What is the Best Way to Send Plants Through the Mail?

Completed Plant Shipping ContainerWhether you grow plants for a hobby or to make money, there may be times when you wish to ship plants to friends, family or customers.

If you want to sell extra plants or give them away as gifts you may wonder what is the best way to send them?  In the USA, the best way to ship is via USPS priority mail.  Basically, want to choose the shipping method that is the fastest and cheapest.

But, you can’t just stuff the plants in an envelope and call it good.  You also have to make sure they make it to their final destination alive and you don’t break any laws in the process.

In this article, I will give you tips & tricks on shipping your plants for fun & profit.

Is it Legal to Send Plants in the Mail?

Before you even think about putting a plant up for sale on eBay, Etsy or selling directly from your site you should take some time to research the legalities of mailing plants from your state or country.  That’s no fun, is it?  No.  But, it’s also no fun getting hit with some ridiculous fine for shipping a plant that is prohibited in another location.  I honestly don’t know how often someone gets fined, but nothing would surprise me.

]The department of agriculture takes this seriously as the wrong plant/soil in the wrong location can potentially cost millions of dollars if a pest or disease is introduced.  So, best to make a few phone calls/email and ask.

Here are some places you can contact to find out the if it is ok to mail your plants:

What You Need to Know About Mailing Plants (stamps.com)

USPS Publication 14 – (18 page PDF document titled “Prohibitions and Restrictions Transmittal Letter on Mailing Plants, Animals, and Related Matter”)

Threatened and Endangered Plant Database – Check to see if a plant in question is an endangered or threatened species.

U.S. Department of Agriculture – Contact numbers and email for import and export information from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Another thing you can do is search around Google, eBay, and other sites and find vendors that are selling the plants you would like to ship.  You may be able to see the restrictions on their website or listings quickly to get a rough idea.

How to Prepare Plants for Shipping

Once you have gone through all the red tape to make sure you have permission to mail plants through the mail, you can now begin by preparing your plants for shipment.  For the most part, this article will cover smaller plants – from small seedlings to average houseplant size.  You won’t want to mail anything too large as the shipping fees will be too high anyway.

Should I Wash the Roots Before Shipment?

For some plant species, it is safe to wash the roots before shipping, others will run the risk of dying.  It really depends on how delicate the plant’s root system is.  Simply do a search for your plant and find transplanting instructions or other information on how to take care of it for clues.

It is best if you can keep the soil around the root system as is for shipment, but there may be restrictions when shipping to certain location due to various pests.

Shipping Plants with Soil

If it is ok to ship your plant species with soil, there are many different ways to do so.  If you grew some plants in a seedling starter tray, you can cut off each seedling from the main tray to start.  You can also transplant this into a slightly larger container such as a small plastic drinking cup.

The next step is to make sure the soil is moist.  Not dry, and not too wet.  For the smaller seedling tray plants, you can put a small piece of slightly damp paper towel on top of the soil to hold it in place, then wrap this up with a small sandwich bag and secure with a rubber band, string or something similar as pictured below:

Protect Roots While Shipping Plants
Protect Roots While Shipping Plants

You can then protect the top of the plant by placing it in a cardboard tube (if you have a spare one sitting around), or use a plastic drinking cup.  There are many ways to improvise.  Newspaper or brown paper bags are another way to protect the top.  Or, take some spare cardboard and make a tube shape out of it.

For slightly larger plants, you can use the plastic drinking cup method.  Put the plant in soil in a plastic cup, and make sure the soil is moist enough for the plant to survive however long it takes to ship to your destination.  You will then want to create a cardboard collar to keep the soil from falling out.  This is made by cutting a piece of cardboard in the shape of a circle and cutting a slit down the middle to the center.  This is where the stem of your plant will go.

Cardboard Collar for Plant Mailing
Cardboard Collar Keeps Plant Stem Secure During Transit

Once you have the plant secured in the cup with the cardboard cover, you can add one more cups on top of that to protect the top of the plant.  For instance, if the plant only goes to the top of one cup, then add that one cup and cut a hole in the top of it, then you’re done.  If the plant is taller and takes two cups, stack two cups up, tape them together, then cut a hole in the top of the final one.  See photos below.

best way to ship plants mail  cardboard plant collar for shipping plants in plastic cup container  small plant shipping container made from two plastic cups and cardboard

If you don’t want to use cups, you can improvise and make a homemade tube out of spare cardboard you may have around the house.

Shipping Plants Without Soil

If your plants are hardy enough to survive shipping for a few days without soil, this is the preferred way to go to minimize the risk of sending contaminating pests or diseases to other states/countries.

