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Don't Ship Wet


How to Kill an Epiphytic Orchid's Roots in Two Days

Water it, pack it in a box, and ship it.

That great phal has been growing three to five years, but it can be killed in less than a month by rotting its entire root system in shipping. The chances that it can regrow a new root system before it dies are pretty slim unless the person receiving it has a greenhouse, perfect conditions, knows what's wrong with the plant, and takes immediate action. Even if the recipient saves the plant, he won't be very happy that it has undergone a major setback.

Before shipping, the plant has been in a greenhouse, with plenty of air movement, and warm temperatures. This promotes relatively rapid drying of the mix, so the roots don't rot.

Put it in a dark, cool, box with totally still air, and the mix will not be drying at all. If it has just been watered, it's going to stay wet, and the roots can immediately rot. Fungus spores are omnipresent, and a dark, cool, damp box is the perfect place for them to take over.

You may be worried that if you don't water it before shipping, the plant may be stressed, and perhaps lose buds or flowers. I can tell you, as a recipient of many plants through the mail, that I've had more plants than I care to remember killed through root rot in shipping, while I've never lost one through dryness. I have lost a few buds, but the vast majority with dry mix are just fine. If you want to keep the humidity up in the box without letting water contact the roots, put a wet paper towel in the packing material. The closed environment of the box will keep the humidity up. However, since there's no light in the box, the plant will not be doing any photosynthesis. No photosynthesis, no respiration or transpiration. The stomata will be closed on the leaves, so it will lose very little water, even in very dry conditions.

Epiphytes live on tree branches, and their roots spend the majority of their time dry. Because of that, they haven't evolved to protect themselves against the microorganisms that thrive in wet conditions. Allowing roots to stay wet for more than a brief period of time is a death sentence for them, if the right conditions exist for infection.

Please, do not water plants within a few days of shipping. Your complaint rate will drop, and your customers will be happier.

A reader adds: Hi, read your article, you are definitely on my page! The only thing I would have added- a pet peeve of mine- is how people will absolutely soak an orchid that they are mailing during cold months- hello frostbite. And if you put a heatpack in there it creates a sauna. Heatpacks make me crazy as well- most of the time a dry orchid can withstand pretty desperate temperatures- again- if it is dry. Plant cells are well organized for disaster scenarios. This year I received two different orchids with heat packs- one the pack was flush against the leaves and had burned it, the other was wrapped in wet paper and parboiled. Oh well.

dead phal
Results of total root rot

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Last Modified: May 18 2005