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.
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."
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
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.