Use these tips to keep your houseplants watered while you are away on vacation. Long-term trips may require a plant-sitter but for a week or two there are ways to give your plants a rest and keep them happy until you return.
If you have never mastered watering, how often should you water houseplants has practical tips.
Plant Care While You’re Away
Figuring out how to keep houseplants happy while you’re away on vacation can be challenging.
Can they cope without anyone there to water them?
Are there ways to keep the soil moist without over-doing it?
While it’s best to get a plant-sitter for longer holidays, if you plan to be away just a week or two, some combination of the tips listed below should help keep your plants content until you return.
- Know What Your Plants Like
- Give Your Plants a Holiday Too
- Self-Watering Tips & Tricks
- Water Right Before You Go
- Ready To Go
Know What Your Plants Like
As much as we’d like one simple way to keep our indoor plants in good condition while we’re away, it doesn’t work that way.
Each plant has unique needs and what works for one may harm another. You can’t just sit them all in a tub of water and assume they’ll be fine.
This is why starting with a plant inventory list is helpful. Create a list of all your plants, look up the recommended care for each one, and assign them to basic groups. This shows you how to inventory your plants and use a tagging system for water and light needs.
There are four basic water groups (shown below) and four light groups (full, part, shade, any).
This will not only make you a better plant parent but, if you ever have plant sitter, the tags are there to help.
Prior to using this system, I’d constantly forget what each plant needed.
Now, I see a green tag—for example—and know instantly it is a plant that likes its soil somewhat dry before watering.
This tag system is also useful for determining which, if any, of the self-watering methods suggested below might help.
But first, let’s look at some easy ways to reduce the stress on your plants while you’re away.
Give Your Plants a Holiday Too
When we go on vacation, our plants need a holiday as well. Instead of their usual conditions that encourage growth, we’re going to dial things back and give them a rest.
Reduce Light & Temperature
We want the plants somewhat dormant yet hydrated while we’re away. No bright sun or lights, excess heat, or low humidity—all things that cause water evaporation.
To achieve this, do what you can to reduce light levels, maintain moderate humidity levels (around 50% is good), and keep the room temperature a little lower than usual. Somewhere between 60-70°F (15 to 21°C) is fine for most tropical plants.
- If your plants can be moved, relocate them to a cooler, low-light room.
- If not, keep blinds or curtains closed and protect them from heat sources.
Self-Watering Tips & Tricks
There are numerous ways to keep plants hydrated while we’re gone but none of them are perfect for all types of plants.
For this reason, I strongly suggest testing a few methods several weeks in advance if you can. This will allow time to adjust as needed.
These tips suit some plants in the Green category and most plants in the Blue category—namely varieties that prefer consistently, moist conditions. That means they are not suitable for plants like Aloe vera in the Dry (yellow tag) group.
Wick Watering (Wicking or Wick Irrigation)
This method is commonly used with plants like African violets that prefer even moisture. There are more growing tips here including how to get your African violet to bloom again.
A “wick” is used to transfer water from a container to the potted plant.
The wick can be some sort of cording, yarn, twine, or string.
Experienced growers recommend using synthetic acrylic or nylon instead of a natural material like cotton which will rot over time. Test whatever you use to be sure it holds water nicely.
One end of the wick is submerged in the water source, the other is buried a couple of inches deep in the potting mix.
You could also thread the wick up through the bottom drainage hole at the base of the pot and into the root area. A bodkin (sewing tool used to thread drawstrings) is helpful for this.
A successful wick will continuously transfer water to the potting mix.
I show just one wick in the photo (above) but you can use several for better water distribution throughout the potting mix.
You could also set up a wicking system in a bathtub. Add an inch or two of water to the tub, set your pots on stands above water level, and run wicks up into each pot.
Watering Bulbs & Bottles
There are many versions of this approach to automatic watering. You can use watering bulbs or upside-down pop bottles or wine bottles. I like to use hydrospike drippers with water bottles for larger pots. These allow the water to reach deeper into the root ball.
Any time you insert something into the soil you risk harming the roots so be careful.
This one is just for plants that enjoy a lot of moisture without the risk of root rot. It’s not appropriate for plants like succulents and cacti that need to dry out between waterings.
Fill your bathtub with an inch or so of water and sit the plants in it. Some bath tub plugs are not water-tight so don’t be surprised if the water is gone by the time you return. But, assuming the plants have had a good long drink until then, they should be fine.
Humidity Domes or Bags
I see this one recommended a lot and I’m not a fan. I’ve tried it and ended up with rotted leaf ends and fungus gnats. If this does happen, yellow sticky strips will catch the gnats.
I don’t want to discourage you but it’s important to keep it realistic. And perhaps you’ll try it out and discover it works fine with your conditions.
The idea with a humidity dome or bag is to enclose each plant or group of plants much like a little greenhouse, away from a light source so it doesn’t heat up. If it works, it will retain some moisture.
Clear plastic bags like the ones dry cleaners wrap clothes in are one option.
It is generally recommended to prevent the bag from touching the plants (to avoid rotting at contact points) and keep an opening to allow some air flow.
Again, I’ve not had success but some have better luck with it.
Humidity levels are vital for plant growth but you can overdo it.
There are various styles but, generally, self-watering plant pots have a water reservoir that gradually provides water to the plant. Again, these are suited to plants that like consistent moisture and are not prone to rotting from excess watering. If you find one you like, you’ll probably want to use it year-round, not just during holidays.
Slow Drip Irrigation System
While slow-drip or timer irrigation systems can be a lifesaver outdoors in the garden, I would not recommend them for indoors. It just seems too risky to leave something like this unattended. Can you imagine if it leaks or malfunctions? We want to come home to happy plants, not a flood.
Water Right Before You Go
Your last-minute to-do list should include one good, last watering of your plants before you go.
This is the time to give most plants a good, deep drink.
To do this, you want to saturate the entire root ball.
Water slowly while rotating the pot to thoroughly reach all of the potting mix.
Excess water should come out the drainage holes.
Plants in the yellow tag (dry) and green tag (moist but allow to dry out between waterings) categories should have their saucers drained after 30-minutes.
Plants that enjoy damp conditions can wallow in it.
Should I use humidity trays?
You often see it recommended to put plants on pebble drip trays filled with water. Unfortunately so little humidity is generated this way it’s really not going to make a difference.
Ready To Go
Your bags are packed and your plants are freshly watered.
Any self-watering methods have been tested ahead of time and are all set.
You’ve closed the drapes, turned off the lights, and lowered the room temperature.
Enjoy your holiday.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