by Guest Blogger Ilene Sternberg

On my local post office wall is an ad cosponsored by Ebay and the USPS, showing a few Styrofoam peanuts scattered on a floor with the caption, “Eight gallons of packing material around a pair of shoes is a kind of

Really? Personally, I’d love to take the Styrogenius who invented those peanuts and bury him under bucketloads of his pesky pellets. I’d like to watch him struggle to suck those babies into his beleaguered vacuum and witness his utterances when the little @^&*#%!s cling to his clothes, his fingers, his Dirt Devil, his dog, and his wife. I’d like to see him chase those flyaway freaks all over his lawn and incur his neighbors’ curses as they fortuitously get to share that “kind of love.” I’d like to see the love on the faces of environmentalists spending their life’s work trying to figure out if and how long it will be before the earth finds a way to absorb and assimilate Styrofoam bits. And will I live to see Styrofoam peanuts eventually germinate in landfills, supplying us with enough Styrofoam peanut butter to feed generations of humanoids sprouting peanut-shaped Styrozits on their poly-ridden bodies? My Sty-rancor is equally harsh for Styrochips, molded Styro-whatsis, all other polystyrene shapes and, especially, those teeny-tiny round mini-beads. (I once had a traumatic encounter with the contents of a beanbag chair from which I’ve yet to recover.)

Forgive my Styrotirade, but I’ve been opening mailorder plants for weeks now, comparing the many bizarre ways people pack them and other items for shipping.

As usual, I went overboard this year, whiling away winter buying amaryllis on Ebay. Later, I couldn’t resist some of the great “bargains” I came across on outdoor plants, primarily clematis. And, although I find little difference between conventional mailorder nursery shopping and buying plants on Ebay—(I wish I had thought up the brilliant idea of combining shopping and gambling)—people who ship plants, be it from nurseries large and small or their own backyards, can use a lesson in sensible sending.

One seller, for instance, wrapped bareroot clematis in aluminum foil, guaranteeing fried roots had the mail carrier left the package in the sun. (Actually, the mailman attached the package to my garage door handle, so that
when I came up the driveway and hit the remote, the package disappeared into the garage roof until I rescued it after several minutes of frantic clicking and pulling.) To boot, the 3 tiny aluminum-shrouded plants were taped into odd corners of a 3-foot-long triangular postal container (talk about overkill) which was almost impossible to open, even with tools. It was a wild guess as to where in the box I’d find the plants.

Another person bent and stuffed bareroot clematis callously into sealed plastic sandwich bags. Plant abuse, pure and simple! I’m considering starting a chapter of SPCP (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants.)

Most irritating is opening anything packed in those peanuts. It may be nice and cushiony for the plants, but it’s a disaster for the unsuspecting recipient. I got the double whammy the other day when I extricated another unlabeled bareroot assortment from a box of Styrofoam interspersed with wood shavings and shredded paper.

The best method for wrapping and shipping plants is to pot them, seal dirt into pots with plastic or tape, and place them in a box—head-to-head, if necessary, using long sticks inserted in the soil to keep pots immobile and apart, with wadded newspaper used as cushioning. This way the plant’s roots are protected, soil doesn’t spill out, and the packing material is biodegradable and easy to remove and dispose of without mess. Besides, you can read the newspaper and find out what’s happening in other cities! Bareroot plants can be wrapped in wet sponge or newspaper.

This year’s buying fest was a lesson for me. Hereafter, not only will I ask what size plants people are sending, or if they’re sending them bareroot (it’s a pain having to pot up everything that arrives for safekeeping until planting time), but how plants are being packed. No more Styrophobia when I see a new box heading up my driveway.