All Things Shipping
Apr 20, 2023

How to Ship Plants: Guide to Shipping Plants Safely

Learning how to ship plants is as simple as learning the rules and regulations associated with the shipments, using the right tools and materials to prepare shipments, and selecting a carrier. That means that with a little time and effort, you can tap into the 17 billion dollar plant and flower growing sector in the United States.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to ship a plant.

Rules for Shipping Plants Domestically

Understanding the rules and regulations you must follow when shipping plants is paramount to your success. It’s also important to note that each state has its own rules governing the shipping of live plants or other botanical products.

For example, some plants might require a special inspection before they can be shipped, while others are prohibited. There’s always a possibility that your plant shipments might need to adhere to quarantine requirements to ward against pests and diseases.

The best way to learn about the rules you’ll need to follow to ship plants domestically is to check with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Remember: Even if you’ve shipped a plant without incident before, regulations are always subject to change. Make sure to periodically check with your local USDA office to ensure you’re still in adherence.

Rules for Shipping Plants Internationally

In order to protect international countries from foreign parasites and invasive species, there are special rules you’ll need to follow when shipping plants internationally. When shipping to foreign countries, you’ll need to make sure the proper documentation, like forms and declarations, is included in the shipment.

Each country has its own organization or department dedicated to clearing imports containing plants. One requirement they all have in common is preparing a phytosanitary certificate. A US plant regulatory official prepares this document.

If you plan to ship more than twelve plants internationally, you’ll also need to secure a permit for shipping plants. You can apply for a Permit to Import Plant Products on the USDA’s website.

Tools and Materials You’ll Need to Ship Plants

With the right tools, materials, and know-how, you can make sure your plant shipments reach their destination safely and securely. Here’s a quick breakdown of the things you’ll need to ship plants:

  • Permanent marker
  • Corrugated box
  • Gardening gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic wrap
  • Packing paper
  • Rubber bands
  • Packing tape
  • Shipping labels

How to Ship Plants Step by Step

Shipping live plants for the first time might seem like a daunting task, but it’s easier than you think. By following a simple process, you can accurately and efficiently master the technique. 

  1. Select Your Shipping Method: First, decide whether the plant should ship in its soil or if bare roots would be best. We’ll touch on the difference in just a minute.
  2. Prepare the Roots: Next, wrap the roots carefully with a damp paper towel and seal them off with plastic wrap to lock in moisture and add an extra layer of protection.
  3. Protect the Base of the Plant: Once the roots are protected, loosely wrap a layer of packing paper around the base of the plant and gently secure it with a rubber band.
  4. Package Your Plant: Next, it’s time to move on to packaging. Keep in mind that being mindful and intentional when packing plants is the best way to save money and keep your customers happy. Consider using recycled packing paper to promote eco-friendly business practices that can boost sales. Also, if you’re shipping multiple plants within the same package, try to use corrugated box dividers which helps prevent the plants from colliding into one another during transit.
  5. Seal Your Box: Use high-quality packing tape to seal boxes before dropping them off at the carrier.
  6. Select Your Carrier: Consider shipping speeds, value-added service offerings like shipping insurance, and carrier reputation to make a solid decision (more on this below).
  7. Pick Your Shipping Speed: In order to make sure your plants arrive at their destination in good condition, you’ll want to use an expedited service. The best case would be to use a next-day shipping option so that you’re not keeping the plant devoid of sunlight for too long. You may be able to use 2-day delivery options depending on how you’ve packed your plant and what the individual plants needs are. For example, cactuses, bonsai trees, and succulent plants all have different maintenance requirements.
  8. Plan Your Transit Time: The other factor you’ll want to consider before handing off to a carrier is to drop off plants not on the weekends or near the weekends. Transit times given by carriers often reflect business days. That means Monday through Wednesday will be your best bet since not all carriers deliver on the weekends, and if they do, there is usually an extra fee you will have to pay.

This guidance may change based on the specific type of plant you’re shipping.

