Use these simple methods to keep your plants watered while away on long trips and vacation!
Vacation watering methods can be easier than you think. Care for indoor plants while travelling doesn’t have to be dependent on your closest neighbor.
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How To Keep Plants Alive On Long Trips
I am going away on vacation for 4 long weeks and have indoor house plants that need to be watered, and outdoor plants that need to be watered to stay alive. Since I don’t have any neighbors out here in the country, and simply hoping for rain isn’t a good option, I had to take matters into my own hands. Lucky for me, there are lots of methods to help water plants while on vacation.
House Plants Watered Vs. Outdoor Plants Watered
Indoor plants typically have a different set of needs to be kept alive and thriving than their outdoor counterparts. But not to worry! I’m sharing some great methods for indoor and outdoor plants below.
Now, what we really want is for our plants to thrive while we are away, not just survive. So I recommend giving them a good feeding the month before, and trimming the foliage of your well established plants just a week before leaving so they use less water.
Self Watering Methods
First things first, make sure you test these methods out a few weeks before leaving for your trip. It’s important that the way you set it up is actually working because sometimes plant watering methods require slight tweaking to work.
Don’t forget to give your plants a thorough watering before you leave even if you are using one of these methods.
1. Water Wicking Method (Jar On The Side)
Place gallon jugs or jars of water (size dependent on how long you expect to be gone) alongside your plant with a piece of twine or yarn in the water, and the other end around the soil of the plant. The water will wick from the jug to the plant and keep it’s soil moist while you are gone.
Caution: make sure this is working before you leave. Sometimes the type of twine or material you work with will only wick part way… you may need to change the material type (make sure it has natural fibers), or re-position the jar to be higher than the plant with a shorter wick.
Best for: Houseplants without a lot of foliage
2. Water Wicking Method (Part 2)
This is the easiest, and most effective method I’ve found. It works for a large variety of potted plants, both indoors and out!
String cotton twine through the drain holes at the bottom of the planter, and place the planter in a deeper/bigger container partly filled with water. The idea is to nest the smaller planter in the taller planter…it helps to choose one with the same size width, but one deeper than the other.
You could use glass vases like I did here to suspend the planter above water:
Or simply nest a planter with holes inside a planter without holes. If you can’t find one with a rim that allows it to be suspended in the bigger planter, use something (brick, jar, a smaller planter) to boost it high enough.
Best for: Indoor and outdoor plants that like moisture. This can be used long-term for most medium sized plants. I use this as a regular method of watering my plants so I only have to water once a month or longer.
Caution: Larger plants may not be able to wick the amount of water they need through this method with a small string. Increase the string size for bigger plants, and monitor to see if it is working as desired. Beware of doing this for plants that are prone to root rot or need dry or sandy soil.
3. Self Watering Pots (DIY or buy)
You can buy self watering containers as an investment if you travel a lot, OR you can make them yourself! I shared the full tutorial to turn your existing planter into a self watering pot here.
Best for: Outdoor plants, but can be tweaked for indoor plants as well. Especially plants that like to be watered from below.
4. Self Watering Planters & Garden Beds
Even your gardens can be designed in such a way as to “self-water”. You can use sub-irrigation methods to keep your plants watered from below. You can learn how to build raised sub-irrigation garden beds here, and use a similar methodology for in-ground gardens.
This is especially great if you are a low maintenance gardener but want a high maintenance yield. This requires a bit of effort at the outset, but once it’s done you’ll never have to worry again!
Best for: Outdoor plants and garden
5. Terrarium Methods
Some of my tropical natured plants love moisture and need a terrarium-like environment to thrive while I am gone.
Simply placed the plant in a large clear garbage bag (like this one) that is doubled up, water the plant well and tie the bag up over the plant. Poke lots of holes in the bag near the top so it can breathe, and presto you’ve just created a makeshift terrarium!
A more attractive version is a bell jar that can cover the plant and a saucer with an inch or so of water for the plant to absorb from the bottom.
Caution: Keep these “terrariums” out of direct sunlight or you’ll just end up baking your plants. To ensure no water leaks you may want to place them on top of an aluminum cookie sheet or something to catch excess water.
Best for: Indoor plants that love moisture and tropical conditions
6. Watering Bulbs
No doubt you’ve seen a variety of watering bulbs and terra cotta + jar watering systems out there. They work pretty well if you are out of town for a week or two, and they can be cute and decorative as well as helpful!
Caution: if the tip of your watering bulb gets clogged it won’t work. Wrap the end in a little cheese cloth before poking it into the soil to prevent this from occurring.
Best for: Small indoor and outdoor plants
7. Moisture Crystals
Water storing crystals are more of a supplementary measure and should be used in conjunction with another watering method for best results. Add moisture storing crystals with a secondary watering system when you are planning to be out of town for a month or more.
I used Miracle Gro Water Storing Crystals, and it seemed to work pretty well, and I don’t have to water my houseplants quite as often as before.
Best for: Indoor plants & small deck plants
8. Drip Method
I’m sure you immediately think of a complicated and costly drip system when you read this. Well that is definitely a way to go, but remember there are also individual “drip” systems that are much like the watering bulbs, but you can control the flow. For example this Hydrospike adjustable dripper spike.
There are also smaller scale drip systems that are around $20 and cover multiple houseplants, small gardens, or decks.
Best for: Outdoor and indoor plants
9. Mulch Indoor & Outdoor Plants
For your outdoor plants this is self explanatory. Several inches of mulch will help retain the moisture in your garden and is great with a secondary watering system.
However you can also “mulch” your indoor plants by adding layers of heavily watered peat moss or placing a very moist rag around the base of the plant and covering it with a plastic grocery bag.
Caution: Moss can stay put and make a very nice addition to your potted plant! However, you don’t want to leave a rag or plastic covering more than a couple weeks or you introduce mold.
10. Tub of Water
A reader actually suggested this method to me, and I must say it is pure genius! By far the simplest and most effective method I’ve tried.
Place potted plants with holes in the bottom in a long shallow container of water, or if you have a bathtub or sink that gets a ton of indirect light, that is even better. Don’t add more than a few inches of water, just enough to withstand evaporation and still have enough to water your plants for the amount of time you are gone.
Caution: standing water can attract bugs and flies, spray on your tub of water a mold and bug deterrent if you will be gone for more than a few weeks. Buy a natural plant-friendly one from the store, or mix 1 tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide into 1 cup of water, and add 3 drops of Dawn dish soap. Shake and spray across the top of the tub filled with water before adding your plants.
Best for: Indoor plants and potted deck plants
Caution: Some plants hate too much moisture and need to dry out between waterings…this is a temporary measure for those plants, and you will want to let the soil dry out after returning to prevent root rot.
11. Soaker Methods
When dealing with outdoor plants without a drip system, a soaker hose is another great option to keep your garden moist. You can buy a timer (just like with a drip system) that turns the water on and off for you each day, or you can simply set the hose on a slow drizzle.
Best for: Outdoor plants and gardens
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