The last thing anyone wants is to go on a relaxing, enjoyable vacation just to come home to dead plants and have that color the whole experience. For some plants, watering needs to be a daily routine, which is why skipping even a few sessions can be fatal for them. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your plants healthy while still being able to take a well-deserved break.
Here’s how to water your plants while on vacation:
- Ask a neighbor or friend.
- Use the water wick system.
- Make a mini-greenhouse with a plastic bag.
- Try drip irrigation.
- Grow plants that don’t need much water.
If, for this reason, you’ve been feeling angsty about an upcoming trip, this article is for you! Keep reading to find out how to keep those plants alive while you’re enjoying your time away.
1. Ask a Neighbor or Friend
Before you start considering any overly complicated methods or buying new equipment, the first approach you should try is to simply ask a friend. While there’s a wide range of methods that should keep your plants just fine while you’re away, there’s no replacement for human intuition.
The rest of the solutions I’ll take you through are reliable, but you can never account for everything, so having someone who can pop in to check on your plants is always the best way to go. If you have a loved one willing to plant-sit for you, here’s what you’ll want to do before you leave.
Leave Clear Instructions
There’s nothing worse than trying to help someone but getting confused because they didn’t explain themselves well enough. Unless the person you’ve asked to help has plants of their own, they’ll only be able to assist to the extent you instruct them to, so give them very clear directions.
If you’re stuck on what to say in your instructions, here are a few things you may want to consider adding:
- Watering Frequency
- Watering amount and technique
- Light requirements
- Fertilizing directions (if you’re going to be away for a while)
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should get the ball rolling. A good way to go about it is to list out what you would do if you were there to care for them by yourself.
The final point I’d like to make here is to label whatever plants you can. Not everyone can identify particular plants by sight, so leaving clear labels on the planters will likely make your friend’s job easier.
Group Plants According to Their Needs
To make matters easier and avoid potential confusion, you can group your plants according to their needs while you’re on vacation. Put yourself in the person’s shoes. If they have an untrained eye for plants, differentiating between the plants that need watering once a day and those that need it once a week can often be confusing, especially if you’re growing a wide range of varieties.
Ask Someone That Owns Plants Too
If you have a friend or a neighbor that owns plants and takes care of them well, then they are probably the best option to go with. Although you might still need to leave particular instructions for your plants if some of them have specific needs, it’s far better to have someone familiar with plant life in charge while you’re gone.
2. Use the Water Wick System
A good water wick system is one of the easiest DIY ways to keep your plant soil moist when you travel. Water wicking is a pretty straightforward process and will only take about an hour to prepare.
How the Water Wick System Works
There are two main forces at play here: capillarity and water potential. Understanding both of these is key as most articles you’ll find will only mention the former, but they are equally important.
First, capillarity is the movement of water through a narrow space free from the effects of external forces like gravity. This definition is important because it tells us two things. First, the space must be narrow enough to keep the water moving. The second part is that water moves free of gravity, so the capillary motion will happen regardless of where you place the wick and reservoir.
Water potential is also crucial because it determines how well the water will soak into the soil after moving up the wick. Water potential is the ability of water to move from one spot to another. Think of it this way, there’s a reason why leaving wet clothes in water won’t dry them, but taking them out even if you don’t keep them in the sun will at least reduce their water retention.
Water potential is essential, as if you leave the wick in dry soil, water that has traveled up the wick due to capillarity will move from the wick to the soil. However, if you leave it in wet soil, water will stop moving altogether. I’ll explain the importance of both these forces more in-depth later on in this article.
Materials for a Water Wick System
Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll need to set up a good wicking system:
Choose a bucket that will hold the amount of water you want to feed your plants. This will vary depending on how long you plan to be gone, so add enough water for the number of days you’ll be away, then add some more to account for evaporation.
The wick is what delivers the magic and carries water from the bucket to your potting mix. The main component to consider here is the material. Your wick should be made from something at least as thick as a shoelace but not more than three times its diameter. A shoelace can work quite well. Alternatively, you can buy ready-made wicks from DIY shops.
The final component you’ll need is a weight to hold the wick down. For this, you can use anything small and heavy that won’t react with or reduce the water quality in the reservoir. Some common options are nuts, bolts, washers, clean stones, or heavy paper clips. If you can’t get any of these, you can go without one if you can get a long enough wick to provide weight below the water.
How To Set Up a Water Wick System
Once you have everything you need, you can start setting up the system. The best thing about this method is that it’s pretty straightforward and can be done in a few steps:
- Fill the bucket with water. The water you use should be as clean as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to use the same water you use to normally water your plants. The amount of water you’ll need depends on how many plants you have, so you might need several buckets in some instances.
- Cut your wick into a suitable size. There is no universal size that will keep your plants in the best condition, but you’ll want something that is at least long enough to touch the bottom of the bucket and still reach the planter.
- Water the soil heavily and allow it to drain. This step is extremely important as it will save you some water in the long run. Water potential plays a key role here. If the soil is already saturated, the wick will not start moving water into the soil yet, and in the long run, this will give you more space between when you have to refill the bucket.
- Place the other end of the wick into the potting mix. It’s essential to make sure the length of the wick above the water does not exceed 15-20 cm (5.9 – 7.9 in). Above this length, capillary motion slows down. You can simply put the wick into the soil and see if it holds firm. However, I prefer attaching the wick loosely to a small stick or pen and putting that into the soil. The pen acts as an anchor, keeping the wick stable.
