Flying Roses to the Rose Show
One Method of Packing and Transporting Roses to Long Distance Rose Shows

By Kitty Belendez

I recently received an e-mail from Harold Baker of Florida, in which he asked many questions of how to transport roses to rose shows via airplane.

Dear Kitty,
One thing seems to lead to another. My wife Jean and I thought we would like to attend the National at San Jose. Then we thought that if we went that far we should take some roses. But we have never flown before with roses, so we reviewed that section in Bob Martin's book as well as your article "Fried Fish" in the Spring 1998 issue of the Rose Exhibitors' Forum.

Your method of transporting roses to the rose show makes the most sense to me. There are several places where I would appreciate further clarification.

A. The 4" X 4" Styrofoam cups sound good, but we haven't been able to find this size. Do you have a source or a manufacturer and item number? Since the cup fits inside the 3 1/2" diameter cone, I assume the cup is 4" diameter at the top end and tapers to something less than 3 1/2" diameter at the bottom. Is this correct? Apparently other people put something around the blooms in an attempt to keep the petals from rubbing against the tube or cup. Do you do this?

B. The length inside our 80 quart Rubbermaid cooler is 27-1/2". I am thinking that an overall length of cane and bloom cannot exceed 26". I am thinking that I could stick the cane into the Oasis to within 1/4" of the Oasis bottom.  Then if I place the Oasis within 1/4" of one end of the cooler the bloom would be within 1" of the other end.  This would allow for essentially no shifting of the specimen in transit. What is your experience and recommendation? What do you do to prevent shifting? Do you add something on top of the cones near the center of the chest that would be compressed against the cones when the lid is closed?

C. What is the advantage of the gel that you are using? Have you used an indoor/outdoor thermometer to measure the results in your chest? Do you know the freezing temperature of your gel? Do you use the gel in all three refreeze bottles or do you keep plain water in one bottle? Do you recall about how many packs it takes to fill the size refreeze bottles that come with the 80 qt Rubbermaid cooler?

D. One last question of a different nature. In our limited flying experience we have always pulled our wheeled luggage along in the line at the check-in counter.  If you have a couple of these chests in addition to your personal luggage how do you manage it?

I am sure that you have flown to additional Nationals since you wrote about flying to Shreveport in 1997. What have you changed since that time? Kitty, I know that I have asked a lot of questions, but sharing your knowledge gained through numerous experiences will be of great help to me and certainly will be appreciated.

We are looking forward to seeing you again at San Jose.
Harold Baker, Florida

Dear Harold,
It's good to hear from you again. I'm glad that you and Jean will be coming to San Jose with roses in 2002. Many exhibitors will be coming from Southern California, and it will be a lot of fun.

I have to be honest up front and say that it is not an easy task to travel by air with roses. Minis are a bit easier than the bigger roses, especially hybrid teas. Roses just don't travel by air as well as when you drive them to a rose show. The rose boxes are handled so roughly in transit by the baggage handlers at the airport. After 9/11 it is going to be even more difficult to bring roses as carry-on. And it takes a lot more work and time to pack the roses. I'm not trying to discourage you; I just want you to go in with your eyes wide open. You should definitely give it a try.

Since 1992 (the first time we transported roses by air), we have flown roses to six ARS National Rose Shows: 1992 Shreveport, 1996 Seattle, 1997 Shreveport, 1998 Albuquerque, 1999 Nashville, and 2000 Atlanta. As you can see, that's not much experience. We didn't attempt the national challenge classes until 1996 Seattle, which was not our peak bloom cycle. None of the other dates were our peak bloom cycles either, and early on we really didn't have enough roses to compete nationally. We won a couple of trophies here and there, but didn't win our first national trophies until this year, when we DROVE the roses to Portland. We keep trying to perfect our method of air transport, and plan on trying again in 2003 for New Orleans.

That said, let's see if I can answer your questions.

A. We purchased a huge box of the cups from Smart & Final. It's kind of like Costco, but a much smaller store, and they mostly handle only foods and food-related supplies. Some people call these cups "chili cups." The name and model number on the cup is: Handi-Kup Company, Model #F-16. We probably have a 20-year supply. LOL! Yes, they are slightly tapered, but not as much as other cups, so they fit neatly into the tapered cones that we got from Kimbrew-Walter. And, of course, they are wider at the top, which fits the rose blooms better than a regular cup would. The exact measurements are 4" tall, with 4" opening at top, tapering to 2-3/4" at the bottom.

No, we don't put anything around the blooms to keep them from rubbing. The way the bloom fits in the hole in the bottom of the cup keeps them secure. They don't move. We've never had any petal damage from rubbing.

B. We leave about one inch from the top of the cup to the end of the cooler. The bloom is going to be down inside the cup somewhat, at least one inch from the top of the cup, unless you have gigantic blooms, so there is plenty of space between the bloom and the side of the cooler. Even if they do shift, the blooms are still down inside the cup. What keeps the cones from shifting is how they are packed tightly, alternating them back and forth. One cup to the left, one cup to the right, and so on. When the cooler is filled to the top, the wire cage is placed over it, and the lid with the 3 coolant containers will then fit snugly. If not filled to the top, I would recommend filling with something to hold all in place; bubble wrap perhaps. Don't use anything absorbent because the material will collapse. The cage is used more for a safety precaution in case the coolant bottles come loose, which happened to us once. They kept sliding around on top of the roses, and damaged a few blooms.

