Moving Houseplants to California

Posted by Ana Carlson on


Monstera houseplant in a U-haul moving box.Getting ready to hit the road!
If you’ve been following me on Instagram for a while, you know about my move from New York City to LA last year. If you’re not, go follow @sillappeal! Anyway, I finally got a chance to write about how I did it. Driving across the country had been a dream for a long time, and the move just seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it happen. It also made it possible to move all our plants ourselves, which brought another set of challenges. Even though it wasn't easy, I think that with a little planning, people don’t have to give up their plants if they don't want to, or do something illegal and dangerous just to keep them. 


I knew that California had strict agricultural regulations because of its agriculture industry. Bringing in plant and soil from out of state can put local crops at risk by introducing new bugs and disease. But what is and what is not allowed? 

After spending a lot of time researching online I kept running into the same websites with vague, ambiguous or contradictory information. I also looked at several forum posts where people asked this same question and either be referred to government sites such as this one: CDFA or were told not to bring them. I also tried asking popular plant collectors on Instagram who either lived in the state or had moved with their plants but the answers ranged from “don’t worry about it, border inspectors don't care about plants” to “just sneak them in” or referred me to the same sites mentioned above. 

I had read about people who brought a plant or two, the inspectors looked at them and gave them back. But when you have so many plants, how would they be able to thoroughly inspect each of them? And what if some other damage got mistaken for a serious problem and my plants got confiscated? 

I knew there had to be a way to safely and legally bring our beloved houseplants to our new home in California. So I kept looking, and eventually found a website for the USDA in a different state. It said that if you’re planning to move from that state to California and bring your plants, you should get them inspected beforehand so that you’ll have the documentation you need to show border inspectors. It was a very user-friendly page that allowed users to schedule an inspection online. 


Houseplants packed in a wardrobe moving box.Plants had to be packed quickly. I partially wrapped them with packing paper, leaving the tops uncovered. This wardrobe box had perfect dimentions for smaller plants. Then I taped film to the box, creating this sort of mini greenhouse.
After some more searching,  I eventually found a similar page for the state of New York. It was just a list of inspectors by county. I emailed the inspector for Manhattan and he confirmed that he would be the one inspecting the plants and give me a phytosanitary certificate to show agricultural inspectors in California. He asked me for a list of plants I had, both scientific and popular names, and a photo of all of them. He needed to verify that all plant species were allowed to be brought to California. I had read about citrus and nuts, but didn't know what else was illegal to bring. None of my common houseplants were a problem.

We wanted to get the plants inspected about a week before the move but were toldInside a Penske moving truck.

that this could cause issues since our move across the country would take so long. It’s better to have the inspection done as close to the date you enter the state as possible in order to avoid additional stress and the possibility of having the plants rejected on the border.

Our local inspector agreed to check the plants the morning we moved. I watered them and moved them out of the way to make things easier for the movers. The inspection took about an hour and the cost was $25 per hour which had to be paid by money order. We received the certificate immediately. It was a hand-written form with carbon copies, valid for all states crossed as long as we didn’t take the plants out of the truck. We were also told it would be better to keep them in closed boxes to avoid suspicions that bugs may have entered while in transit.

Key lime pie succulent.We drove a 16-foot Penske truck through I-40. Although our certificate was valid for all the states in transit, there were no agricultural stations anywhere on that route. The only one we passed was in Needles, California. This was the most stressful part of the move. Even though I knew the plants were safe and we had taken all the steps necessary to prove that, it was still nerve-racking when the inspector approached us and asked us to open the back of the truck so he could make sure there were no plants! We told him we did have plants and we also had papers for them. He asked to see them, we opened the back of the truck and he asked what kind of plants we had while two others walked into a booth with the papers. It didn’t take too long but felt like the longest wait ever. I thought they were about to let us go when we heard a woman shout from the booth “key lime pie!!!” Uh oh. No, we didn’t bring any citrus. I told the inspector that stayed with us outside that it was the popular name of a succulent.

Needles, California agricultural inspection station.The inspectors were very friendly. Nobody was trying to confiscate our plants, they just wanted to make sure they were safe to bring into the state. The chatty inspector outside explained that they had to call the boss to make sure it was ok because of the “sheer amount of plants”. Oops. He apologized for the wait and even offered us water on that very hot day. He was very grateful for our willingness to cooperate and do things the right way. I think many more people would do the same if there were more information about it, which is why I decided to write this blog entry.

Another inspector came out and he looked at the plants. He asked for permission to cut a hole through the film to take a closer look, then wished us a good day. Oh, thank you, now we can! Whew.

Orange Kalanchoe plant wrapped in packing paper.Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus in a moving box.

The move took six days, and took us through a wide range of temperatures and conditions. We spent the first night in Ohio, where it was below freezing. Even though three plants (out of about one hundred had some cold damage), all plants survived. Overall, I consider it a very successful move and I hope you find this information helpful if you're planning to move with plants. 





1 comment

  • WOW… Ana, this is such a great post!! So incredibly useful for planty peeps moving to CA. I am really impressed that 1. you brought all of your plants across the country in all of those temperature changes, 2. that they all lived, & 3. that you did it totally legal. KUDOS!!

    Tammy on

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