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7 Steps to Care for Your Plants Before You Go on Vacation

Whether you came to plant-parenthood throughout the stay-at-home year that was 2020, or you’re a seasoned plant-keeper, one worry is universal. You fret about what will happen to your plants when you go on holiday.

You’re off enjoying your marguerita on a sunny beach or finally visiting your family after a hard year spent apart. But what about your plants? Will they even survive without your loving care? Yes, most likely!

If the thought of leaving your houseplants home alone fills you with anxiety, we’re here to reassure you that it’s possible to come back to lush and healthy houseplants if you follow these steps.

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Step 1: Group together plants with similar needs.

Some of us might already be doing that to facilitate plant care, while others might just have the plants grouped based on aesthetic and visual appeal. Either way, before a vacation is the perfect time to group your plants according to what they need in terms of water, light and humidity.

Here are some rough categories to guide you.

  • Cacti and succulents: These plants can survive in the desert, so a two-week vacation is a walk in the park for them. They won’t need as much water while you’re away, but they will still need to be in direct sunlight.

  • Tropical humidity-loving shade plants (such as fern, maranta, monstera and alocasia): These plants are usually undergrowth in their natural habitat, so they prefer filtered light and a more humid environment.

  • Sturdy low-light plants (such as snake plants, Zamioculcas, pothos and spider plants): These plants won’t mind a bit of neglect, and they probably won’t even notice you are gone.

This is not a scientific categorization of your houseplants, but one based on their preference and needs. If you’ve been keeping plants, you’ll know what they like at this point. Group them together and select the right location for each group.

Step 2. Move your potted plants away from bright direct light.

With the exception of cacti and succulents, move the potted plants away from direct sources of bright light. With the days getting longer and sunnier, and without you to water them and adjust their environment, plants will suffer if you leave them in front of a window that gets bright direct light.

If your plants are too close to a source of bright direct light (such as in front of a sunny window), they’re more likely to dry out and get scorched. The surface of the soil will also dry out faster under direct sun. Keeping your plants shaded and cool in the summer can be as easy as putting them behind a (sheer) curtain to protect them from the sun. Or you can group them on a table close to the window, but not directly next to it. Whatever you do, don’t deprive your plants of all sources of light either. They still need light, but they don’t need to be under a giant magnifying glass.

Step 3. Water your plants before you leave.

You may be tempted to give your plants one last gulp of water in the five minutes before you dash out the door. But it’s better if you water the day before. Houseplant care rules still apply on vacation, so don’t let your plant sit in a pool of water. As usual, water the plant thoroughly under a water stream (such as a tap or showerhead), but let the excess water drain out of the pot.

If you have plants in terracotta pots, which allow the moisture to evaporate faster than plastic or glazed ceramic pots, you can soak the entire pot in water to saturate the terracotta as well as the soil. But don’t do this if your terracotta planted pot is a desert plant (such as a cactus or a succulent).

Step 4. Create a humidity station, if necessary.

This applies only to plants that need more moisture (in the air, not in the soil). Houseplants such as ferns, peace lilies, marantas, monstera and orchids will benefit from this strategy.

Somewhere close to where you’ve grouped them together (see Step 1), add a source of moisture. You can spread out a wet towel on a tray, add a tray of wet pebbles, or hang a few kitchen towels to dry nearby. However tempting it might seem, don’t leave a humidifier running while you’re away from home for a long period of time. That just invites mold issues and possible leaf blight.

Step 5. Mulch, but only if necessary.

We do not recommend mulching all of your houseplants. The soil needs aeration and houseplant soil is often too sterilized to have a good mix of bacteria and fungi to aerate it naturally.

But if you have large pots that would dry out too quickly when you’re away, you can add a light layer of mulch to keep the moisture in. You can use wood chips, water-absorbing crystals or absorbent plant pads as a temporary substitute for your loving care while you’re away. Do not mulch small pots that may suffer by staying damp for too long.

Step 6. Engineer an irrigation system, if necessary.

We know we’re beginning to sound like a broken record with the “if necessary” refrain. But just like any other type of plant advice we give around here, how far you should take your prophylactic plant care depends on so many factors: humidity, temperature, light intensity, how fast your plant is growing, etc.

If you have large houseplants that need extra water while you’re away, here’s how you can create a small-scale irrigation system.

Fill some glass bottles or small tubs with water and place them near your plants, but on an elevated surface. Run a cotton rope or natural fiber twine from the bottom of the water container to the surface level of the soil in your pot. You can even bury the rope about 2-3 inches deep into the soil. With the help of gravity and the absorbent properties of this DIY wick, the water will be directed from your vessel of choice to your houseplant pot. You can run several water wicks from the same water vessel to different plant pots.

Since it’s hard to control the water flow when you’re not around, only do this trick with large pots that may dry out faster.

Step 7. Invest in watering globes for your large plants.

If you don’t want to fuss around with a homemade drip system, you can order watering globes online. These act as a water reserve tank and can come in the shape of glass globes or terracotta spikes. All you have to do is fill them with water and stick them in the (already watered) plant pot right before you leave.

The globes will slowly release water into the pot, as the soil dries out. We highly recommend you do this only if you're gone for longer than two-three weeks or if your house gets very hot and dry in your absence. That’s because using watering globes in excess can lead to overwatering your plants. You don’t want to come home to mushy roots and very sad-looking root-rot-affected plants. (Ask us how we know!) Only use it for a super-thirsty plant that can handle high levels of humidity.

Your plants may not thrive in your absence, but they will survive if you put in a little prep work before you leave them home alone. Plants are resilient, and can endure a bit of stress as long as it’s not prolonged.

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