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Unpacking Plants and Preparing them for Growth After Shipping

Shipping can be a time of depravation and trauma for a plant in many senses. And above that, we really do not know what kind of environment the plant was used to before it came to us. Your environment may be better or worse, but that still does not negate the need for some tender loving care. Some plants are hardier than others and will bounce back from even the most stressful situations. But in getting a new plant, our goal should be to gradually adjust the plant to its new home. That takes place in both the unpacking and in the adjustment processes.

You may or may not realize it, but even a package that has “Fragile” written all over it is subject to being stacked and bounced in the most aggressive ways. The sad reality is that when people have a job to do, they are more focused on getting the job done quickly than getting it done in a way that might be most beneficial to the customer. And if the package is uninsured, most workers really see no special obligation to “handle with care” if it means that doing so will make their job any more difficult. At the end of the day there is not all that much accountability from couriers, and so shippers may go through what seems like ludicrous lengths to make sure the plant does not move inside the box. It is your job to take that effort to the next level by carefully unpacking your plant.

When sending a plant, the shipper’s goal is usually to minimize movement of any part of the plant, including the leaves. That may mean folding the leaves in a particular position that may ordinarily be awkward, but in a way that will keep them from moving around and potentially breaking during shipping. Leaves may be folded up to keep them protected, but they will usually go back to normal once the plant is back at ease To minimize movement, shippers will often use all sorts of taping and packing that will keep the plant in place. The best bet when unwrapping your plant is to cut away the tape rather than tear it. Always cut away the secure environment that the shipper has provided so that the plant will be able to handle the unpacking process. Tearing or ripping can cause sudden unwanted movements that can lead to the snapping of a branch or leaf. Losing a branch or leaf may not doom a plant, but if it can be helped, why not allow as much of the plant to remain in tact as possible. Sometimes the tape will have attached itself to a part of the plant, so it is vital to be alert for these situations and to have gentle hands.

Most plants will come in what is called a humidity tent or humidity dome. This is most often just a clear plastic bag that has been placed over the top of the plant to keep it from drying out. While this may limit airflow, plants can usually last quite a while in their humidity tents without breathing. In fact, we have seen plants last months in humidity tent as long s the soil didn’t dry out too much. It is more vital to the plant’s survival that it remains hydrated. After a period of a few days, the air in the tent may be minimal (especially if it is pressed tightly in a box), and there may be a tendency for the plant to cling to the bag. This is normal and acceptable. It is usually a good idea to have a new humidity tent on hand to replace the one that the plant came in. Food Storage bags or the bags that you get produce in from the supermarket are good choices for humidity tents. Often you will have to cut away some of the bottom to free the plant if it is taped to the container. If the original humidity tent is salvageable, then it can be reused. Many growers make the mistake of taking the plant right from this point and putting it into what they read or know to be ideal conditions for the plant. This will often stress the plant and cause wilting, which in some cases can prove fatal. As long as there is no rotting material in the bag, you have to assume that the plant has been used to high humidity for at least the past few days, and a sudden drop could cause the plant to lose moisture from it leaves suddenly.

Preferably, you want to remove any material that may be dead or dried out. These are havens for mold. Next, you want to restructure the humidity tent over the plant so that it has a new supply of air. Prior to now, the plant has been in a box with no light. Even though your eyes might enjoy a certain level of light, if you had been in a dark closet for three days, your eyes would experience strain if placed back into reality. Therefore, you do not want to rush to get the plant into a full sun condition simply because that is what it normally prefers according to grow guides. Start your plant out in ambient room lighting for about a day or so. You can gradually increase the light intensity to the plant’s desired light preference. The same is true for the humidity. Most people do not have humidity gauges in their homes, and even so you do not know exactly what the plant’s experience with humidity was like in the past. Just as you gradually increase the plant’s light exposure, slowly remove it from the humidity tent. This can be accomplished usually by first undoing any type of securing agent, such as a rubber band, from the plant after a few hours. If at any point you see the plant begin to wilt, go back to securing the humidity dome. You can go on to remove the humidity tent from the plant entirely when it shows that it is ready. In many cases, you will be able to do this fairly suddenly. However, some plants will require a more gradual adjustment. You will be able to read your plant’s needs based on how the leaves act. Drooping leaves are indicators of low moisture content. Throughout all of this, you may wish to water the plant if the soil is dry. But if the soil is already moist, your best bet is to control moisture through humidity. Adding too much moisture to the soil is not always a solution. It can cause root rot and molds to form, particularly when airflow is not high.

Another common mistake new plant owners make is repotting too quickly. While most plants are kept in small containers to minimize shipping cost, they could use a repot when they arrive at their new home. But it is important to realize that repotting itself can be stressful to the plant and must be done in a timely manner. You do not want to disrupt the root system and cause additional trauma until the plant has shown that it is stable on its own. Once the plant has fully adjusted to its environment, only then should you repot your plant into a container that will allow it to flourish. Use the type of soil and pot that is recommended for your species. Plants are often kept rootbound to maintain size for shipping, but a good repotting session will do wonders for getting your plants to put on quick growth. With that said, you should allow extra adjustment for plants to be placed outside. Outdoor light, even in a shady location, is often many times stronger than bright light indoors. And just like you can get an early season sunburn from being inside all winter, your plants can go from vibrant to morbid in a matter of hours. So, it is important to provide plants that are going outdoors with extra water and to shade them from the sun, even if they truly prefer full sun. This can be done by starting them in shady locations and gradually moving them to those with more light. You can also use objects such as lawn furniture as shading devices to block the sun in the more intense parts of the day. Or if you prefer to go the natural way, surround your vulnerable plants with taller plants that are already accustomed to the sun’s ferocity.

Usually when you buy a plant, it is a special experience. You are in charge of another life, even if you may not view it that way. You may have invested a good deal of money or better yet, you may have been fortunate enough to add a rare specimen to your collection. So while it may seem like a lot of extra effort, you have a duty to do what you can to safely transplant that new life from one area of the globe to another; and that applies even if you are simply moving your own plant from inside your house to the outdoors.