November 29, 2014

1 - Some plants can actually survive being enclosed and wrapped as gifts for short periods of time.

2 - It is not uncommon for Benjamin's fig trees to drop leaves as the season and environment changes.

Yard and Garden November 29, 2014

Q. #1

I was just wondering if it would harm plants to wrap them and give them as gifts. Can they be in a dark box or must they be wrapped in clear wrapping paper?

A. #1

Many plants will have no problem being wrapped and inside a dark box for up to a week as long as they are not kept too hot or cold. Other plants may be best given as gifts in gift bags. Even those in gift bags can be loosely covered with tissue or wrapping paper to provide the anticipation of opening the gift.

Plants with flowers will be most delicate. Miniature roses and other sturdy plants in bloom can be put into a dark box. They should be unharmed if they are carefully packed in the box with tissue or bubble wrap to prevent them from being damaged by shifting in the box. If they are kept well above freezing and below 90 degrees, they should keep for a week or so.

Flowering orchid plants and Christmas cacti are much more fragile. In fact, Christmas cactus that have set their flower buds will often drop all flowers if their environment changes or if they are exposed to temperature shifts. Orchids may be given in gift bags, but the flowers may need to be extending out of the bag and handled very carefully to avoid bruising.

Foliage plants are usually easier to manage as gifts and can be wrapped for a week or more. However, most of the common foliage plants grown indoors are very sensitive to low temperatures and you should take care to prevent exposure to temperatures below 50 degrees. The box or gift bag should provide some protection while they are transported from care to home, but prolonged periods in a cold car or outside may injure the plants.

Q. #2

Leaves have fallen from my Benjamin’s fig in large numbers. Do they have a disease?

A. #2

As seasons change and environments change (heaters come on and dry indoor air and they receive less light), Benjamin’s figs and other houseplants will respond by dropping leaves. If the plants have been growing in brighter light, they may be disposing of old “sun” leaves and producing new “shade” leaves better adapted to lower light environments. Inadequate watering and dry indoor air can also cause significant leaf drop.

Another thing to look for is evidence of insects. Benjamin’s fig plants are very attractive to scale insects. They will appear as brown bumps on the stems. These bumps are very easy to rub off. The scale insects may also make themselves evident by syrupy honeydew that they excrete. This will cause a shiny coating on leaves below the insects. If scale insects are evident you may wish to dispose of the plants. Treatment is possible, but involves persistence and effort. There are oil based treatments that may be used to rub the scale insects from the stems with cotton swabs, but this must be done several times to be sure all insects are gone. Some scale insecticides are available, but these are difficult to use indoors. Be certain to read the label to be certain that the product you have is safe to use indoors. You may also need to protect furnishings, carpets, and draperies from the spray. You may do this by shielding fabrics from the spray or moving the plants to a place where you can spray them without harming indoor fabrics. If you take them outside to spray the plants, do it on a warm day, but keep the plants in a shady location until the spray dries before returning them indoors. Even if spraying outside, use a product safe for indoor use.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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