The 10 commandments of plant mail

You’ve got mail! The best sort. Plant mail. If you have a precious plant on the way, or just unboxed your beautiful new jungle member, STOP. Read this first.

Whether plants arrive at a garden centre after being shipped from the nursery, or arrive at your place after a (hopefully) short journey, or you've done the best sort of click and collect, either way your new arrival is likely to be a bit stressed out.

Some handle transport better than others, and some retailers pack better than others, but no matter how hardy a plant is, following these 10 plant commandments will help, whether you took them home yourself from your local plant store or they were shipped home from an online retailer like us.

Doing right by your new plant can potentially rule out the risk of death! Sounds dramatic I know, but seriously folks, please do follow these steps about what is and is not okay as it honestly could be life or death…

Do note though that this advice is for potted plants you’ll be keeping indoors (not for bare root arrivals or outdoor plants). 


1. It IS okay to unpack immediately (and NOT okay to leave your plant outside)

When your plant mail is delivered, do your best to get it indoors asap. Even if you can’t unbox right away, don’t leave a plant in the cold or sun outside any longer than you have to. If it's sitting in your car, bring it in as soon as you arrive home. Too cold, or too hot, are extremes that can harm or kill.

If you get your plants delivered to work for example, and are taking them home later, it’s tempting to leave them tucked up in the box, for maximum unboxing enjoyment at home. DO give in to the desire to take a peek. In fact, unbox them fully right away and remove any packing material, or at least open the top and let some fresh air and light in. They’ve been stuck in a dark box for some time.

Very few plant stores in NZ use those fancy, protective, specialist plant boxes. So do check inside to make sure they’re upright and okay in there. If there’s been a spill, or the retailer didn’t secure it well, get your plant upright, right away. Plus you can take a photo and send it to the retailer if they’ve done a poor job or the courier’s been a meanie. Your quick action may save your plant.


2. It’s NOT okay to water (unless it really needs it)

Most plant stores will likely have watered the day or week your plant was shipped. It’s so tempting to water soon after getting a new plant, I know. But too wet is much worse than too dry, even if a plant weren’t already stressed out.

If the soil is still wet or damp, resist the urge to water. If you’re unsure, pop a finger in the soil. If the soil is dry to below about 5cms, watering should be fine. If not, just don’t. If unsure, don’t (until you’re sure). 


3. It's NOT okay to remove dead or broken leaves

This one is the opposite of what you might think. If your plant arrives with a yellowing leaf, leave it be. When a plant is lacking a little something-something, it will sometimes sacrifice an older leaf to sustain new growth until conditions approve. Removing that yellowing leaf without first fixing what's wrong, tends to just mean another leaf will be sacrificed. Your plant is taking what it needs - usually water or other nutrients like nitrogen - to stay alive. Fix what's wrong, give your plant a week or so to recover before you remove that dying leaf. Personally I leave it on until the plant has taken what it needs. You'll usually find the leaf will naturally go brown and dry and you can just gently pluck it off.


4. It’s NOT okay to freak out about leaf drop

I mean, you can freak out if you like of course, but also know that leaf drop can be totally normal for a new arrival, and try not to panic. A stressed plant may drop a leaf or two after arrival as it settles in, and some leaves may turn yellow and die off faster than normal. Know that it's not likely to be anything you’ve done wrong if a few leaves are lost or turn yellow after arrival. If it's still happening after a week, then I'd be getting to work to find out what else might be wrong. Also ask your online plant buddies if it's normal for your type of plant (Ficus and Croton both come to mind as common leaf droppers when stressed).


5. It’s NOT okay to repot

Please don’t repot right away! This is such a huge mistake. So many find any excuse to repot a new plant, especially if you bought a gorgeous planter for it at the same time. Just let your new plant chill a bit before putting it through even more stress of repotting. Repotting also increases the risk of overwatering, which can lead to root rot.

I’d recommend waiting at least 2 weeks minimum, and only repot if your plant really needs the improvement in soil or is badly rootbound (for those that don’t like to be - some thrive being packed in). If a repot is a must though, just go up one or two pot sizes (eg: from a 14cm to a 16cm diameter pot). Too big an increase in the amount of soil around the roots can lead to higher water retention than those roots are used to, which can spell root rot real fast.

