What You Need to Know About Moving Your Plants

Decide which plants may not be compatible with your new space

Whether buying a new plant or relocating with one, the first and most important thing, per Hancock, is to take a look at the growing conditions to evaluate whether you can provide an environment it needs. “If your jade plant, for example, is thriving in a sunny window and your new home doesn’t have similarly bright light, your jade plant may struggle—unless, of course, you augment with artificial lights,” he explains. Similarly, plants that enjoy high-humidity conditions like many calathea and ferns may not thrive if you move from a humid area to an arid area. If the place you’re moving to doesn’t have the right mix of conditions, Hancock says it may be best to gift or sell any plants that won’t do well.

Be mindful of the weather

If you’re in a cold climate and moving in winter, it is often best to make sure your plants are protected from freezing temperatures during the move. “Many tropical plants can suffer leaf damage if exposed to 32 F for even a few minutes,” Hancock explains. “And some particularly tender plants can be damaged by prolonged exposure to 45 F degrees.” “Cold damage may look like a watercolor pattern of gray-brown,” says Chris Satch, Horti’s Plant Doctor. If you notice this type of damage, it’s generally important to get these plants into warmth as soon as possible.

To prevent sunburn, you’ll typically want to ensure your plants are protected from direct sun for more than 20 to 30 minutes. So, Hancock says putting plants in the back of a pickup truck and moving them across town can be a risk. “While most of the tropical plants we grow as houseplants can handle heat just fine, do be sure they’re not ever sitting in a hot car—temperatures over 110 F can be as harmful to plants as they are pets,” he explains.

Be delicate when packing

Plants have leaves, roots, stems and flowers that can potentially become damaged if they are not packed properly. “When it comes to trauma, plant varieties with large leaves that could be easily ripped might take some damage during a move, along with some stiff plants that could snap during transport,” says Satch. Thus, you’ll likely want to be considerate of how you pack your plants.

When packing a large plant, you should generally ensure that the pot is secure and stable. “During the turbulence of transportation, a plant may be pushed around and unroot a bit but if this happens don’t panic!” Satch says. This can typically be fixed later when you arrive at your new home. If a plant is large and you have the space, Satch says to lay it down in the car. “If it's going in a box, use soft but puffy packing materials like pillows, crumpled newspaper or something else to stabilize the top part of the plant,” he says.

For smaller plants, Satch recommends packing all the pots next to each other, filling the box as best as you can with items like cardboard, dish rags, or towels in between them to try to create a fluffy bumper. “The less space there is to move, the less the plants will move, and the less likely the pots will shatter,” he says. You can also stuff the top of the box with crumpled newspaper or towels for some extra stability.

Satch also suggests giving your plants a little water before you pack them in the event that you get too busy setting up at your new place that you forget to water them for some time.

If you’re using a moving company:

You’ll want to ask ahead of time if houseplants are on the moving company’s list of allowable items,” says Vojin Popovic, CEO of New York City’s Piece of Cake Moving & Storage. If houseplants are allowed by your moving company, you can consider following Popovic’s recommendations  for packing them to go into the moving van:

  • Place the plants in boxes clearly marked “live plant.”
  • Wrap a plastic bag around the outside of each pot and tie it at the base of the plant to try to keep the soil from shifting.
  • Pad the empty space around the pots in the boxes with items like old towels, packing paper or bubble wrap. Gently placing some packing paper around the top of the plant can help to minimize shifting.
  • Poke holes in the box to allow for more airflow.

If you’re moving out of state:

You can research available shipping options in your area and any potential restrictions. You may also want to consider if it’ll take more than a few days for your plant to get to your new location. “If shipping times are on the longer side, your house plants may not fare well on the journey to your new address,” explains Popovic. Choosing an expedited shipping option, he says, may be wise. “Before shipping your plants, use packing paper or bubble wrap as padding to fill in the empty space in the shipping box so the plant doesn’t shift in transit,” he explains.

Be careful when unboxing your plants

If the plant is wide and unwieldy, leaves can be pushed upwards when boxing it. Satch recommends that you use a box cutter carefully to open the box once you arrive at your new place. “Reminder: be careful when taking out a plant from a box, you could snap the leaves if they get caught in the openings,” he says.

A little stress is OK

“If you’re moving your plants to a similar – or better – location for them and they’re not stressed in the process of moving, the good news is that your plants should tolerate things pretty well and show a low amount of stress,” says Hancock. Different plants typically react to stress differently, he says, but in general, don’t be surprised to see some of the older leaves go yellow and drop after the relocation. “Some species, such as Ficus, do this more readily than others,” Hancock says. If you see this happen, often the best thing you can do is to continue to give your plants good care and be patient while they recover.

“One general guideline is that the more tolerant plants are to a wide range of growing conditions, the less likely they are to suffer a lot of stress when moving,” Hancock says. This includes varieties like Sansevieria, ZZ Plant, Pothos, Ponytail Palm and Aglaonema, which are less likely to suffer a lot of stress. Plants that are more likely to get stressed about being in a new environment include Calathea, Fittonia, some Alocasia and Rex Begonia. But with good conditions and care, Hancock says most plants can get back to normal within two to three weeks.

“Symptoms of stress can vary between plant varieties, but in general, stressed plants may develop yellow leaves (particularly the oldest leaves) that drop, slow down or stop growing temporarily or otherwise don’t quite look like themselves,” he says. In general, the greater the difference between the conditions they were in and the conditions they will be in, the more stress they will endure. 

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