Gardening: Protect tropical plants from store to car

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Tropical houseplants are high on the hot list for impulse shoppers today. And you don’t have to look far to find them. I’ve seen them for sale at pharmacies and hardware stores – last week I even spied some at one of those new super gas stations. Fill up the car, get a  pizza for dinner and pick up a new houseplant. It’s a one-stop shop.     

But let me warn you, no matter where you shop, buying houseplants in the winter months in Michigan can be dicey. The problem, of course, is the weather. Transporting a tropical plant that’s unable to withstand temperatures below 60 or so degrees from a store in freezing cold weather through a parking lot and stashing it in the back of a cold car for the ride home can be a death sentence.

'Pink Lady' Aglaonemas

Several weeks ago, I popped into my local grocery/health food store, and sitting at the front of the entryway was a display of houseplants. Among the collection were several Aglaonemas  that caught my eye. There were a couple of new cultivars with bright solid pink and pink splotched leaves that were not only drop-dead gorgeous, they were dirt cheap.  

Problem was, it was bitter cold outside and I had several other stops to make. It was late in the day so I figured not many folks were shopping for houseplants and decided to return the next morning, prepped and ready to buy.  

The secret to successful plant shopping during winter months is to wrap plants before leaving the store. A big mistake often made is using plastic bags. Plastic is not an insulator; in fact, it quickly transfers cold. Tender plants need to be well wrapped in paper.

Before leaving the house, I warmed up my car and turned the passenger seat heater on high and grabbed the heavy-duty paper leaf bag I’d filled with crumpled newsprint the night before and parked near a heater vent. So it, too, was toasty warm.  

While I was still in the store, I packed my new plants in the thick paper bag and tucked the crumpled new paper around them as insulation. I then folded the top of the bag over and closed it with a big chip clip. My pretty new tropicals made it home in perfect condition, even though it was 24 degrees outside.

I’m keeping my paper plant “suitcase”  in the back of my car, because today you never know when or where you’ll find a treasure, and I want to be prepared.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at