Wash the roots if the plant is strong enough and wrap in moist paper towel or newspaper.  Then place a plastic bag around the roots/paper towels or newspapers and tie or tape the bag shut to keep it secure.

Once you have the root system all good to go, you simply follow the same instructions above to protect the top of the plant, improvising however you desire.  Use a paper towel tube, toilet paper tube, plastic drinking cups, spare cardboard rolled into a tube, etc.  With expensive plants, you may want to go all out and buy a higher quality shipping tube or tall box.

Label Your Plants Before Shipping

Before we get into the final phase of packing your plants into boxes, I want to remind you to make sure you label your plants before you forget.  The last thing you want is to end up shipping a plant that isn’t labeled and end up in a situation where you have to give a refund because the customer was confused about what he/she received.  There are many types of plant labels, just make sure you use a waterproof marker that won’t smear if it gets wet.  You may want to use water resistant labels to put on the plastic bags, or standard plant labels you usually see at greenhouses.  There are a ton of different labels available on Amazon.

As far as markers are concerned, you can use a standard Sharpie, but they also have markers specifically designed for gardeners.  Check out the Artline Garden Marker for example.

How to Pack Plants for Shipping

You’re almost done.  Your plants are prepared, you’ve checked with the agriculture department and have everything labeled.  Now all that is left to do is pack your plants and send them off to their final destination.

The overall rule of thumb that you want to keep in mind when shipping is to imagine that your package will be treated fairly rough – like a football player.  If you are shipping plants to customers that have paid you, you will want to be thorough in order to avoid having to give a refund.  If sending to family or friends, it may not be as big of a deal and you may even be able to get by using a large envelope.

For purposes of this article, we’ll assume you want the plant to arrive in good condition which means you will want to ship it in a box or shipping tube.  You’ll have to pay extra, so make sure you are charging for shipping/handling or including it in the price wherever you are selling.

If you think you may do this as a regular source of income, I recommend ordering some plants from a few random vendors to see how they ship to get some ideas.  I plan to do so and will take photos and add them to this blog post as new plants arrive to help give you more ideas.

Here are the basic tips you need to ship plants:

1 – Make sure the moist area the of plant is contained (like the way the root system was wrapped in plastic as described earlier).  You don’t want the shipping box to get wet, causing it to open or get damaged in transit.  For some plants, it may be a good idea to put the entire plant in a ziplock bag to prevent water damage to the box.

2 – Check the weather at shipping destination as well as your weather where shipped from.  If shipping to an area that has extreme weather (too hot or too cold), consider either delaying shipment or using insulation in the packaging.

3 – Send some test shipments to friends and family.  Ask a few friends or family members if you can send them a free plant.  Not only will you score some points, you will also be able to find out how well your plants and packaging system holds up.  Have them take a photo and email it to you once it arrives.

4 – Save money by using free packaging materials – save shipping materials you receive from anywhere you order products such as Amazon or eBay, newspapers if you subscribe or bags from grocery and department stores.

5 – Plants should stand upright – Always place plants upright and after adding packing material and sealing the box, be sure to label the box with “This End Up”.  Nothing is guaranteed with the shipping solution you use, but things like this can help.

6 – Packing material – Material you can use for packing your plant in the box includes newspaper shreds, bubble wrap, paper grocery bags and plastic bags from department stores.  Newspaper material is great as it can absorb any moisture that may get out of root area.  Seal the box with packing tape and also add to the edges.

7 – Choose a box that is not too big, not too small – You want to save on shipping, so pick a box that isn’t too big and not too small.  You want a little extra room to add your bubble wrap or other packing material and that’s it.

8 – What is the best shipping service for sending plants?  As stated earlier, the best service is the one that is cheap and fast.  More than likely that will be the US Postal Service (or other postal services in your country).  It doesn’t hurt to check FedEx, UPS, etc. too.

9 – Label your shipping box – Again, be sure to label your box with “This End Up” and include other labels such as “Live Plants” and “Perishable”.  I believe the post office may be able to rubber stamp or provide such labels but need to double check.  If not, peel and stick labels are readily available for purchase online.

10 – Time your shipments wisely – The overall goal is to minimize the time your plant spends in transit, so keep an eye on holidays and try to get an estimate of how long it takes to ship.  Usually, you will want to send shipments out on a Monday to maximize the number of shipping days and prevent packages from being held over during the weekend.

Conclusion

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as growing plants and sharing them with others – especially if you can make money doing so.  Professional, well-packaged plants will be remembered by those that buy or receive your plants as a gift, so take a little extra time to get a good system down and continue to refine it.

If you have any tips for shipping live plants, we’d love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below.

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