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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 babe, 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, either way they are 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. 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. We recommend you 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 the fancy, protective, specialist plant boxes like we do at Love That Leaf. 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 as well as we do, 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. 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). Even when a plant arrives in dry soil, we personally still wait a day or two before we water, unless it’s dire and leaves are wilting or curling. At the end of the day you’ll need to make that call yourself though. You do you.


3. It IS okay to remove dead or broken leaves

Go on. Be brave. It does your already stressed plant no good to keep putting energy in to a dead or borderline dead leaf. Chop it off. Minor damage might not mean you lose an entire leaf though, so do use your common sense (my wishlist Pothos N’Joy babe arrived with a hole in a leaf and months later, that leaf is still going strong, plus I was way too chicken to sacrifice an N’Joy leaf unless I really had to!). If you’re unsure and want a second opinion, DM or email me a pic, or pop a photo on a Facebook group like Indoor Plants NZ.


4. It’s NOT okay to freak out about yellow leaves

I mean, you can freak out if you like of course, but also know that yellowing leaves 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. Keep in mind yellowing of multiple leaves is different though. That’s a common sign of root rot from overwatering. But if it’s just one or two leaves, that’s to be expected, especially with more sensitive plants.

If a lot of older leaves are yellow that can be a sign of a nutrient deficiency (plants will move nutrients from old growth to new growth when there's a shortage in their soil). In that case we'd start feeding sooner rather than later.


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.

We’d recommend waiting at least 2 weeks minimum, and only repotting if your plant is 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 size (eg: from a 14cm to a 15cm diameter pot). A too sudden increase in the amount of soil around the roots can lead to higher water retention than your plant is used to, which can spell root rot.


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 (but not too much!)

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. If you gave in and 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.

You should still fertilise - just not too much. Some nutrients - like calcium - can't move around your plant, so once there's a deficiency, it's there for life. What I would do instead, is half feed. If you know or can see slow-release fertiliser in the soil, half or quarter strength feed to start with. I've tried all sorts, and right now my jungle's loving Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro, so instead of the 1 ml per 1.5 litre dose the rest of my jungle gets, my newbies get 1 ml per 3 litres.

What I would warn you about however, is avoiding fertiliser burn. Whatever food you have, check it's urea free. A balanced food that's free of urea is very unlikely to cause fertiliser burn from excess minerals building up in the soil. Best to avoid urea for potted plants (common in outdoor plant food, but surprisingly also found in some indoor plant foods).

Another option is to go for a tonic. Sure, it may not be a complete food, 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, 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. We quarantine the plants we sell for a week before we list them online and let them leave 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 we take that extra precaution, new shipments are often sold by stores the same day they arrive on the truck from the nursery, so don’t risk it.

It’s best not to assume your new arrival was quarantined before coming to you. Play it safe (yes, even if your plant came from us), and quarantine for at least a week just in case. Better that than discovering creepy crawlies have made their way to your other plants!


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.


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 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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