Repotting is like surgery, and your plant will take time to recover. Adding surgery on top of transport stress can be a bad combo. If you do repot to improve the substrate or space in the pot, this may slow down growth. So if your plant seems fine after repotting but you haven't seen any new growth, it is likely just focusing its energy on root growth to fill in that new space in the pot.


6. It IS okay to leave mesh plugs alone

Speaking of roots, please don’t freak out over mesh plugs (scarily nicknamed ‘death plugs’). I have over 100 plants in my personal collection, at least a quarter of which have mesh plugs and are perfectly happy and healthy along with the rest.

The plugs are not the problem, but should still be considered in how you care for your new plant. Rather than go in to it in detail here, have a read of this article: Plugs – What are they, why they aren’t bad, and how to grow with them


7. It IS okay to fertilise

It's very likely the nursery actively fertilised your plant to speed up growth, getting it big and healthy, ready for sale as soon as possible. However whether the store fertilised their plants or not before they shipped them, it’s best not to fertilise a new plant until it has settled in. I go by the guideline to fertilise when growing, so like to see new growth first before I start fertilising a new plant. 

If you repotted, remember most potting mixes include slow-release fertiliser, so it’s best not to overdo the fertiliser so you don’t risk fertiliser burn. I either make my own mix, or use a premix like the fabulous Aroid & Hoya Custom Blend (which most of mine are in). Either way, what I use does not have any slow-release fertiliser mixed in. I much prefer knowing what my plants are getting, in what amounts and when.

After repotting with slow-release fertiliser in the mix, I'd hold off a good 3 to 6 months before starting to fertilise. Another option is to go for a tonic type additive. It may not be a complete fertiliser, but if you have something like Groconut, use that as it also helps reduce transplant stress and is recommended when repotting. If at all in doubt though, wait till you see the first new growth, then start feeding.


8. It IS okay to quarantine new plants

Honestly? You’d be silly not to. Please, please always quarantine any new plant. Even when I get plants direct from the nursery, I quarantine them before they leave me to join your jungle.

That’s so they get time to settle after travel from the nursery rather than doubling up on the stress, and also so any sneaky pests the nursery missed might show their face so they don't hitch hike to your place from ours. Although I take that extra precaution with plants I sell, new shipments are often sold by stores the same day they arrive on the truck from the nursery, so don’t risk it. Plus some bug lifecycles are much longer, so bugs can't show up before plants leave to go to your place.

Overall, it’s best not to assume your new arrival was quarantined before coming to you. Nurseries often treat for fungus and bugs, but that protection won't last forever.

Always play it safe (yes, even if your plant came from me), and quarantine for at least 2 weeks just in case. Better one full month if you can as most bugs will show their faces by then as a 2 to 3 weeks lifecycle is pretty common. Better to be patient, than discover creepy crawlies have made their way to your other plants!

And if you do find a bug has come with your new plant, always treat to get rid of them, don't just leave your plant in quarantine for longer. Some common insect treatments can be found under Insect Control on my site if you need anything (fingers crossed you won't).

I find the most common, and least concerning, are Fungus Gnats. These guys can come from anywhere and everywhere. Your compost outside, a plant brought inside from outdoors, even from moist soil left outside for even a short while. If you do get these very common hangers-on, here's an easy way to treat for Fungus Gnats.


9. It’s NOT okay to get windy

It’s easy to think fresh air is a good thing after being boxed up - and it is - but fresh air is one thing, in the path of a draught or left out in the wind is entirely different. A warm area out of draughts is much better for new plant arrivals. Don't leave them in the path of the air con or heat pump either, even for a short time.


10. It’s NOT okay to overdo the light

Having been in a dark box for a few days, a sudden change to direct sunlight – even for plants that love that – is a shock you want to avoid. Yes, even for succulents and cacti. Instead, find a nice brightly lit, warm area with no direct sun and let your plant settle in for a few days first. 

For plants that do love to sunbathe - think succulents, string of pearls, pink bubbles and the like - we give them a good couple of weeks in bright indirect light before gently settling them in to their forever home with direct sun.


I hope my 10 commandments for new plant mail helps you avoid these common mistakes, and helps you do everything possible so your new plant settles in quickly for the happiest, healthy future together. 

I may have a tonne of plants myself - but I'm always learning - and always happy to help. Even if you didn't get your new plant from Love That Leaf, please reach out. I'll always help if I can. 

Anna @lovethatleaf 


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