Prepare your plants for vacation

  • Bury one end of a rope “wick” near the roots and place the other end of the rope in a bottle of water to keep your houseplants moist while away from home. AP

For LiveWell
Thursday, May 04, 2017

Now is a great time of year for gardeners to get away – before the digging and sowing and planting and watering and – well, you know, all the things we need to do to get our gardens off to a good start for the season.

We must remember, however, to be considerate of the houseplants that have given us shades of green and in some cases a little color to tide us over during the long winter months. No one wants to return from a vacation and find wilted, dried up, or worse yet — dead – houseplants, but keeping plants watered while you are away can be problematic. Plants suffer when their roots are either too wet or too dry, therefore it is important to ensure that your plants receive just the right amount of moisture to keep them alive without causing root rot.

Most houseplants are pretty tolerant of neglect as it is and with a little planning they can survive in our absence. The key to a plant’s survival during their caretaker’s vacation is to find a source to supply the plants with water or to take steps to decrease your plants’ need for water, or both.

Lack of water is the major threat to abandoned plants; however you should already know how long your plants can go between waterings, therefore if you are going to be away for a week and you customarily water a particular plant once every four or five days, you need to have a plan. This can be as simple as thoroughly soaking your plant through and through, letting it drain and then adding a little extra water to its saucer that can be drawn up if it starts to dry out while you are still away. It will be fine.

Of course, you can always ask a neighbor, friend or relative to stop by and care for your plants, but be aware of entrusting their care to people that are unfamiliar with your plants’ needs. Very specific instructions would be helpful in this case because as you know, some of your plants need to be watered every four or five days, while others, such as cacti and succulents can go weeks without water and be just fine. A well-meaning “plantwaterer” could kill the latter with kindness without your guidance.

There are several vacation-watering methods that you can enlist to ensure that your plants are lush and healthy when you return from your vacation: One is to take a piece of cotton rope and bury it in the soil of your plant, placing the other end of the rope in a bottle or pan of water. The rope will act as a water wick to the drying soil; wine bottles or plastic soda bottles filled with water that are up-ended and pushed firmly into the plant pot’s soil will slowly dispense water as the soil begins to dry; and more tender plants like African Violets, etc. can be placed in a plastic tray or baking pan half-filled with pebbles, adding water to just cover them. With the plant pots sitting directly on the wet pebbles (saucers removed), the plant can take up moisture as needed.

Temporarily placing your abandoned plants in less light than they normally receive decreases their need for water, so try removing those that are in a sunny window to where they will receive only indirect light. (You would not want to do this for an extended period of time as the plant will lose energy and may become limp or yellow). Lowering your house temperature when you leave for vacation, which most of us do anyway, will also decrease your plants’ need for water.

For plants requiring more humidity – orchids, African Violets, English Ivy – this can be accomplished by grouping the plants together, filling their saucers with water and draping a sheet of clear plastic, such as a cut-open dry cleaning bag, loosely over the plants. Insert wooden skewers, pencils or small dowels into the soil and lay the plastic over them to keep the plastic from making contact with the leaves of the plant, blocking the air. This is a particularly good method if you will be away for a longer period of time.

So give one or more of these watering practices a try the next time you travel and when you return from your time away to find your beloved houseplants perky and none-the-worse-for-wear, smile and pat yourself on the back for being such a responsible plant owner.