  1. Fill the box with packing material: Another way to prevent your plant from bouncing around in transit is to fill your box with packing material. There’s a large variety of substances you can use for this. 

Materials can include poly-fil, paper, packing peanuts (or biodegradable potato peanuts), easter grass, shredded paper, tissue paper, napkins, air pockets, and bubble wrap. 

One environmentally friendly option is to use popcorn (yes the food). Buyers can then feed the popcorn to birds.  

You can always secure the plant to the box AND fill with packing material! 

A test to see if you’ve secured the plant properly is to close the box and shake it. If you hear things moving around inside, the plant isn’t secure and may sustain damage if shipped as-is. 

The Box

A sturdy box is a must. If you are concerned about the durability of a box, either get a sturdier one or reinforce the box with strapping tape. 

You may be tempted to ship small plants, nodes, or cuttings in a Flat Rate envelope to save on shipping costs, but a plant in an envelope alone will likely arrive damaged. However, some small, sturdy boxes do fit inside Flat Rate envelopes. 

When choosing a box, find one barely big enough for the plant to fit inside. This way you’ll have to use less packing material and the plant will have less room to shift about while it’s being shipped.

It’s important to label the outside of the box. You should denote that the box is fragile, contains a live plant, and is perishable. You can purchase stickers or just write directly on the box. Not everyone handling the box will treat it with care, but some carriers will make an effort if they see these labels. 

When labeling the box you are required to have the shipping address and a return address on the outside of the box. You should include a label inside the box specifying the type of plant being shipped. Put care methods in the box that explain how to acclimate the plant to its new home upon arrival.

Consider the Weather 

If it’s too hot or too cold out, your plants can have a rough trip. 

In hot summer months, you can add a cool thermal shield to help regulate temperature. Some shippers include a well wrapped freeze pack (or a freeze pop) to help keep plants cool. Avoid wrapping plants with bubble wrap or other plastics in the summer, as plastic can create condensation that leads to rot, or it can make leaves sweat and wilt.

In the winter, shippers recommend insulation. Some double box the plant when it’s particularly cold. Adding Polyfill and bubble wrap around your plant can help insulate the plant and keep it warm. Some plant shippers include a heat pack in the box and then express ship it. Many recommend avoiding shipping if temperatures are expected to be below freezing.