By Pam Penick
If you’re heading to Atlanta this fall to attend the GWA Annual Convention and Expo, chances are good you’ll acquire some plant swag from our generous exhibitors. If you’re flying home afterwards, you may be wondering how to get your floral stowaways home. Learning how to pack plants in a suitcase, rather than stuffing them into a carry-on, is a skill that’ll keep leaves out of your face, soil off your lap, and relieve strain on your back. To be plant-ready, all you need to do is pack an empty duffle bag, a few garbage bags, re-sealable plastic bags, clippers to prune your plants, and lots of rubber bands.
I became a plant-packer at the Tucson GWA symposium in 2012. I’d already picked up a half-dozen freebies when a nursery rep urged me to take a gorgeous 5-gallon Abutilon palmeri. Its velvety, silver-green leaves and cupped orange blossoms proved irresistible. I hauled it back to my room, grinning like a pirate.
The day before departure, I lightly watered my plants so they’d be moist during their journey. That evening, I transferred my clothes to an empty duffle, freeing up my suitcase for plants. The abutilon was still too large, so I pruned it hard, hating to lose the flowers but confident it would quickly recover. To keep soil from spilling, I wrapped an old towel around the top of the root ball and secured it with rubber bands. Twisted coils of newspaper or a dry-cleaning bag from the hotel would work too. Then I wrapped it in garbage bags. Laid on its side, it fit snugly in the suitcase.
The smaller plants were even easier to pack. I twisted newspaper around them and secured the sheets with rubber bands. When I ran out of paper, I tucked the last plant into a re-sealable plastic bag. Fitting the plants into the suitcase, I found that my toiletries bag filled the remaining gap. Wadded newspaper or old clothes can also fill gaps to prevent them from shifting during travel.
Even with soil in the pots my bag wasn’t too heavy. But if you’re packing lighter or traveling to a state or country with restrictions on soil (houseplants are often exempt), simply leave the soil behind. Take your plant outside, remove the pot, and gently knock the soil off. Wrap the roots in damp newspaper and a plastic bag. Pad bare-root plants with newspaper or old clothes.
At home, I immediately unpacked my plants to give them light and water. Thanks to tight packing, they were all in place and only a little squashed. They soon straightened up and looked none the worse for their trip home in a suitcase.
Before you pack your plants, consider the cost of extra baggage fees and be aware of weight limits with your air carrier. Also, many states have strict rules about bringing certain plants across the border in order to prevent the spread of disease, pests, or invasive plants. Be sure your plant isn’t prohibited by checking your state’s regulations at the National Plant Board Laws and Regulation.
This September as you’re preparing to travel to Atlanta, remember to tuck into your suitcase the supplies that will help you pack your newly acquired plants to get them home. It’s easier than you might think, and you’ll enjoy these living souvenirs long after the convention is over.
Meet the Author
Pam Penick is a garden designer, avid blogger at Digging, and author of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! She’s a regular contributor to such magazines as Garden Design and Wildflower, and her photographs have appeared in many books and magazines. On her blog, Digging, she offers an inspirational mash-up of garden tours, design tips, growing info about drought-tolerant plants, and plenty of examples of water-saving gardens. She lives and gardens in Austin, Texas.
Photo credit: All photos by Pam Penick