How should I transport my plant from the garden center to my home?


My sister called me yesterday afternoon to ask about a new magnolia she purchased at a nursery.  She was planning to pick it up today, and wanted to know how to handle the transportation in her mini-van.  This was an excellent question to ask.  The last thing you want to do is damage your new plant purchase, so here are a few tips and reminders on what to do when you move your plant from the garden center to your home.

Balled and Burlapped B&B) tree example

Balled and Burlapped B&B) tree example


It may sound funny, but you may want to grab a couple old pillows and a thick blanket, or a tarp along with some bungee cords or rope, before you head to the garden center. The main thing you want to do for trees is protect its bark and foliage during travel. Bark is like your skin, overlaying the veins in your body.  On trees, bark protects the cambium layer responsible for transporting water and nutrients in the tree, much like how veins move blood in our bodies.

If the bark gets rubbed, broken, bruised, or nicked, it can prohibit the passage of nutrients and create a perfect place for insects and diseases to settle into your tree. When you place or lay your tree in a van, car (which I’ve seen done for small trees), or inside the back of your pickup truck, be careful to not nick the bark.  Don’t allow the tree to roll around in the vehicle, hitting something like tools, or your seats.  Damage on the bark, or the trunk for that matter, is a leading cause of death in trees.  Sometimes wounds will heal but it can make the tree’s appearance not as lovely as you had imagined.


As for the foliage on the top of the tree, it should not be exposed to wind as you drive home.  If you put the tree in the back of your pickup truck, be sure to protect the foliage somehow.  A light bed sheet works well, wrapped like a hair net – or the nursery may have some type of light material to offer you to protect the foliage.  Wind will shred the leaves and dry them out.  Even if you drive carefully and slowly like Grandma.  This is also true with evergreen shrubs susceptible to drying winds.  It is best to cover the foliage on its journey to your home in a vehicle if exposed.

Container Grown Tree Example

Container Grown Tree Example


If you are bringing home perennials or annuals in pots, grab a cardboard box or plastic milk crate to insert the pots into your vehicle as you travel so they won’t topple over in your car.  Most nurseries offer a plastic liner to protect your car seats from the wet base of pots, but you may want to bring along a sheet as well if you have one on hand.  They can be handy.  Inside the vehicle, perennials and annuals are protected from strong winds, unless you drive a convertible, so they will be okay.  And in the back of a pickup truck, sometimes this is okay because they are lower than the top of the pickup truck’s bed.  But if you stop somewhere on your travels, and plants are inside your vehicle, don’t let them sit in the heat for too long.


Mostly likely, if you are out and about shopping for plants, you will also be stopping somewhere for another errand or to have  lunch.  If you have your tree, perennials, or annuals “in the car” – and plan to stop for a while, open up your windows slightly to allow some ventilation in the car.  Although many plants like the warmth, scolding hot temperatures will stress out the plants, and dry out the soil in the pot.  Overheating your plants is like overheating a dog in the car, it can lead to suffering and even death! Remember this for plants you may have put in the trunk of your car too.  If stopping for more than 15 minutes on a hot day, I wouldn’t leave them baking in the car’s trunk like an oven.  They will get weak and withered, and potentially at a permanent wilting point – unable to recover.  You may not either, once you learned you fried your investment.

Pick it up

Pick it up


You should not lift a tree by its trunk at the base or mid-way on the trunk.  You might not only hurt the tree, but hurt yourself too, especially if the tree is balled and burlapped.  B&B trees are dug up from the field with the soil base around the roots. They are very heavy compared to container grown trees.  With a B&B tree, you probably will need help to load and transport the tree, and unload it at home.  Big B&B trees are often better planted by an expert – and many nurseries offer this service.

If a container grown tree, it is much better to lift it by the container, and then place it carefully on a hand truck or in a wheel barrel to move the tree to its holding location or planting location in your yard.  Don’t leave your new tree or perennials in the wrong place if you don’t plan to plant it in the ground right away.  There are two things you must remember.  Some trees and shrubs will be top heavy if grown in a container, and the wind can topple it over.  And the second thing, is they can dry out in pots, so you must also remember to water them.

Last year, one of my clients took home two beautiful Kwanzan cherry trees for a park installation.  She placed the trees by her picnic table to wait until she could go plant them.  The next day happened to be a very windy day.  While she was at work, the wind had tossed one of the trees against the table repeatedly, rubbing away the bark and creating a good sized wound.  We decided to plant the tree anyways, and hope for the best.  Looking it over this spring, the wound is healing nicely, but you can visibly see the damage done, plus the tree doesn’t match the other one as a result.

A good tip is to insert the container into another bigger and heavier empty pot or box at home to stabilize the tree until you are ready to plant it in the ground.  Or put some weighted object, like large rocks or cement blocks around the outside of the pot base to keep it in place in the event of a windy gust.  Also, put the plant where there is a bit of shade to protect it from harsh sun until you are ready to plant it.  And also very important – don’t forget to water it from time to time if you don’t plant it right away, especially if you placed it on pavement where the pot can get hot quickly.

On your planting day, if you have several trees or plants to plant, line them out into their permanent positions in your landscape, but don’t remove them from their pots until you are ready to place them into the planting holes.  Leaving exposed roots could potentially dry out the roots too.

Once planted, another good reminder is to be careful when mowing your lawn or weed whacking nearby so you don’t nick the bark once you have successfully planted it in your landscape.  Something I have to remind my husband every year when he breaks out the mower!

So follow these guidelines, turn up the tunes while traveling home from the nursery, and rest assured all will be safe when you arrive home!

Container Crazy Cathy T
860-977-9473 (cell)