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.

A Dripping Tap Waters Plants While You’re Away

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This old beach towel is acting as capillary matting for the plants placed on it.

You’re going on vacation this winter and have no one to water your houseplants? That’s easy enough to fix!

Place a rag, a towel, a piece of old carpet or even just 4-7 sheets of newspaper on the bottom of a sink or a bathtub. These products will act as capillary matting. Do not plug the drain: you’ll want any surplus water to flow out. Now, moisten the matting and place your pots directly on it, that is, without any saucer. Next, turn on the tap just a bit, so that it drips very slowly. As plants start to dry out, moisture will move up into the pot by capillary action, keeping the pot evenly moist… and any excess water will simply go down the drain.

Ideally, the sink or would be in a brightly lit spot so that your plants will get good light while you’re gone. That way they’ll be in perfect shape when you get back. If that isn’t the case, you might want to leave a light on or add some sort of supplementary lighting, especially if you’ll be gone more than 2 or 3 weeks.

No Frozen Pipes

20160219B.jpgA secondary advantage of this tip that letting the tap drip while you are away will prevent your home’s pipes from freezing (unfortunately, a common problem when people from cold climates travel during the winter months and therefore no water circulates inside the house). In fact, plumbing experts already recommend that you let a tap drip while you are away during freezing weather. The only difference here is that the drips will now also benefit your plants.

Not for Succulents

Note that the above advice applies to plants that like their soil to be relatively moist at all times, like most foliage and flowering plants. Capillary matting, however, creates too moist a medium for most succulents and cacti. For these plants, you simply need to water well before you leave. Most can tolerate up to 2 or 3 months without watering if necessary.

Another Method? 

This technique doesn’t work for you? Here is another suggestion on how to water your houseplants while you are absent.