Shipping Potted Plants vs Bare Roots

There are both advantages and disadvantages to shipping plants in either their potted or bare-root state. Shipping bare-root plants, for example, means less weight in your packaging (since you aren’t paying to ship dirt) and may improve their post-transplant performance.

That said, your customers may prefer receiving potted plants, as larger, more mature plants can be shipped when potted (vs as bare-root plants). Containerized plants also allow for a longer planting window and lack the dormancy period of their bare-root counterparts.

However you plan to ship your plants, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • If you’re planning to ship a potted plant in soil, semi-dry soil is ideal. That means it’s a good idea to avoid watering the plant a day or two before you plan to ship it for the best results.
  • On the other hand, if you’ll be shipping your plant with bare roots, use gardening gloves to slowly remove the soil from the base of the plant and rinse gently with cool water before packaging it.

How to Ship Flowers

Getting fresh flowers safely to their destination requires a little extra planning on your part. First, note that you can’t ship fresh flowers in water. That means you’ll either be shipping them as bare stems (typically, in the kind of packing paper you’d see them wrapped in at a store) or in a vase (which will need its own protection to prevent breakage in transit).

The real key to shipping flowers successfully is minimizing movement in transit. Use a combination of packing supplies, box inserts, cable ties, and other items to secure your fresh flowers in your shipping box without crushing them. Fedex has a great tutorial on shipping flowers if you need further guidance.

How to Ship Seedlings

The process for shipping seedlings is similar to shipping potted plants, though you’ll want to keep in mind that seedlings are much more delicate than mature plants.

To protect them in transit, ship seedlings in flats (the small-celled plastic containers used by greenhouses to start seeds) with a barrier in place to prevent the seedling from falling out of its cell if the box shifts in transit. Match your corrugated shipping box as closely to the size of your seedling flat as possible, or add extra packing materials to minimize movement within the box.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Plants?

As with any other type of shipment, the exact cost to ship plants you’ll incur varies based on the size of your plant, the total weight of your shipment, the distance it’ll travel, and the speed with which you need it delivered.

One aspect of shipping plants to consider is that by signing up to Shippo, you automatically get access to discounts on expedited shipping services such as up to 73% off UPS Next Day Air® service and UPS 2nd Day Air®* service. You can also find an average savings of 20.1% of retail when using USPS Priority Mail.

Shipping Services for Plants

Because most plant shipments require expedited shipping services, some of the most common carrier and delivery options available in Shippo you’ll want to evaluate include:

If your recipient is relatively near, ground shipping services may be able to get your plants delivered in a timely manner (and save you some money in the process). For example, FedEx Ground® Economy can be an affordable option if your shipping within the same zone or nearby zones. UPS® Ground may also be an attractive option in those instances. However, it is recommended to use expedited shipping to avoid any potential delays.

You may also want to investigate regional carriers like GLS, Axlehire, and Better Trucks, as some of these companies may be able to offer delivery in 1-2 days.

To find exact rates for these services, join Shippo for free today! Once you’re logged in, you’ll be able to enter your exact package dimensions and see live rates and transit times for all three major U.S. carriers. Seamlessly integrate your online store with Shippo in less than 5 minutes** and create your first label in under 1 minute**

How to Save Money on Shipping Plants

Minimizing costs when shipping plants is a great way to promote a positive customer experience while increasing your profits. One of the simplest ways to do this is by using free packaging from carriers, if applicable to the size of the plant. Avoiding excessively large packaging also reduces shipping costs and requires less packing materials overall.

Take advantage of shipping platforms like Shippo to make shipping live plants and seeds a breeze. With Shippo, you can enjoy deep shipping discounts with USPS, UPS, and FedEx and compare rates to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck on every shipment.

*Discounts off UPS daily rates. Rates are limited to shipping from the U.S. only. Rates and any applicable discounts are subject to change at any time without notice.

**Disclaimer: Based on 43% and 49% of the responses from 261 surveyed merchants in a 2022 Shippo survey.

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Sarah Gage
is a Michigan-based freelance writer covering business, marketing, and technology topics. She is also the owner of Content Conquered, a B2B-focused content marketing consultancy.

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