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Senecio herrianus (String of tears)

Avoid Mail-Order Succulent Misery

If you've tried to ship succulents or ordered them from afar, you've likely experienced the miseries of spilled soil, damaged leaves, and poorly padded spines. I know whereof I speak. I've received shipments in a sorry state, and I've also mailed gift succulents to out-of-CA friends. Here's what I've learned.

Shipping Succulents? Six things you need to know

1. Live plants must be inspected prior to shipping to be certified pest-free, in order to protect the destination's environment and agriculture. Not surprisingly, the most vulnerable states---Florida, California and Hawaii---have the strictest regulations. Remember my mystery gymnos from Thailand? They were hidden in a box of pastries, doubtless to sidestep inspection.

2. Soil is problematical. It spills, it's dirty, and it adds weight. Go with cuttings if you can.

3. The fatter the leaf and the smaller its connection to the stem, the more likely it is to pop off. Plump-leaved succulents are especially challenging to keep intact in transit.

4. Spiny succulents like cacti and agaves need warning labels. So do those with caustic sap, like euphorbias.

5. Just because you put labels and arrows on a box doesn't mean it won't be delivered upside-down. Or tossed off a loading dock. Package plants for the worst-case scenario.

6. Let succulents with thin, brittle leaves (like many echeverias) get good and dry so they're soft and flexible. Flaccid leaves are far less likely to split or break.

Mail order succulents

Plants after being unpacked, in my new video: Unboxing Fragile Succulents (3:53) 

 

Plant shipping certificate

Inspection certificate

Unboxing Fragile Succulents

Recently Mountain Crest Gardens, a succulent mail-order nursery in Northern CA, asked me to evaluate their packaging. I assumed I was already familiar with it...packing peanuts made of corn starch, right? Into the compost pile they go. Ah, yes, but there's always room for improvement. Seems they've come up with paper cones to hold plant more securely in nursery pots (similar to the sleeves florists use for bouquets),  and instead of biodegradable packing peanuts they now use shredded, cardboard "crinkle paper."

Unboxing video

In my new video I unpack two dozen succulents 

The 12x6x16-inch box from Mountain Crest came via 3-day to replicate transit time to the East Coast. Inside were 23 different succulents chosen for being especially challenging to ship: aeoniums with leaves that mar easily, a cactus with glochids, a euphorbia with milky sap, and others with fragile, brittle or detachable leaves. The box landed upside-down on my sunbaked driveway in 95-degree heat.

A word about delivery drivers: They mean well, but they can do forehead-slapping things like ignoring words such as "Live Plants" and big arrows with "This Side Up." As though plants were merely plastic, they drop boxes where they'll cook in summer or freeze in winter. So track your shipment and be home to rescue it.

P.S. "We’ve already made another tweak since sending those plants," says Mountain Crest's Matts Jopson. "We’re using tissue paper inside the cones for all cacti since it’s much easier to remove. The crinkle paper gets stuck on the spines."

Watch my new video: Unboxing Fragile Succulents (3:53).

Have you had shipping or unboxing experiences, good or bad? Please share them in the comments below!

What was in the box

 

 

 

Mail order succulents

Where do YOU shop for succulents?

Find out what to do if the succulents you want aren’t available near you. See others’ favorite succulent sources, mail-order and walk-in, and share yours in the comments below. Please tell us your city or region, what you’ve purchased, and anything else that might be helpful.  

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14 Comments

  1. Mary Reynolds on September 6, 2019 at 8:48 am

    I enjoyed this newsletter with the information regarding shipping because I live in a cold winter climate and would have to bring my succulents inside for the winter. So really the only succulents we have offered for sale are not as interesting as the ones you have.
    I sometimes wish I lived in a warmer climate because I love seeing all the beautiful succulents you have in your garden. I have decided to try ordering some that usually are not available in my area and planting a small garden to bring inside during the cold months. I love your newsletter.

