How to water plants and keep them alive while you are on vacation

One of the biggest stressors in a plant parents' life, is what to do with those indoor and outdoor plants while on vacation. You can't put your life on hold because of your plants. So, whether you're going on a short getaway or a trip abroad for a few weeks, here's some ways to water plants when on vacation.

Watering plants

Before you take off for vacation, give all the houseplants a thorough watering. This may require tweaking your watering schedule a bit, but try to plan your watering a day or two before you leave. You'll want to fully saturate your plants until water runs out of drain holes. I recommend tossing your plants in the shower or sink so you can wash the foliage down as well. This will give you a chance to clean off any debris off the plants and you can quickly inspect to make sure there's no pests around. There's nothing more dreadful than coming home to spider mites on multiple plants.

To learn more about common houseplant pests, click here.

Adjusting the light your plants receive

Whether your indoor plants receive indirect light, from grow lights or direct sunlight, the more light they have the more water they'll need, especially during the growing season. To prevent the soil drying too fast move your plants away from direct sunlight. You can move them a few feet away from the window or adjust the amount of hours your grow lights are on.

If moving your plants seems too big of a task, you can keep your blinds closed or add a sheet curtain to the windows. And as soon as you return, you can place the plants back to their original spot.

Self watering pots

If you plan on being on vacation for extended periods, self watering planters might be for you. There's many different options and styles for self watering planter system but I prefer to use a nursery pot inside a bigger planter, or cache pot as a water container. Create a small reservoir with a few inches of water in the cache pot. Place the nursery pot in this cache pot. Thread a string or cotton rope through the drainage holes. This will wick water up to the plant once the soil starts drying out.

self watering pots being repotted
Plants being repotted in self watering pots.
Photo by vadim kaipov on Unsplash

This will help the plant's soil stay at the perfect moisture level. Just make sure to change the water container when you get home to prevent gnats and algae growth.

Water wicking method

One method I've seen people have success with is a DIY water wicking system. Fill a plastic or wine bottle with water and using a string, feed one end in the wine bottle so it's touching the water and the other side will be in the plant's potting soil. The plant will slowly be able to wick water when it needs.

This method may need a little bit of practice before hand to make sure it's right for your plants. This method is also best for plants that need constant water (like Ferns, Calatheas, and Anthuriums).

DIY Drip System or Watering spikes

Another popular method to keep tropical plants alive while on vacation is to create a DIY drip system or use watering spikes.

To create the drip system you'll need to drill a few holes in a plastic bottle. The more potted plants you have, the more plastic bottles you'll need. Next, you simply fill the water bottle with water and quickly turn the bottle upside down and stick it into the plant's potting soil. Make sure the bottle is closer to the rim of the planter and not too close to the potted plant. For large plants, you can use a wine bottles or any other glass bottle.

You can apply the same method to a watering globe. And always make sure to test these methods out a few weeks before your vacation.

DIY Mini Greenhouse

Another extremely successful method that's not mentioned enough, is to create your own greenhouse. This can be done two separate ways:

  1. Clear plastic bag greenhouse

    This method is best for smaller plants or propagations. Place your plants in a ziplock bag, spray the sides and blow into the bag before closing it. This will create the perfect, humid environment for your plant. It will also prolong the amount of time the soil dries. And even with dry soil, the humidity will help keep your plants alive and happy.

  2. Storage container

    The next DIY greenhouse would be using a storage container. It's the same concept as the plastic bag but it's great if you want to put more plants in one area. Place the plants in the storage container, spray the sides and close it up. Grouping plants together also helps create the perfect microenvironment and drastically helps increase humidity. More humidity helps keep the soil moist longer. And always make sure to keep the storage container out of direct sunlight.

Plant sitter

If you're going to be gone for an extended period of time (3 weeks or longer), consider finding a plant sitter. This could be a trusted friend or hire a professional plant sitter.

When finding a plant sitter, give them a tour of your plants. You can even color code certain what plants require, and on a piece of paper write reminders like when to water or fertilize.

plants in pots
Plants in gold pots with watering can
Photo by Kaufmann Mercantile on Unsplash

A plant sitter will help with peace of mind and it's always reassuring that a fellow plant lover is watching over your potted plants.

Pot material and pot type

The last thing to consider before going on vacation is the type of pots your plant sit in. Terracotta pots are great with preventing root rot but will draw excess water out from soil too quickly. If you have a particularly thirsty plant, try planting it in plastic pots or even glazed ceramic. Both of these options are great for those plants with more watering needs. And always make sure to use a pot with a drainage hole.

snake plant in terracotta pot

Snake plant in terracotta pot
Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

More plant related articles:

5 tips for leaving your plants at home
Plants with heart shaped leaves
5 Reasons your plants need support
5 tips for a stress free vacation (with plants)