They’re fragile. They’re perishable. They’re expensive. And, in some cases, they’re irreplaceable.
Yet, each winter, tens of thousands of orchid plants are shipped all over the country without harm.
Here in the northern hemisphere, winter is defined as December 21 to March 21. The angle of the sun is low and so are the temperatures. Except for the occasional ‘warm spell’, people wear heavy coats at this time of year.
Under every day conditions, bystanders marvel at orchid shippers and their clever packing techniques. Some have custom boxes that fasten the plants in securely. Some nail wooden slats across the pots. Some use reels of bubble wrap. The added threat of freezing temperatures, however, complicates matters.
Today’s improved weather forecasts can predict the arrival of arctic blasts to within minutes and have contributed to the orchid industry’s success rate. Still, there is no predicting the likelihood of packages riding around all day in unheated delivery trucks or left unattended on snowy airport tarmacs.
A technological innovation developed for chilly outdoor sports called disposable heater packs have allowed for some previously risky deliveries to arrive in good shape. But this science is not yet completely reliable as many of these ‘hand warmers’ never activate or fizzle out before their stated time. And there have been instances in which plants were cooked by overzealous heater packs.
The following steps help get an orchid safely to its home, even in the winter. The amateur or professional can do this:
1) CHECK THE FORECAST – The low temperatures for the shipping zip code, the destination zip code, and anywhere in the middle must be respected. Schedule a time frame in which the lows are above 32 degrees F.
2) GROUND OR AIR – A general rule is to keep orchids in a box NO MORE THAN THREE DAYS and preferably as short as possible.
3) RIGHT PLANT – Select a ‘shippable’ plant – healthy, robust, and well-rooted, but not excessively tall or gangly. There should be no flowers open, just buds. (Plant container is usually plastic as clay or porcelain may break).
4) TAPE - Tape down the media to the pot using wide packing tape so that any shift in transit won’t affect the roots.
5) STAKE – Stake the flower spikes straight up and tie to a tall bamboo stick.
6) FLUFF – Wrap cotton ‘fluffing’ around visible buds and secure with plastic clips.
7) RIGHT BOX – Locate the perfect long and narrow shipping box – slightly longer than the bamboo to prevent sliding forward. Sample size - 24”Lx6”Wx6”H.
8) ROLL - The ‘bowling pin’ roll is employed whereby the plant is laid on its side on a sheet of cotton batting and rolled up. Then, the rolled up plant is again laid on its side and double wrapped in newspaper.
9) WEDGE - Gently place the twice-rolled plant into the box and firmly press the base of the pot against the end wall with wedges of newspaper so no lateral movement is possible.
10) FILL - The remainder of empty space is filled with crumpled or shredded newspaper.
11) STICKERS - Tape the box and cover it with brightly-colored PERISHBLE or FRAGILE stickers. There are no guarantees that the warnings will be heeded but this little step has saved many orchids.
It is important that the person receiving the orchid opens the box promptly. After a nice thorough watering, allow a week or so for the buds to gloriously unfurl. Say goodbye to the winter doldrums with a wild and wondrous orchid plant delivered to your door.