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How to keep your houseplants safe during a move

(Mariah Miranda for The Washington Post)
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Whether you’re relocating across town or across the country, moving can be a headache — especially if you’re transporting fragile items. Yes, there’s glassware, art and photographs to contend with. But what about your houseplants? Extreme temperatures, lack of sunlight and bumpy transportation can take a toll on your plants’ health. With a bit of planning and TLC, though, you can get all of your plants safely from one home to another.

Here’s what you need to know about moving with houseplants, according to plant and moving experts.

Discuss the plan with your movers. Eric Welch, director of training operations at Gentle Giant Moving Company, says many companies don’t move houseplants because of the risk of damage. So if you’re planning to hire professionals, ask about their policy beforehand. Some movers, Welch says, will agree to move plants if you agree not to hold them responsible for potential trauma from extreme weather or bumpy roads.

If your movers agree to haul your houseplants, make sure they won’t be left in the truck overnight once it arrives; Welch says some companies will keep them in a climate-controlled space such as an office if drop-off isn’t scheduled for a few days.

Some movers will help box your plants and put them in your vehicle if you ask them to. “A customer’s car is more temperature-controlled than the back of a moving truck, which is better for houseplants,” Welch says.

Caring for houseplants in winter

Research your destination. Are you moving out of state? Paris Lalicata, a plant expert and community associate at the Sill, says it’s important to familiarize yourself with your new state’s regulations before packing up your houseplants. Some departments of agriculture don’t allow certain plants — primarily those that will eventually be planted outside — to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. For example, California doesn’t allow citrus plants to be brought in from other states. Lalicata suggests checking with your new state’s agriculture department or the U.S. Agriculture Department database to find out what you can and can’t bring in.

Check the weather. Most houseplants are tropical in origin, which means they thrive in warm conditions. (Typically, 65 to 80 degrees is ideal for indoor plants.) If you’re moving in the dead of winter or the middle of summer, you may need to go the extra mile to ensure your plants stay healthy.

Chris Satch, a plant doctor for the plant subscription service Horti, recommends checking the weather for your route and planning accordingly. Your car’s heating or air conditioning should be enough to keep plants healthy when you’re driving, but if you need to stop for the night and conditions are below freezing or are sweltering hot, plan to bring the plants inside.

In the winter, add towels to your plant’s boxes for insulation, Satch suggests. You can also add heat packs (the kind you put in your mittens) to the boxes if the route is short — just make sure they don’t touch the plants directly.

Prepare your plants. Before you package your plants, remove any dead plant material, and water them if needed. Most plants can make it at least a week without water, especially in winter, so time your care schedule according to your move. Excess moisture can leak from the planters and damage the cardboard box, so Welch says it’s best to water them a few days before you pack them.

If houseplants are in fragile clay pots, Lalicata suggests moving them to plastic containers so you can wrap the ceramics in bubble wrap or paper and pack them separately.

Box your plants. Plan to pack your plants just before you load up your moving vehicle. Healthy plants, Lalicata says, can remain in boxes for up to a week if absolutely necessary, but it’s best not to leave them boxed for more than a few days if you can avoid it.

How you box up your plants depends on their size and shape. Lalicata puts small and medium plants together in a box and adds newspaper or bubble wrap between plants.

To avoid wasting paper, Satch says he often uses clothes or towels to surround each plant to keep it from moving.

For trailing plants, put the vines on top of the plant itself so you can close the box. Vertically growing plants, such as snake plants, work best in taller containers; Welch recommends wardrobe boxes. Surround the plant with newspaper or towels to prevent it from sliding around in the box. To keep a plant’s soil in place, Lalicata likes to crumple newspaper so it fits on the top of the soil, then secure it vertically with a rubber band.

How to deal with common houseplant pests

Mark the box as fragile and write “plants” on it, too, to avoid damage en route (and so you know which box to unpack first when you arrive at your destination). Lastly, if you tape the box shut, cut out a few breathing holes. “If it’s a short trip, it’s unlikely they’d suffocate in a box, but they’ll take longer to recover without air,” Satch says.

Load your vehicle. Strategic loading can keep your plants safe in transit. If you’re transporting your own, strap the boxes in the back seat of your vehicle to keep them secure. In a moving truck, Satch says plant boxes should go on top of other items, ideally in the center of the truck, so they’re insulated from extreme temperatures.

Unbox and troubleshoot. When you arrive at your new home, unbox your plants as soon as possible and position them in sunlight, away from open doors that could allow cold air inside. Check the soil to see whether they need water, and if necessary, make sure your thermostat is on and set at a plant-friendly temperature.

It’s normal for a plant to be stressed after a move, so assess your plants for damage once you’ve settled. Remove any broken leaves or stems, and add soil if a plant took a spill. If at any point after your move a plant becomes black, mushy or foul-smelling, it may be time to discard it. But don’t worry if the plant looks droopy or yellow; plants usually can bounce back with proper care. “As long as you have bright green, healthy growth remaining, the plant is still healthy,” Lalicata says.