Updated July 2021
We put a surprising amount of time and effort into keeping our houseplants alive. We make sure they get the right amount of sun and water, add rich compost to the soil when we can, and replant them when they outgrow their pots.
Yet plants are often the detail we overlook in our house in the flurry of planning and getting out of the house for a vacation. And few things are more discouraging than coming home to plants that are brown and dead (or near dead).
So here are some tips to help you keep your thumb green, even from a distance.
10 Steps To Keeping Plants Healthy While You’re On Vacation
- 10 Steps To Keeping Plants Healthy While You’re On Vacation
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1. Water your plants before you leave
Plants can live for a few days without water if it’s not too hot. So watering them right before you leave can be enough if you’ll just be gone for a long weekend.
Tip: I’ve added, “water plants” to our vacation prep list to help you and me both.
2. Keep your plants cool
The hotter it is the quicker water will evaporate and the more of it your plants will drink. Move outdoor potted plants into the shade and move indoor plants away from your sunniest windows.
In the winter, turning your heat down so the air in your home is is less dry while you’re gone will also help.
3. Trim your plants
Apparently flowering plants want more water, so trimming flowers and buds off with make them a bit more water efficient while you’re gone. It’s hard to say how much water this saves though.
Unless the plant flowered like mad I would have a hard time cutting off new buds. Though I’d be okay with trimming flowers that will die while I’m away anyway.
4. Use a wick system
At my daughter’s school they us an urban gardening technique that puts a container that can hold water beneath the planter boxes, with wicks that send the water up into the plants above.
You can rig a simple version of this up at home. Find a wick—twisted up yearn or a strip of cloth will work—and bury it about 2-3 inches into your plant’s well-watered soil. Then put the other end into a bowl or bottle of water. Be sure it goes all the way to the bottom of the water source so it can soak it all up.
5. Set up a drip system
Are you ready for this high-tech system? Water your plants really well. Then fill a plastic bottle (your average disposable water bottle will do) to the brim with water and turn it upside down inside your plant.
You can have Instant drip system! If you find dirt clogs it up you can tie something like loose cheesecloth or any kind of mesh over the spout.
6. Make a Terrarium
Die-hard DIYers will sometimes make their own terrarium. Place well watered plants in clear plastic bags. You can put several plants in a large bag or give them each their own bag.
Use whatever prop you have handy to make sure the plastic isn’t touching the plant. Seal it up and the condensation created will help to keep you plants moist.
7. Use newspapers for mulch
Some suggest covering the dirt in large pots with layers of damp newspaper. I’m not sure about this though; unless it’s fairly cool, I would expect the newspaper to dry out after a few days. But maybe in addition to providing moisture it slows evaporation in the soil below.
8. Get a plant sitter
If your plants can survive on their own for three-to-five days, most of these techniques will extend that for about another three days at best. So if you plan to be away for more than a week, asking a neighbor to come in and water your plants is essential.
If it isn’t just a matter of watering each one until the soil feels moist leave written instructions that name and describe the plants and explain what they need. Some people will group together plants that need similar care.
9. Get the right plants
I’ve tried several times to keep rosemary alive indoors in winter and the dry heated air has killed it every time. But my daughter has managed to keep a spider plant alive for quite a while now, even with her dubious watering habits and nearly sunless bedroom.
Plants that are fiddly or need constant water are hard to leave. Low-maintenance plants that can (or even should) dry out between watering, and that like a cool house and indirect light and are going to fair better when you leave them for a few days.
Cactuses, aloe and other succulents are good bets. Here are some other plant ideas.
10. Give outdoor plants a boost
There isn’t a lot you can do to help in-the-ground plants except to have your plant sitter water them, too. Setting up the sprinkler or hose so all she has to do is turn it on helps.
If you don’t have a plant sitter and you’ll be away in hot weather consider using a soil that helps with water management to stretch out the number of days your plants can go between rain showers or being watered.