Keeping Houseplants Well-Watered While You’re Away

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Watering houseplants when you’re absent for more than a week is always a problem. Even if you entrust the work to a neighbor or a friend, it’s very likely that some plants will suffer. But it’s easy to organize plants so they don’t need watering for 8 to 12 weeks or more. Here’s how:

Start by watering them well one or two days before your departure. You want their root ball to be thoroughly and evenly moist, but not soaking wet.

The day before or the morning of your departure, insert them into a transparent plastic bag (a bag from the dry cleaners, for example), either alone (for large plants), or in groups (for smaller ones). Seal the bag with a twist tie and remove the bagged plants from full sun (the sun beating on a sealed container can cook the plants inside). Now, go in peace!

In the open air, plants lose about 95% of the water you give them to evaporation. That’s why you have to water them so often. But since the water in a closed bag can’t evaporate, your plants will benefit from moist soil for months! Yes, most plants treated this way will still be in fine shape in 6 to 8 months later! So, take a long trip if you want!

And no, your plants “won’t run out of air” in a closed bag. Plants are experts in recirculating air, producing excess oxygen during the day and excess carbon dioxide at night. Thus, they meet their own needs.

When you return, “free” your plants from their bag and put them back in their place … but don’t be surprised to discover that they are now more beautiful than when you left, because the high atmospheric humidity present in a sealed bag almost always stimulates healthy new growth.

How to Water Houseplants Over Summer Vacation

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To keep your houseplants well watered during your summer vacation, move them back from the window and water them thoroughly, for once leaving water in their saucer. With a surplus of water and less intense light, they can easily go two weeks without watering.

Leaving for 3 weeks or even a month? Water them sparingly, move them well back from the window … and seal them in a clear plastic bag. This eliminates water loss due to transpiration. You can even leave them sealed like this for 6 to 8 months without fear for their health!

Succulent plants (cacti, crassulas, snake plants, etc.), however, won’t be happy sealed in a transparent bag (they won’t tolerate very humid air), but they use little water for their survival anyway. In their case, water well and move the plant back from any sunny window, but this time, without covering them with a plastic bag. In the open like that, they’ll lose more moisture to evaporation, but very slowly. Even after more than a month, they will still be in very good condition.

Adapted from an article originally published on July 14, 2014.

Bag Your Houseplants Before You Leave

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20150323Watering houseplants when you’re away is always a problem. Even if you ask a friend or relative to water them for you, you’ll probably get home to find a plant or two either forgotten or overwatered. That’s unfortunate, because there is an incredibly easy method of watering houseplants while you’re absent, even when you’re gone for weeks or months!

Simply water the plant normally before you leave, draining any water remaining in the saucer. Remove any dead or dying leaves or fading flowers: anything that will be likely to fall off and rot while you are away (not that a bit of rotten plant tissue will do any harm per se, it’s just that you plant will look better when you return home). Now install the plant in a clear plastic bag: a dry-cleaning bag would be great for larger plants. You could also put several plants together in a large bag. Next, simply seal the bag with a twist-tie and move the plant to a moderately lit spot with no direct sun. The latter point is important: if you put a plant enclosed in plastic in a sunny spot, it will quite literally cook!

Inside a plastic bag, your plant will be able to survive for months without any water at all. This is because most of the water you normally apply to your plants is simply lost to transpiration and evaporation: inside a sealed bag, the humidity level will be essentially 100%. There will be no transpiration or evaporation and therefore your plant will use almost no water.

I can just hear you saying: “Yes, but how will my plant breathe if it’s sealed inside a bag?” I can assure you it will breathe perfectly. Remember that plants use carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day. Well, at night, they do exactly the opposite. Yes, that’s right: plants provide all the “air” they need for their own survival. They’re perfectly happy sealed in a plastic bag.

How long can you keep your plants sealed up like this? Easily 6 months, quite possibly up to a year. There are sealed terrariums that have never been opened in decades and the plants are still alive. Eventually, of course, your plant’s growth will be hampered because it will use some of the water and carbon dioxide for its growth, but that will take months or even years. Even if it does occur, your plant will still be in fine shape, just growing more slowly than usual.

Just think! A year of autonomy means you’ll have time to take a world cruise! The truly annoying thing, though, is that generally your plant will be in better condition when you get back than when you left!

20150323BOne warning: most arid-climate plants (cacti and succulents) will not appreciate the high humidity present inside a plastic bag, but they’re even easier to care for while you’re away. Just water them well, move them back from a sunny window (to slow down their growth), and go off on your travels. They’ll be good for at least 6 months, although they may be looking a bit shrived when you get back.