Today’s blogpost has been in my drafts for a while, but with the current travel restrictions, it didn’t really seem like the right time to publish the piece. Even though I don’t have any plans to go anywhere this year, I wanted to share my tips on houseplant holiday care in case you are planning a little vacation. I have readers all over the world + I know some travel is slowly opening up so I hope this post is helpful. Alternatively, if you aren’t going anywhere but want to refer back to it for when you plan a trip in the future, then it’ll be here for you to read again. These tips might also help those of you with a larger plant collection to manage your plant care more easily, as there are also some time-saving elements mentioned here that can help to keep the time you spend on your plant care in check — especially if you find yourself nurturing a growing plant gang! Let’s get into it…
The posts in this series of guides are topics that I tend to talk about more in person with customers + clients but as the last year has very much been online + at home, I want to build up a section of my website that covers all the foundational topics of plant care that are easily accessible, in one place. These guides are naturally longer in form to provide enough detail about the plants mentioned, with plenty of space for photos too. It’s divided up into headings that are easy to navigate so feel free to dip in + out if you want. I hope you enjoy!
Carry out a plant inspection
A week or so before going away, take some time to have a thorough check over your plants, in good light + remember those that you might overlook! I sometimes forget that plants high up on shelves exist… so just a helpful reminder for you in case you also do this occasionally… Even if I’m not going away, I try to do this every few weeks as it helps me to note seasonal shifts + to ensure my houseplants are doing ok — forget about watering, positioning, feeding or repotting for a moment + just have a good look around at everything.
PESTS: Pay particular attention to any that might be struggling or have any lurking pest pressures. If there’s anything that looks a bit iffy, quarantine it somewhere away from other houseplants. Check for marks on the foliage, yellowing or dry leaf tips.
PROPAGATIONS: Don’t forget about propagations before your trip — in terms of those cuttings you’ve got water propagating, check to see if potting time is due. Plants can live happily in water for quite a while, but the longer they’ve been in water, the more time it can take them to adjust to life in a pot, so bear that in mind. In terms of taking cuttings to propagate, consider the time it will take for the cuttings to callus over, or you might end up finding some sad, soggy stems on your return!
A little propagator is a very handy piece of kit to have because it helps to keep the moisture in + the humidity up, so is particularly helpful if you have little pots of cuttings hanging around. These small pots need watering more frequently, especially as they transition from water to potting mix. I wouldn’t pot up anything finicky close to a trip — wait until you are back.
REPOTTING: Lastly, identify any houseplants that are in desperate need for a re-pot — these ones might need some extra help in the watering department. Check the roots to see if any are root bound + be mindful of those that seem to be needing more frequent watering; all signs that your plant might like a planter upgrade to something a little bigger. If you don’t have time to do any repotting before you go, there are things you can do to help keep your plant happy while you are away, but more on that later…
Consider the types of plants in your collection
This is a longer term point to consider + one that has been important in how I have grown my plant collection over time. As I’ve said previously in ‘A mindful approach to keeping houseplants‘, choosing plants that work for you is key. I prefer to grow more hardy types of houseplants that don’t require loads of attention. That means that these plants can go 7-14 days between waterings without too much upheaval.
HARDY HOUSEPLANTS: Plants that fall into this category for me are…
- My Pothos gang
- Snake plants
- Jungle Cacti
- Pilea peperomioides
- Spider plants
- String of hearts
For more inspiration of hardy plants to grow indoors, have a look at my ‘low-light tolerant houseplants’ blogpost as there are some sturdy candidates over there that can cope with neglect or less-than-perfect conditions.
In terms of size, more established plants in larger pots can generally go longer between waterings than lots of little pots dotted around. I’ve grown my plant collection slowly over a number of years so most of my pots are now a decent size + don’t require really frequent watering. The exception for me is my propagations, which I tend to keep together in an area I can easily see, so that I water these enough + I’ll often use a propagator if I go away.
Getting a helping hand
Asking for plant help from a trusting friend, relative or neighbour when someone was away was a frequently done thing when I was growing up. I’ve had many phone calls from my mum when she’s been abroad asking if I could feed the tomatoes, or if I could go + water the garden + not to forget about the hanging baskets! So in the same vein, getting a hand with houseplant care if you require it is worth considering!
