Delivering From Start to Finish

A few key steps help protect your crops through the shipment process.

In a recent survey of large growers conducted by Evonik, we asked the biggest challenges associated with getting healthy plants to market. Aside from concerns about weather conditions, the main problems were transportation issues and keeping plants hydrated in transit.

There are a multitude of ways to ship plants, from carts to boxes or in sleeves, in pots or bare root and in all stages of growth, from young plants to finished, in your own trucks or in a contracted shipping company’s truck. Throughout all those scenarios, there are some key things growers should keep in mind to keep plants as healthy as possible from the time they leave the greenhouse to the time they get unloaded at their final destination.

Whether you use carts, boxes or another method for shipping plants, there are a few key actions to take to make sure your plants arrive in excellent condition at their final destination. Image: iStockPhoto.com
Whether you use carts, boxes or another method for shipping plants, there are a few key actions to take to make sure your plants arrive in excellent condition at their final destination. Image: iStockPhoto.com

Planning Ahead

There are a couple of actions growers can take before the plant gets loaded onto the truck, says Randy Zondag, who worked with growers via the OSU extension office in Lake County, Ohio, for nearly 35 years. “The first step is to protect the plant as much as possible,” he adds, noting many growers use nylon netting and paper sleeves to pull the leaves upward on larger plants like perennials and shrubs, providing protection and allowing them to be stacked tighter. Whether it’s larger plants or smaller ones stacked on carts or in boxes, extra care needs to be taken for plants in bloom.

“When shipping long distances the biggest problem is where is that plant in its life stage,” he says. “Usually during the flowering stage, that’s the point where that plant can be damaged the easiest.” And when a plant shows damage, that’s when disease moves in, he adds.

Jeff Bradner of MCT Transportation, which ships foliage plants for growers in Florida cautions growers that the biggest issue they see is material not being packed and protected well enough to make their journey. “They ship some of the material in paper sleeves, and we don’t pay claims on any of that material if there’s any damage because it’s not protected very well,” he says. “Particularly some plants that have large leaves or brittle branches, they should probably box those.”

Watering also is crucial before plants get loaded. Zondag says if plants have undergone a heavy feeding rotation before shipment, it’s extremely important to not let the pots dry out in transit because it can result in a salt burn from the fertilizer.

MCT Transportation recommends on its website to use a hydrogel, particularly on bare root plants. “(It will) form a gel-like slurry when mixed with water and can serve as a water reservoir when used to coat the roots.”

An advanced hydrogel like STOCKOSORB® can be added to the media in potted plants, as well, to provide greater water retention during shipping. Research has shown that plants grown with STOCKOSORB® can extend their time to wilt by up to eight hours.

Packing sleeved material in boxes can protect blooming plants shipped in pots while they are at their most fragile stage.
Packing sleeved material in boxes can protect blooming plants shipped in pots while they are at their most fragile stage.

On the Truck

Understanding what’s happening in the truck goes a long way to ensuring optimal plants upon delivery. Bradner says his trucks are set at 68 degrees, which is optimal for his clients. It’s important for growers to work with shipping companies to know what the truck’s temperatures are set at and what the protocol is if something goes wrong. Too hot or too cold for too long and the shipment is a bust.

Zondag recommends using data loggers, which growers can add to plant shipment to monitor the conditions of the truck (such as humidity and temperature) to ensure the plants stay at the optimal conditions throughout the process. Growers monitor the data readings to know if the temperature went above or below what was promised.

Looking for Trouble

When plants come off the truck, it’s important for whoever is on the receiving end to check the plants on the shipment before they are offloaded. “Pop a plant out of the container and look at the roots, inspect the roots,” Zondag says. “Make sure the soil’s not dried out, roots are not rotted. If I do it to a portion of my plants I’m a lot happier than I would be otherwise.”

He adds it’s important for that person doing the inspection to understand what pests to look for based on the crop they are inspecting. And most important, keep the channels of communication open between the grower and retailer.

All of these steps go a long way to ensuring healthy plants at their final destination.

 


Make your water go farther while improving the health of your plants. To find out more about how STOCKOSORB® advanced hydrogel can help your growing operation, contact Lynn Royal at 336-335-3781, email [email protected] or visit www.STOCKOSORB.com.