A home grown plant can be a great gift, especially if it is a unique kind or at a time of year when the desired plant is not easily obtained. Even with shipping costs, a small to medium size plant, can fall within the price range of a gift. I recently experimented with shipping one of my greenhouse tomato plants to a friend, Cathy. I had the competent help of her sister, Cindy, who was inspired by the idea. We did some things correctly and made a few mistakes.
These were our concerns:
- stability of the plant and pot in the box
- protection from outside impact
- retention of adequate moisture
- insulation from the winter temperatures
- time in transit
- shipping costs
The tomato plant was in a 4 inch pot. Its upper leaves reached a height of 6 inches, but it’s maximum plant width was about the same as the pot. We decided to try a smallish box, that would result in the leaves being somewhat curled up, but not bent. We designed and tested the packaging a couple of days before shipping.
I didn’t want to pay too much for water weight, so watered the tomato plant a few hours before shipping. This way it would be hydrated, but excess water would have had a chance to drain through. I found a used plastic bread bag that the plant and pot could slide into.
My husband happened to have a stash of foam packing pieces that he had scavenged from the clean trash area he is allowed to glean from. He willingly donated to us and told us where his box knives were. My friend, Cindy, estimated the sizes of the foam pieces from the outside of the box, then trimmed as we saw how things would fit.
It became clear that one of the hardest things would be to keep the pot from smashing down on the plant. We duct taped a couple of smaller pieces of foam to create ledges to keep the pot in place, and thought it all looked secure. Then, I took the plant out to see how it fared from being a bit more compact. The outer and top leaves were barely curled. I repackaged it all about an hour before going to the UPS Store.
I opted to ship via UPS. I simply couldn’t trust the post office with my work! It cost me about $4 more than the US Post office fee, but I was guaranteed it would be there in 2 days; plus, it was trackable. Call me obsessive, if you want to. The folks at the UPS Store thought it was a fun idea, so there was even camaraderie there. 🙂
Naturally, there was a blizzard in Colorado the next day, our point of destination. Our packing held up to that, though. There was no sign of frost damage. Unfortunately, we didn’t secure the plastic bag around the top of the soil, so the soil shifted and displaced on route, which did some irreparable damage to all but one of the branches. That seems to have been the main flaw in our approach.
Here is how it unpacked (photos compliments of Cathy) :
Cathy told me that she trimmed the mostly broken branches, leaving one good one. She is holding off transplanting it until it has some time to recover from the shock of travel. She’ll send pictures if it survives. 🙂
If I do this again, I will go ahead and use the larger box. This would be important for insulation during longer distances and would allow me more room for supporting the plant. I might also consider shipping before the plant got quite so big. I have a whole new appreciation for the companies that make packaging. I don’t think I will ever open another box without evaluating, and probably admiring, the engineering that goes into all the packing materials!