PLANT FRIENDS: On a previous trip during high Summer, I enlisted my dad as chief waterer in the apartment when I was away for a little over two weeks, with a list of strict instructions! Before going away, I zoned my plants so those that needed special attention were all together + any that needed specific care, I attached a post it to the planter. I also gave some cacti seedlings to friends that had a sunny windowsill to look after too. Making friends with fellow local plant lovers can be very helpful in this respect — but of course be mindful of privacy + security + only ask people you trust.
PLANT SITTING: It might surprise you to know that with the explosion in popularity of houseplants, plant sitting is a thing these days. When I was running my houseplant business in Wales before I moved, I used to plant-sit for some of my customers for a small fee. The advantage of this is that they knew I had the care knowledge needed to keep their plants happy while they were away + that I wouldn’t overwater their cacti collection! I also had a student that brought me his beloved bonsai tree out of his uni dorm-room to plant-sit for a couple of weeks while he went home for Easter! As I said above though, I prefer to keep more hardy houseplants here at HPH that won’t cause me a headache if I’m away for a week.
There are some things you can do before you leave that will help, before you leave your friends, family or neighbours with your plant care…
Light + atmospheric considerations
Aside from their watering needs, considering the light + atmospheric conditions around your houseplants is a simple task that can go a long way to helping keep them happy + needing less (or no extra) attention when you are away.
PRE-HOLIDAY PLANT SHUFFLE: If it’s Summer or you live in a warm climate, move plants away from bright windowsills or out of hot rooms so that their watering needs are reduced. It’s always best to avoid the soil drying out completely so re-positioning them temporarily can help considerably. Think of it as giving them their own holiday to a different part of your home if need be. This will particularly be relevant if you have big south-facing windows, or a room with a lot of glass that can get hot. If it’s safe to do so, leaving a window ajar or providing some air movement will help with ventilation + air flow to help stop the air from getting stale.
LIGHTING ADJUSTMENTS: If you don’t want to move everything around, you might consider leaving your curtains or blinds drawn a little to diffuse the light + create a softer, more ambient set up while you are away. Plants do need light of course, but if you are only away for a week, making a temporary adjustment such as this won’t cause them any harm. Whilst living in this temporary place, I have used net curtains to diffuse the light on my south-east facing windows that easily slide onto the curtain pole with minimum fuss + are extremely affordable too. These would be a great option if you want to keep your plants where they are but just take the light levels down a notch.
HUMIDITY: The other advantage of grouping your plants together is that the surrounding atmosphere will create its own little ecosystem + placing plants together on pebble trays with a layer of water can also help to raise the ambient humidity a little more too. Whilst the effects of this are short-lived + localised to the pots in question, for humidity loving plants, it’s an option to consider. I have a drip tray underneath some of my larger planters with a layer of stones in (primarily to raise the plant up in the planter) but it also means I can add water directly to the tray in situations like this so that the plant has a bit of a ‘water reservoir’ it can drink from in the short term. I just want to add here as an addendum that I don’t supplement my humidity at home as I collect vintage furniture + the excess moisture in the air from things like a humidifier can cause damage to the wooden pieces, so I choose houseplants that cope well in regular environments + use a propagator or cloche for anything else.
Last time I travelled for a week, I grouped my houseplants together in the centre of my living space + wound the sheer blinds down a bit on the sash windows. These simple changes in the main part of the apartment meant I didn’t need to ask for any additional help + the plants were all looking absolutely fine on my return.
What to do about watering
The watering issue is perhaps the biggest question when it comes to houseplants + holidays. There are a few different ways to approach this, depending on your environment + the types of plants you have.
A LAST MINUTE WATERING DASH: This is often what you’ll find me doing the morning of a holiday + yes I have got up an extra two hours earlier on more than one occasion to water my houseplants thoroughly before a week away! I’ll usually do this if I haven’t arranged a helping hand with my plant care (as all of my plants can cope for a week without me) + I generally prefer to pack in advance + water either the day before or the morning of leaving depending on what suits my schedule at the time. Basically, give everything a thorough watering before you go! You can feed your plants too if you like, to give them a bit of a nutrient boost while you are out of town.
TOPPING YOUR POTS: If you have any plants that like their potting mix to stay consistently moist, then top-dressing them with sphagnum moss, stones or chunky bark is something to consider. This can help keep conserve moisture levels, which will reduce watering frequency + create an increase in localised humidity — a perfect option for holiday houseplant care of your favourite pots. I’ve found this to work really well with a variety of my plants this year, but please ensure you get your sphagnum from a reputable source if you are interested in using this substrate.
