Cynthia Shuster, Fairfax: We will be moving to a new house in December or January. How can I move my plants at this time of year without losing them? I have several plants that are three or four feet tall.
Professional movers generally will not accept responsibility for moving living things, including plants. Besides, the inside of a moving van is no place for plants. However, the movers may have some packing suggestions, may help pack plants, or provide extra packing cases for the purpose.
You will probably have to do most of the moving, and with some effort can accomplish this yourself if you are just moving to a new home within the area.
For a relatively short drive across town, several trips in your car should enable you to handle the taller plants, one or two at a time. If the move must he made on an especially frigid, icy or snowy day, surround the plants with plastic or heavy wrapping paper as you transfer them from house to car to new house. A strip of aluminum foil fitted around the stem over the soil will keep the soil from spilling out as you tilt the plant to get it in and out of the car. Do not park the car en route for any length of time.
For smaller plants, make use of wastebaskets, dispans and other containers that have to be moved anyhow to transport potted plants. Boxes with dividers for china or glassware convert handily for packing plants. Cartons that have contained bottled goods are adaptable.
You will probably want to pack these smaller plants the day or night before moving. Aluminum foil fitted over the soil surface, as suggested above, is recommended. Damp newspaper around the base of pots and as cushioning for branches in spaces between plants is a helpful measure to maintain humidity and steady the plants. Loosely twist a roll of damp paper, carefully raise the streamers of plants in hanging baskets and place the roll around the baskets to support the branches; surround with more paper.
Move boxes quickly in and out of car and house to ensure that exposure to low temperatures is as brief as possible. Don't let boxes sit outdoors on doorsteps or driveway.
When you arrive at your new home, you should unpack your plants as quickly as possible. They will need special attention for some time while they adjust to the changed environment. You will want to monitor light and moisture conditions, avoid drafts and be careful that plants are not over-exposed to sunlight.
If you can't arrange to take all your plants with you, or can't accommodate all of them in their present size, take cuttings, place cuttings in a plastic bag of damp sterile mix, such as vermiculite, and start new plants in your new home. Or give cuttings and plants to a nursing home, school project, or other interested groups.
Indoor gardeners planning to take plants when they move out of the Washington metropolitan area should get a health certificate for plants. Several weeks before moving, consult a federal or state plant protection inspector, representing the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the Washington area, regulatory officials dealing with movement of houseplants are reached through the following local telephone numbers (each is an answering service and you will get a call-back from an official inspector): Maryland, state official: 454-3550. Virginia, state official: 451-9464. District of Columbia, federal official: 436-8575.
There is no charge for the inspection service. Even though your plant may not be quarantined for any specific pest, the state to which you are moving may require an inspection certificate.