  2. Mary Reynolds on September 6, 2019 at 8:48 am

    I enjoyed this newsletter with the information regarding shipping because I live in a cold winter climate and would have to bring my succulents inside for the winter. So really the only succulents we have offered for sale are not as interesting as the ones you have.
    I sometimes wish I lived in a warmer climate because I love seeing all the beautiful succulents you have in your garden. I have decided to try ordering some that usually are not available in my area and planting a small garden to bring inside during the cold months. I love your newsletter.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on September 6, 2019 at 8:53 am

      Hi Mary — Thank you. Sounds like a plan!

  3. kathy layritz on September 6, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Thank you Debra for all your info on succulents. Living here in sunny San Diego, California it is good to learn from your website which succulents can burn in the hot sun which this summer is bringing! I bought some 10 inch lacey umbrellas you use for table deco and added a black piece of sun-shading material under it. I arranged these over the succulents that needed sun protection in my outdoor swirling garden.; I get a lot of compliments on how cute they look. Thanks again Debra for your informative advice. You have made me a succulent lover! I have over 40 different succulents !

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on September 6, 2019 at 10:03 am

      Hi Kathy — “An outdoor swirling garden” she says off-handedly. (!) Sounds creative, whimsical and fun. So glad I’ve been helpful. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Madeleine Weissman on September 6, 2019 at 11:16 am

    I really enjoy your newsletters!!! I have many, many succulents, and living in New York I have to deal with the cold winters. When the weather is nice I bring most of them outside. I also have a large collection of cold hardy plants which are outside year round.
    Mountain Crest Garden in one of my main go to companies. They have an incredible amount of cold hardy succulents. I go crazy with my orders, pretty soon I’m going to have to move out to make room for my gardens. It gets tough as I bring in so many plants when the weather gets cold. I also give a bunch away as gifts. Another company I like is RGSucculents through Etsy. They are small but I have never had a problem to date. Leaf and Clay is also a fine company, a little more expensive but gorgeous plants. Thanks so much for all you do with facts and photos!!!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on September 6, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Madeleine — I’m pleased that you enjoy my newsletters, considering how much of the info I share has to do with year-round, in-ground gardens. Yes, Mountain Crest is known for its cold-hardy succulents. In fact, they were my main source for an article I did on that subject for the Wall St Journal. (See the unabridged version.) Thanks so much for sharing an Easterner’s perspective!

  5. Sue Krieger on September 7, 2019 at 7:03 am

    I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have purchased succulents and other plants online from Annie’s Annuals, which is in Richmond CA. The plants usually arrive in perfect condition. The once time there was damage they replaced the damaged plants immediately.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on September 7, 2019 at 7:12 am

      Yes! Annie’s is a wonderful source! Thanks, Sue.

      • Andrea Owens Schnapp on October 10, 2019 at 2:34 pm

        I use Annie’s As well and they have been great!

  6. Norma Maatz on September 7, 2019 at 7:18 am

    Never had problems with bare rooted plants.

  7. Stephen Pategas on September 11, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    In Central Florida where we live, the go to place to buy succulents (retail and wholesale, no mail order) and cacti is Florida Cactus ( https://floridacactus.com/ ) in Apopka.

    A few years ago, we packed succulents (including purchases from Succulent Gardens) in our luggage for a flight back from California. We removed the pots and lots of soil and found that wrapping the plants in plastic wrap with their labels was very helpful and saved lots of space. We left a healthy tip for the housekeeper since there was extra cleanup following our packing triage. They all arrived in good condition. Just wish they were all still alive!

  8. Beth Rollins on September 21, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    I had a cluster of Dudleya Catalina live long that has developed very woody stems. I pulled the whole plant out and cut off 4” segments that included the viable, healthy tips. Rubbed off all the dry leaves. Any suggestions on how to get them to sprout roots? I was able to salvage a couple dozen tips.

    Is there any reason to try to sprout the long dry segments that had original roots.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on September 22, 2019 at 12:03 pm

      Hi Beth — I’m afraid I’m out of my depth on this one. There’s a book in the works about dudleyas (Jeff Moore’s working on it with Kelly Griffin) but that won’t help your immediate situation. Fortunately there’s a Dudleya group on Facebook with 730 members…no doubt if you post your question there and include photos, they’d be happy to help.

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