Get yourself organized with everything laid out before you begin packing your roses. You want to get the roses packed and into the coolers as quickly as possible. Put the frozen gel coolant into the lid of the cooler only after it is filled with roses and ready to close. 

C.  I've been using the U-Tek gel for about 10 years and know that it works, so I am not inclined to change. And besides we can use it over and over, indefinitely. We had to buy some more last year because we needed a lot more to cool the huge special box that Bob built for our van to drive our roses to Portland (we will also use this box for San Jose in 2002 and for San Diego in 2004). We buy it from the Ben Meadows Company, 800-628-2068. It is U-TEK Item No. 300103, 24 oz., 12 per box. The price is $15.95 per box, plus shipping. The shipping charges will be more than what the price is, as this stuff is heavy. We paid a total of $33.76 including shipping charge. There may be other places on the Internet where you can buy this product. The gel freezes down to +30 but does not freeze the roses. They say that it keeps the temperature at below 42 degrees for more than 50 hours. We have found that to be reliable. They have a colder model that you DO NOT want as it will freeze the roses.

If the weather is warm, it is very important to pre-chill your empty coolers with ice several hours before packing your roses. It also helps that the water for the Oasis chunks is pre-chilled. Also, make sure your freezer is set cold enough so that the gel freezes hard, not soft to the touch. Some people don't have their freezers set cold enough. The gel needs to be frozen for several days before using. This gel stays very cold. We have found that if the show location is a cool climate, we need to crack open the coolers several hours before prep time begins to give the roses a chance to begin waking up. At Seattle it was extremely cold, and the prep room was even colder, like a meat locker. We also had extra coolant at the bottom of the cooler, which kept the roses too cold. The roses never did wake up; they stayed clammed shut. (But, they still didn't freeze.)

No, we do not EVER use regular water ice to cool our roses. Starting out, regular ice is too cold and causes freeze damage; then later it thaws too quickly, more quickly than the gel. All three coolant containers are filled with gel. You do not need more than that for the 80-quart Rubbermaid.

We do not use an indoor-outdoor thermometer on the coolers. Once in transit, you can't do anything about it anyway. You must not open the coolers until it is time, as the cold air will be released. We never had a problem with the HTs blowing open in the 80-qt Rubbermaid. With three gel coolant containers in the lid, it stays plenty cold. We only had a few minis blow going to Atlanta, but we forgot to pre-chill, and that smaller mini cooler has only one container of gel coolant, and we let the cooler sit in the sun a couple hours while waiting to check into the hotel. All those factors combined contributed to some of the minis blowing open.

It is not easy to get the gel into the coolant bottles, but here's a tip to make it easier: Warm up the gel in your microwave first, which makes it softer. Then pour the gel through a wide-mouthed funnel into the coolant bottles.

No, I don't remember how many bags it takes to fill one coolant bottle, but your bottles may be different than mine anyway. The gel bags we buy are 24 ounces, so you could fill one of your bottles with water to see how many ounces it holds. (They also sell 12 ounce bags but they cost 30% more per ounce than the 24 ounce size.)

D. This is how Bob and I get all our luggage and the roses on the flight. We each have one medium-sized suitcase on wheels with a handle. We bring two 80-quart Rubbermaids for the big roses, and one smaller Rubbermaid for the minis. As soon as we get to the airport we rent a luggage cart; it costs $1 or $2, depending on the airport. Well worth it, even for the short distance and time that you use it. You could also leave your luggage and/or coolers with the skycaps outside at the curb, but we do not like to do that. We did it once, and were very nervous at how long they sat there on the curb. We stack all 3 coolers onto the cart. Bob pushes the cart with one hand, and pulls along his suitcase with the other hand. Sometimes his suitcase also fits onto the cart. I pull along my suitcase with one hand, and keep my other hand on the coolers on the cart to keep them from shifting. You could also rent two carts, but we've never found the need to do that. When we arrive at our destination, we rent a cart again, load the coolers on, and push it out to the shuttle or bus. Sometimes we rent a car, and if we do, we get a mid-size, as all this stuff does not fit into one of those tiny economy cars.

One final caution: Never mark your coolers "FRAGILE." You don't want to bring attention to it. When we did put those labels on our coolers, they were handled terribly. They have been handled much better without the fragile labels.

We have found this method to be okay ... not superb, but just okay. 

For Atlanta we did not use this method, but instead experimented with rolling each rose in tubes of heavy brown kraft paper. This was a total, miserable failure because the paper absorbed moisture from the gel packs and all the rolls collapsed. Our roses arrived in Atlanta as flat as pancakes. 

For 2003 New Orleans we are considering experimenting with packing the roses in 3-inch irrigation pipes inside the coolers instead of the cup/cone method. But, we have to test it out first. Jeff Stage used X-ray film rolled into tubes for Atlanta, and it worked very well for him. He won King and Princess of Show. We're always looking for a better way.

Well, I hope I have answered all of your questions. I don't believe there is any one perfect solution for transporting roses by air to national rose shows. It's always much better to drive them if you can. But, I will only drive up to about 1,000 miles. Anything further will have to go by air.

Since San Jose is less than 500 miles from my home, we plan to drive them to the national rose show. But, that is another story for another day.
Best of luck in San Jose!


Reprinted from the Spring 2002 issue of "Pacific Southwest Rose" bulletin of the Pacific Southwest District, Kitty Belendez, Editor.


© Copyright Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.
Updated April 3, 2023