Shipping Plants to Malaysia and Relevance of the Hardiness Zones
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Jin Lin
Posted on: May 8, 2001

I want to order some herbs but am a little apprehensive – really, what are the chances the plant will survive all the way here? I think Malaysia’s halfway around the world from Canada.

We can’t guarantee international plant shipments, but we can tell you that we have had very good success shipping to many countries of the world. We have shipped live plants to Japan and the Philippines, for example.

As long as we can get the plants to the customer within four days, we feel that there is a very good chance of survival. We use UPS Express for international shipments and they have managed to deliver within four days to most of our destinations. On very rare occasions plants do not make because of delays related to the destination country’s plant quarantine system. We are very attentive to the need for import permits and phytosanitary certificates, so the rare problems have more to do with misunderstandings and errors in the destination country’s quarantine branch.

I would also like your opinions on what sort of plants will survive in Malaysia. I can’t decipher the USDA information – does "hardy to zone x" mean it will be ok or will it die because it misses the snow? Malaysia is fairly close to the equator (within 10deg North; I’m sorry I don’t remember my geography that well). I have in mind stevia, rose geranium and some roses.

The USDA hardiness zone ratings are only a guideline even in North America. Experienced gardeners know that plants often can be pushed beyond the hardiness ranges with supplementary cultural practices such as mulching. They also know that there is no guarantee that a plant rated hardy in their zone will survive. The USDA zones are drawn based on average minimum winter temperatures, but there are many other factors that influence survival. Improving drainage and protection from repeated freeze-thaw cycles using mulches, for example, help to push the zone barrier.

To apply the USDA zone ratings to the tropical situation is tenuous at best. In the tropics, heat and excess humidity are important factors, and insects and diseases against plants may have no defense can be devastating too. A plant that is rated to survive USDA zones 7-11 may not thrive in the tropics.

In the Richters catalogue we have added a "11+" to the USDA zone system to indicate those plants for which we have received reports of success in tropical areas. Unfortunately, we only have scattered and sorely incomplete information about the survival of herbs in the tropics so we cannot say to you that our ratings even begin to be useful for your situation. At best, use the ratings as a very rough guideline.

It is important to point out that the hardiness ratings are only meaningful if a plant needs to be grown more than one year. Northern gardeners are well habituated to grow tropical perennials as annuals. We do that all the time with tomatoes, peppers, petunias and hundreds of other plants which are treated as "annuals." Similarly, it may be feasible to grow herbs which will not survive more than one season in the tropics as "annuals." For example, english thyme is rated hardy from zones 4-9, but we have reports that it can be grown in tropical areas for a single season. Friends and neighbours may be able to tell you what works in your area, so it may be worth checking with them. But in many cases you will need to experiment.

In the case of scented geraniums and stevia you have a good chance of success. Scented geraniums originate from southern Africa and stevia from Paraguay. Both need excellent drainage, and they may need shelter from heavy rains in the form of a plastic cover. Roses are much the same.

By the way, we do not ship roses outside North America. The reason for this is that all soil must be removed before shipping which is difficult to do in the case of field grown roses.

Thank you very much for your help. I think your site is great!

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