CAPILLARY MATTING: This is a piece of kit that you might be familiar with if you are a seed or greenhouse grower. Capillary matting is particularly great to have in your holiday-care arsenal if you keep houseplants that like regular levels of moisture, such as ferns. You can pick it up at your local nursery + it’s often near the seed sowing, vegetable growing area. The easiest way to use it in your home is to cut a piece that is the length of your draining board plus half again — so that it is long enough to cover your draining board (or tray if you don’t have one) + run down the inside of your sink, which you will then fill with water. It’s important to water your plants thoroughly first though… otherwise they’ll begin soaking up that moisture straight away! Remove the plants from cache pots + place on the matting + they’ll soak up the moisture they require over your holiday. An extra tip — if you use terracotta pots, the water will deplete faster as the pots themselves are porous + will soak up the moisture readily when sat on the capillary matting. I generally use this method with plants in nursery pots.
The other place you might want to use matting would be in a propagator — as above, water your pots thoroughly first + add some dampened matting into the base to help keep your cuttings growing well.
Following on from capillary matting, wick watering is another method that uses capillary action to ‘wick’ water up to your houseplants. Gravity is involved in this process because the water reservoir (as above with the sink being lower than the draining board) is lower than the pots themselves so the water is pulled up on demand, which helps to stop your pots getting completely water saturated. I will do a step-by-step to wick watering next time I go away to show the process visually. But here’s the basic idea —
1. You need to use a pot with drainage holes as that’s where the wick will go.
2. Get a piece of rope/string/cord/shoelace or similar that’s long enough for your set up (here’s one to try). Synthetic cord is more hardwearing whereas natural materials will disintegrate over time. I’ve used old nylon cord + even old stockings before + they worked well!
3. An old jar or bottle will work well as a vessel to hold the water in…fill this up + put to one side.
4. You can also use a flower vase for this. If you have a pot that can sit around the top of the vase then that’s an easy option + will keep the setup nicely minimal + won’t take up too much room.
5. Tie a knot at one end of the ‘wick’ + at the other end, tie to some kind of stick, such as a length of bamboo cane or a chopstick or a pencil.
6. Poke this through the drainage hole + into the potting mix/root ball of the plant. Be careful not to damage the roots when doing this… gently does it.
7. At this point you can remove the stick if you like, I sometimes leave it in as it can shift around a bit as you move the set up into position.
8. Place the other end of the wick that has the knot tied in it into the water vessel + voila! You’re all done! The wick will draw water up to the roots when they require it.
NOTE: This can seem like an elaborate set up, but it does work for many plant enthusiasts. There are specialist spikes you can buy with tubing instead of cord wicks, but these aren’t as widely available yet. You can rig up multiple pots with wicks running into a collective vessel + is particularly suited to plants such as orchids (this kit might be a good starting point).
SELF WATERING PLANTERS:
Aside from being savvy with choosing the types of houseplants you grow, if you travel regularly, you might also want to think about using self-watering planters too. I also use these with clients + they work extremely well if you aren’t in the office everyday, or at home, if you work away for some of the week, or just in case you take a sporadic approach to your plant watering!
- This is a popular one with my customers + it works well in lots of settings. Easy to use + robust.
- Here’s another of that style which I’ve found goes well with terracotta planters if that’s your preference.
- For the minimalists, this is a clean looking option.
You can turn your regular planters into a makeshift ‘self watering’ set-up by using watering spikes. I always have some globe-style self-watering spikes in my kit + use them with my larger plants — here are some clear ones I have a couple of, or there’s an alternative colourful option. You can also get some terracotta ‘ends’ that you can attach your own vessel for, but these can be hit + miss in my experience.
Taking it back to basics to finish up, putting your plants in the bath with some water that they can soak up is a simple, old-school method! If you grow leafy foliage plants like Monstera + Philodendrons, they will surely enjoy a bathtub vacation — I don’t recommend this for cacti or succulents though — they prefer to dry out between waterings. Whenever I’ve done this in the past, I’ve always been welcomed by a lush, viridescent jungle-in-the-tub on my return! A classic way to keep your houseplants holiday-happy.
Thanks for reading + I hope this post has given you some ideas for looking after your plants next time you go away. When you get home, plan a plant care session + check things over just as you did before you went, especially if the pots have been in a new location/mixed in close proximity to others that they aren’t normally. By keeping your pots away from hot, dry air conditions + away from very bright light it can help prevent a potential problems with pests, or the potting mix drying out too severely. Lastly, try not to fret too much — houseplants really can be more resilient that you think!
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