Shipping fig trees is not difficult, but care is needed to make sure they arrive at their destination in good shape. Following is the method that we use to ship trees. It is certainly not the only method, but it has worked well for over a thousand fig trees.
When selecting a method we drew from techniques others have shared that worked well. The first priority is ensuring the tree arrives safely, but we also want it to be easy to unbox the tree and also provide some insurance against very hot or very cold temperatures that might be experienced while in transit.
The first step is to ensure the tree is properly labeled. Even if you are shipping only one tree, it is always appreciated if a tree is labeled so the recipient can be sure what they are getting. We use three labels; paint marker on the pot, a white stick with black paint marker, and a metal tag created using one of these Dymo M1011 metal embossers .
The next step is to protect the pot from leaking while in transit. If a pot leaks in transit it can destroy the box and, in the worst case, the pot can fall out of the box. A plastic bag keeps the pot from leaking into the box. In the past we have also used grocery bags or any other type of waterproof bag will work.
It is also important to make sure the top of the bag remains closed. Since trees are often different shapes sometimes having multiple stems or leaves low on the step, the easiest way we have found to do this is to pack bubble wrap around the stem on the outside of the bag and cover with packing tape.
Next we need to secure the plant from shifting in the package during shipping. Note that there is no such thing as ‘this side up’ during shipping. Studies have actually show packages are subject to worse treatment if they have messages like ‘fragile’ written on them. In defense of shipping companies, we don’t pay them enough to carefully handle packages like they are fragile or maintain a specific side up. So it is the shippers job to ensure the package is just as happy upside down as it is right side up. The way we do this is to use a bamboo pole cut to 1/2″ shorter than the package dimensions. You can buy these poles at home improvement stores or other places.
We place the bamboo pole on the inside of the pot by using the pole to poke a hole in the bag we put on during the last step. Other people attach the pole to the outside of the pot, which also works. After a failure in shipment last year where the pole shifted and went through the bottom of the pot we also now apply a piece of tape to the pole and outside of the bag to help hold the pole in place and provide support if it does shift. This seems to have solved the issue of the pole poking through the bottom of the pot. For very valuable plants you an also use two poles on opposite sides as insurance against problems with the pole. Poles are an inexpensive and fairly easy way to provide support. We have also noticed that larger nurseries use custom designed cardboard inserts and other methods that work at least as well.
Next comes the box. Picking a quality box is an important part of mailing a plant. The boxes the USPS gives away for priority mailing should not be used, they are not thick enough and frequently fail allowing the plant inside to break. We use Uline Indestructo boxes for most packages. These are expensive, but offer the most protection. If you are shipping only a few trees reusing quality boxes from Amazon or other shippers is also an option. The key is that the box feels strong.
We also add a wrap of bubble foil around the leaves of the plant. The bubble foil provides some protection if the tree is exposed to very hot or very cold temperatures. The foil reflects heat and is a light weight way of providing some protection. We buy the foil in roles from Uline, but you can reuse foil sent in packages that require cold protection. Or if you don’t have any similar material this is really an optional step and it will not hurt to skip it in most cases. It is more insurance against issues than something that is normally required.
Finally we apply our nursery and plant pest certifications to the package and close up the box. Depending on where you live different certifications are required to ship plants to different areas. In NJ we have Japanese Beetles, so we need to grow our trees in a Japanese Beetle free greenhouse that is inspected a few times a year by the state.
If you are shipping multiple trees to the same person you can tape boxes together with packing tape. We always use the same size boxes so we don’t create awkward packages that would have more chance of being damaged in shipping.