You’ve found just the perfect plant to offer as a hostess gift. You take it to the checkout and they kindly offer to gift wrap it for you. Hey, why not? So, a square sheet of colorful paper is pulled up around the pot, a ribbon, raffia or colored elastic is tied around the paper, at the base of the plant, to hold it up, then the whole thing is dropped into a colorful sleeve to protect the gift from the cold. It’s a neat and attractive system … but can also be a plant killer.
The problem is that the person who receives it often sees the gift wrap as part of the present. Sure, they quickly remove the outer wrapping (sleeve), but they tend to leave the pot wrap on. After all, it does give the plant extra zing, especially compared to the grow pot underneath, which is probably a mundane green, black or brown.
What’s Wrong With Gift Wrap?
The problem with wrapped pots is that it becomes difficult or impossible to judge the state of the soil. Wrapped as it is, you can’t see the soil the plant grows in and you often can’t even touch it. How can you tell the plant needs water? Or is soaking in water?
To make things worse, many pot wrappers these days are made of plastic or metal and hold water. Excess water won’t drip away, even if you (correctly) put a saucer underneath.
Most people who receive a gift plant understand they have to water it, but, having no access to the soil, they’re now in the dark as to when and how much. Therefore, one of two things usually happen. Either they forget to water until the plant wilts, then pour on too much and drown the already damaged plant, or they don’t wait until the plant wilts, then pour on too much water and drown the plant. Either way, the plant dies far earlier than it should.
The Best Solution
The best solution is to tell the person who receives the plant to remove the pot wrapping; that it’s not designed to be left on the pot. (And indeed, it is not designed to be left on the pot!) That way, the plant’s soil is much more visible and it’s easier to notice when it’s becoming too dry (it will change color from dark to light brown). The chances of them noticing the plant needs watering increase considerably and the plant can gain extra weeks, months or even years of life.
The Second-Best Solution
If they insist on keeping the wrapping on “just for a week or two,” have them cut, punch or tear a hole in the bottom and set the pot in a waterproof saucer.
This is still a compromise. They likely will not be able to see the soil, so one major clue the plant needs watering is still missing. Insist therefore that they slip a finger inside the wrapping and into the soil. If it feels moist, they shouldn’t water yet. If it feels dry, they’ll have to water thoroughly. If they water too much, the surplus will now drain out into the saucer through the hole they made. If there’s still any left after 20 minutes, have them pour it into the sink. This will ensure the evenly moist but not soaking soil that 99% of all plants prefer.
Have them check every three days. That sounds like a lot? Well, many gift plants are seriously underpotted so they take up less space in the nursery and that means there’s little room in their tiny root ball to store water. In the dry air of the average home, gift plants can dry out very quickly. I’ve seen a florist’s hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) go from moist soil and lush, healthy growth to bone-dry soil and death in just four days.
The best solution, though, remains to always remove wrapping paper from all gift plants once they’re in the home … that is, if you want to see the gift plant last and last!