Moving plants in the winter: O MY

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Feb 24, 2023
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Hello everyone. So I need to move my plants to a new location by car. The only issue is that it is cold outside with some snow. I have a lot of these cheap trash bags that you put in office trash cans. I was planning on putting the plants individually into these and putting some air into the bag and tying it off. This way there would still be warm air in the bag when I transferred the plants from the outside to the warm car. Also, a lot of my paphs decided to bloom so I am hoping to preserve these and not disturb them. Let me know what you would do and if you would use something else as the trash bags may be a stupid idea.
With a thin plastic bag, it will not hold warm air for more then a few seconds. I would not rely on that at all.
Better off with cardboard boxes through Home Depot or someplace like that. Depending upon how many plants you have, you will need to make more then one trip.
Preheat the car, keep the vents open and circulate the air. Keep the doors open as little as possible. Treat the warm air inside like gold! The thinner the leaf and the colder the air temperature, the quicker damage will occur. Your warmer growers like Phalaenopsis will suffer the most. Cold air down in the low 20's will do it within a minute or two. With a wind chill, perhaps quicker.
I would forget about plastic bags.
Do a lot of people in Billings walk around in colder weather in thin plastic bags?
As far as bloom stems go, if they are too tall, cut them back in order to make them easier to move. Better to lose flowers then the plants.
Insulation works by isolating non-communicating pockets that slow heat flow (loss, in this case). That thin plastic bag idea just has a couple miles of plastic separating a single pocket of air from the cold.

You’d be much better off wrapping the plants individually in newspaper, closing the ends, then putting them in a closed box.
If by cold you mean high 20's °F to just below freezing, the car is warm, and the plants will only be in cold temps for a couple seconds as they move from house to car, I wouldn't even worry about it. If we're talking extreme cold, the bag trick will protect them for that short travel from house to warm car. If you have to carry them three blocks down the street, you will need an insulated box. If it's 36° or above, even the very tropical species can easily handle half a minute exposure.
It is often cold during our first shows of the season. I have used bags for years with no ill effects from the cold. I estimate that the maximum exposure has never been more than 4-5 minutes from the car to the venue. There is just as much risk to the plant in the bag while travelling to the show with the sun shining into the car, but that exposure was for 1-2 hours.
You have never lived in Florida. I once fried a Vanda by leaving it in a car with windows cracked for about 15 minutes.
I had it behind the passenger seat, outdoor temperature around 78 and it fried.
Within an hour, leaves developed mustard yellow color. Completely dead in 48 hours!!

This is all about temperature and the poster is from Montana. It is known for colder weather then many of us see.
Last year in late January I judged a show in Grand Rapids MI. It was in the mid 20’s the day before, during set up. When we judged 14-16 hours later, you would be amazed to see how many exhibit plants suffered damage. Those exhibitors hustled to bring plants inside from their vehicles I am sure! But that did not keep them safe.
A thin, flimsy orchid flower comprised of 95% water, roughly, is capable of being damaged in a very short period of time. Certainly not minutes.
The Grand Rapids show is always an adventure in sub-zero plant packing.

Generally for plants in flower I use large garbage bags. I've never had any cold damage even in the coldest weather (I remember a show at 8F for loading in). But I warm up the car first, and move quickly and deliberately. Always have a plan - the time to figure out the loading dock is locked is before you have a crate of plants in your hands... Honestly I've found the damage I do see is from the bag - they act as sails and rub on the flowers during the car trips on Michigan's infamous 'holey roads'.

Several years ago I built some insulated boxes (1/2" EPS foam inside 1/8" plywood). Approximately the size of the black plastic plant crates. I use them a lot, but they aren't tall enough for most of my blooming plants. Have always meant to build some boxes to accommodate taller plants, just haven't managed to do it yet.

I don't bother to cover plants that are not in bloom.
Winter in Montana!! I think I would err on the side of caution. I would take the advice above. Wrap the plants in newspaper and pack them in closed cardboard boxes and don’t dawdle a moment between house and pre warmed car. As I recall, you’ve got some pricey plants. Do everything you can to minimize risk. Those thin little trash bags, if they are the ones I’m thinking of, are barely suitable to hold trash-and definitely not your prized orchid collection.
Good luck!
If there is wind then wind chill can be a big problem, greatly amplifying the threat of the actual low temperature. Any moisture on the plant could well compound the problems.

I like the idea of cardboard boxes. They have good insulating properties and will do the job for short transfers from a warm growing area to a warm car but will help nothing if the plants are left in the very cold for long. You could buy more time by lining the inside of the box with more insulating material (like extra layers of cardboard) but you could also pack insulation between the plants (e.g. newspaper, the fluffy pink fiberglass stuff -- wear gloves and a facemask). For extra measure you could include some 72 hour heat packs if you feel really paranoid.

From personal experience, even tropical orchids tolerate the high 30s/low 40s OK for a short time (I used to grow outdoors in Cape Town, South Africa, where temperatures could sometimes reach the high 30s for several hours).

Good luck
For shorter plants, I've used tubs and for larger show plants that are taller, a box covered with a large plastic trash bag. I usually add a tall bamboo stake to hold the plastic above and away from blooms. this has worked in temps around 0 F and slightly colder. The St. Paul Winter Carnival is the 4th weekend in January temps can range from the mid 30's F. to below zero with a quick 100 foot walk from greenhouse to warm van.