Those of us who need a winter break will be heading for the sun country sometime over the next couple of months. So what do you do with your houseplants when you go on vacation? You can ask a friend to care for them, but this can be risky business, especially if you have a deep and abiding love for both your plants and your best bud. Do give it a second thought if your friend doesn’t grow indoor plants.
If you’ll be gone for an extended period ask your local independent garden center about plant sitting services. Some will board plants, but you may have to pay a handsome price for the convenience. After all, the plants take up growing space and require special treatment from paid staff.
However, it is possible to leave your plants home alone while on vacation, the secret is providing them with the proper light, humidity and water.
For short jaunts, such as a long weekend, you’ll only need to contend with watering.
If you’re planning an extended stay, you can provide the plants with their lighting needs by setting up an artificial plant light. Garden centers and big box stores have several models that include the fixture and a special Grow Lite bulb in a single package, so all you have to do is plug them in. An inexpensive timer attached to the light fixture will allow you to simulate the nature’s rhythm of light and dark and the fixture can also sub as a security light.
Plants that need to be kept moist at all times, such as African violets, can be tented with a large plastic bag. Larger is better when it comes to tenting and the plastic must not be allowed to touch the leaves. Clear plastic cleaners bags or plastic drop cloths are large, light and easy to work with. A large old lampshade stripped of its material makes a great support frame. When tenting, to prevent gasses from building up, make ventilation slits in the plastic.
Placing the containers on pebble trays filled with water will help increase the humidity inside the tent. But be sure the level of the water is just below the bottom of the pots. Plants left in standing water will drown.
The wick watering system may be just the thing for those planning lengthy vacations. To set it up place a plastic drop cloth on the floor in the center of a bright room. Then set a chair in the center of the drop cloth. On the chair place a large container of water – a five-gallon plastic water container of distilled water works nicely. Now place the houseplants around the chair. The tops of the pots should be lower than the top of the water jug. To make wicks cut strips of material from an old woven synthetic blanket or buy wicking from the garden center. Each wick should be several inches longer than the distance from the plant pot to the container of water.
Now, water the plants well and wet the wicks. Then bury one end of the wick deep in the soil of the plant and drop the other end into the container of water. The wick should be long enough to reach the bottom of the water jug. If you have very large plants, you may need to use more than one wick to keep the soil properly moist.
My favorite no-brainer method of watering plants is called the Plant Sitter from CobraCo (800) 323-5800. This ready-made system consists of a small earthenware cone attached to a plastic tube that is dropped into a water-filled container. All you do is fill the little cone with water, insert it in the plant soil and your plant is watered automatically. Plants Sitters are available at English Gardens and other garden centers or you may order them from the Alsto’s Handy Helpers(800-447-0048) www.alsto.com. Ask for catalog item #38302-00
When the plants and watering system are in place, tent the entire setup with plastic and set up one or more artificial growing lights out side the tenting. Ask a relative or a friend to pop in once a week and check the water level of the container. Leave a funnel and pitcher handy so they need not disturb the wick setup.
The bathtub is an excellent place to keep plants that require high humidity. Line the bottom of the tub with a large piece of plastic and then add several layers of newspaper. Add enough water to wet the newspapers and drain off the excess. Place the plants on the wet newsprint and tent them with plastic sheeting, securing the edges with masking tape. If you will be gone for a long time, set up the watering system and grow lights.
It’s a good idea to give these methods a trial run before you head off to be sure the mechanics work.
Five No-Brainer Plants Anyone Can Grow
These all have low light requirements, need water when the soil feels dry and tend to be very forgiving: Good choices for folks on the go.
Arrowhead Plant – Syngonium podophyllum –
Cast Iron Plant – Aspidistra elatior
Chinese Evergreen – Aglaonema modestum
Snake Plant – Sansevieria trifasciata
Devil’s Ivy – Scindapsus aureus