If you’ve come this far, you should have successfully set up your wicking system! I strongly recommend testing out this method at least two or three days before you leave. Having a few days to observe how this setup works will allow you to refine and adjust as necessary.
To help you conquer the water wick system, check out this video on YouTube:
3. Make a Mini-Greenhouse With a Plastic Bag
This method is by far one of the easiest on this list. It has the fewest requirements and is generally sustainable if you keep your plants out of sunlight.
How Mini-Greenhouses Work
Transpiration is the process through which plants lose water from their stomata. Like I’ve mentioned many times before, plants like moisture, but they hate being too wet. The biggest reason for this is transpiration.
No matter how much water you have in the soil, the plant will only take a specific amount, and even with that, more than 90 percent is returned to the atmosphere as water vapor, and the plant uses the rest.
This means that a lot of the water you put into the soil is simply not used. The plastic bag method takes advantage of that, trapping the water vapor in the bag. With time, the vapor condenses, returning to the soil as water, and the transpiration process restarts.
Materials for a Mini-Greenhouse
All you’ll need is a plastic bag and your potted plant for this method. However, there are two things you’ll want to be mindful of:
- First, the type of bag you’ll use is important. While any old plastic bag could do, it’s best to go with something transparent or close to it so that light passes through the bag. A black bag, for example, will block out a lot of brightness from the plant, stunting its ability to produce food for itself.
- Next, you’ll need a large enough bag to cover the plant and not press on the leaves.
How To Make a Mini-Greenhouse
Here’s what’s involved in making your mini-greenhouse:
- Water your plant. This method is based on trapping water from transpiration, so there has to be water in the soil in the first place. That said, try to keep your soil moist but not soaking. Excessive moisture will waterlog the soil and the roots.
- Move the plant away from direct sunlight. Since the plant will be completely covered, leaving it in the path of direct sunlight could heat the bag to the point where it kills what’s underneath it.
- Fit the plastic bag around the plant. If you’re having trouble, try keeping the bottom of the bag above the plant while fitting the edges beneath. Tuck whatever is hanging out under the pot. If your bag keeps caving in on the leaves, you’ll want to use any straight item available as support.
- Make small holes in the bag. Although using the bag as is will solve the plant’s water needs, all species require carbon dioxide to live. Leaving the bag completely closed will suffocate the plant as the carbon dioxide levels in the mini-greenhouse drop. To counteract this, make holes in the sides of the bag. Ensure the holes aren’t so large that too much water escapes but large enough to allow ventilation.
This video shows ideas on how to build mini-greenhouses:
4. Try Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation is one of the best methods to water your plants even outside of going on vacation. It’s a watering technique that drips water on your plants over time, reducing the total amount of water you’ll use and keeping the soil moist without waterlogging it.
The only downside is that setting up a modern drip irrigation system is relatively time-consuming and costly. Thankfully, you can make a DIY version that will do the job while away.
The DIY Drip System
The DIY drip system is fairly easy to make. Although it doesn’t provide the functionality or longevity of a proper drip system, it will get the job done while you’re away.
Materials for a DIY Drip System
Here’s what you’ll need to make a DIY drip system:
- A plastic bottle.
- A nail or something pointed.
How To Make a DIY Drip System
- Make two to three incisions on the sides of the bottle close to the bottom. The holes should be less than an inch (2.54 cm) wide since wider holes will make the bottle drain faster. You want holes large enough to drip water into the soil but not large enough that the water gushes. Alternatively, you puncture them close to the top; however, this could make it harder to refill as you’d have to take the bottle out of the soil and fill it each time.
- Fill the bottle with water. Do this over a sink to observe how fast the water drains from the bottle. Ideally, you want a very thin stream of water coming through the hole. If the bottle drains too quickly, you’ll need to use a different container in which you can make smaller holes.
- Stick the bottle into the soil, bottom first. You have to be careful with this step. At least half the bottle should be beneath the soil, but the cap should be easily accessible. While you’re doing this, make sure to not disturb the plant’s roots.
- Fill the bottle with water. The bottle should be filled to the brim so that the plant stays hydrated for as long as possible.
There’s much more to know about drip irrigation, so if you’d like to learn more about what goes into a proper drip system, check out this article.
5. Grow Plants That Don’t Need Much Water
Of course, there’s always the chance that you’re not going on vacation and you’re just here because you were curious about the topic. For example, if you’re someone who’s trying to find a balance between your love of flora and your occupations that might be keeping you away from home for long stretches of time, this section is for you.
The methods I’ve mentioned throughout this article will still help you if you want to use them. However, since you’re in the unique position of being here but not having bought a plant yet, then one advantage you have is that you can get plants that have very low moisture requirements in the first place.
Succulents are plants with fleshy tissues adapted for low moisture environments like deserts. They are naturally drought-resistant, which keeps them alive as they can store water up to 90-95% of their body weight. This resistance is great for low moisture environments where they live naturally but is also excellent for people that want plants but can’t water them frequently.
Some examples are:
- Jade Plant
These plants are by far the best option if you’re only able to water your plants from time to time. Specific watering requirements will vary depending on the species of succulents you have, but generally speaking, they can go 1-3 months without water.
Orchids are a family of plants with very low water requirements. They’re robust flowering plants that can give you a good middle ground between low wagering requirements and aesthetic appeal.
Here are a few of the most common house orchids:
By using any of the previously mentioned approaches, you’ll be able to keep your plants in good health no matter how time-consuming your vacation turns out to be. Therefore, after carefully going through this list, pick the approach (or approaches) that you think will fit your specific varieties best, and enjoy your holiday guilt-free.