Christmas Gardening Houseplants Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

How to Save the Life of Your Gift Plant

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Pot covers can be attractive, but can also be deadly.

The holiday season is by far the most important time of year for the sale of flowering potted plants: poinsettias, kalanchoes, amaryllis, cyclamens, etc. are on sale everywhere at this season and they make great gifts… for yourself as well as friends and family. But beginners often make a blunder that soon kills the plant: leaving the plant as is in the decorative pot cover in which it was sold.

A pot cover is usually a molded sheet of plastic or metal foil that wraps around the pot and flares out at the top. It is used to hide the usually mundane growing pot from view and is generally beautifully colored to give more festive air to the plant. But as attractive as a pot cover may be, it can be quite deadly to the plant that grows inside it.

The Problem

The problem is that the pot cover has no drainage hole. In fact, it is specifically designed to prevent water from escaping. After all, who wants to buy a plant that drips when you lift it? But when you bring it home and start to water it, any excess water remains in the bottom of the pot cover, out of sight, and the roots of the plant end up soaking in water for days, if not weeks, which often leads to rot and the loss of the plant.

The Solution

Fortunately this problem is easy to solve… and without even diminishing the attractive effect of the pot cover.

Once you get the plant home, simply pierce a hole in the bottom of the pot cover (you can easily do so with a pen or a steak knife). Now replace the plant in in the cover and set the plant, cover and all, in the saucer of your choice. You simply need a saucer larger than the bottom of the pot, thus wide enough so that there is room for water to drain into. You can use an actual plant saucer, but also a bowl or a deep dish: you get to choose. Now when you water, you’ll immediately see if there is too much water, as it will drain into the saucer. And all you have to do is to empty the saucer, thus eliminating the risk of rot.

Check Before You Buy

Supermarkets, box stores, and other non-specialist stores sometimes offer gift plants at bargain prices… usually in decorative pot covers, of course. However, this kind of store may offer good prices, but they usually are terrible at maintaining plants. Often the plant is already rotting when you buy it! Before you buy, therefore, remove the pot from the pot cover. If the bottom is full of water, and especially if the soil smells like a rotten potato (that’s rot you’re smelling!), the plant is probably not a good choice!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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