How to water and keep your houseplants alive when you travel

If you’re a plant parent, you may be familiar with that dreaded feeling of coming home after being away for a while, only to see your gorgeous pothos crisp up around the edges and your once bright green monstera is now as mushy as a noodle.

And while you may be wondering how this could have happened, Lindsay Pangborn, a garden expert with… Bloomscape, the online garden store and plant education center, said that even during a short trip or absence, “plants can deteriorate quickly under certain conditions.” Pangborn also said that doesn’t mean you have to write off vacation forever. It just means it’s important to maintain a controlled environment for your plants for the time you’re away.

“One of the easiest things you can do to prepare for an extended period of time away is quite simple: make sure your plants experience the same conditions as when you are at home,” she said.

Erin Marino is a plant expert at The Sill, a plant shop that offers workshops and has storefronts in five major cities. She said that before you create a care plan for your plants, you should consider the time year, the type of plants you have, and the time you plan to stay away.

“In winter, houseplants can go into a state of dormancy or semi-rest. And since plants only water based on the amount of light they receive, you will find that you water less often than in the summer,” says Marion.

Pangborn suggested grouping moisture-loving plants in a small room, allowing them to create their own humidity, while also ensuring that the plants that enjoy the sun the most have unobstructed access to natural light.

“Plant health issues related to watering can happen quickly, so again, consistency is key,” she added. “Plan your watering schedule so that you can soak your plants well the day before departure. Make sure there is no excess water in the saucers that could cause rot problems.”

Both Pangborn and Marino said that as tricky as plant care can be, especially if you leave your plants unattended, there are also tools and products available that can help maintain a consistent environment and avoid burying your favorite fern. Keep reading to find helpful water tools, timed lighting systems, and more, as well as tips for using them.

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A bag of organic lava rocks that retain moisture

According to Marino, adding a thin layer of materials such as lava rocks, wood chips or mulch to your plant’s soil prior to watering can keep the soil moist for longer. Lava rocks in particular are very porous, so they can absorb water and slowly release the excess moisture over time.

Get it from The Sill for $15.

A way to keep the humidity high for your plants

“Humidity is key to keeping your plants healthy,” Pangborn said. This is because many houseplants come from humid jungle environments, which makes them unaccustomed to the drier conditions indoors.

For shorter periods away or everyday use, this BPA-free humidifier from Pure Enrichment can be an effective and safe way to regulate and balance the moisture levels in the air around your plants. It offers 25 hours of continuous operation and has an automatic shut-off function once the tank runs out of water.

Buy it from Amazon for $39.99.

A trio of resilient plants that easily adapt to absence

If you’re a frequent traveler but also enjoy coming home to the mini jungle, consider opting for low-maintenance plants that are less likely to die when you’re not around. Pangborn suggested the semi-succulent offerings from Bloomscape’s “tough stuff” collection. “This is a group of three 4-inch plants that can handle a variety of conditions from low to full sun, low humidity, and minimal watering. They can adapt specifically to almost all light conditions and require very little water, therefore thriving in their own right. one,” she said.

Buy it from Bloomscape for $69.

A smart way to increase moisture and humidity for your plant

Both Pangborn and Marino suggested making a pebble tray, a simple and affordable way to maintain a comfortable humidity level for your plants, especially for those extended periods when you may not be able to constantly refill a humidifier.

“To make a pebble tray, simply place a layer of pebbles in a tray and add enough water so that the pebbles are not completely covered. Then set the plants on top. As the water evaporates from the tray, it takes in moisture air around the plant, and the pebbles keep the plant above the water so the roots aren’t constantly wet,” Pangborn said.

Buy BotanicalBird’s pebble tray from Etsy starting at $10.
Buy Amazon’s Natural Stone Pebbles for $14.99.

A way to control the temperature in your home, wherever you are

For plants with a more finicky nature, Pangborn explained that temperature is an important variable to consider. “If possible, leave your thermostat at the same temperature while you’re gone (although it’s okay to have a few degrees difference). Any extreme temperature change can put serious strain on your plant,” she said.

Google Nest is a programmable home thermostat that you can control even when you’re not at home, helping you avoid dramatic temperature swings that can affect your plants. Automatically schedule heating and AC units and monitor energy consumption, all from the app. It is compatible with 95% of heating and cooling systems.

Get it from Amazon for $210.35.

A grow light with built-in timer

“If you use grow lights, invest in timers so that the lights come on automatically every day. Light is how your plants make food, so without light they will show signs of stress very quickly such as yellowing leaves, falling leaves and stretched growth,” said Pangborn.

These full spectrum, high efficiency LED lights use a circular memory timing function that allows you to program the lights to turn on and off every three, nine or 12 hours based on the needs of your plants. Keep in mind that the more light your plant gets, the thirstier it will become.

Buy it from Amazon for $25.99.

A wick that helps your plant to water itself

Marino’s favorite method of watering plants during long absences is a capillary pit, which serves as an irrigation system for your plant. It can also prevent excessive watering.

Submerge one end of the capillary pit in a container of water (choose the size of the water reservoir based on how long you will be away) and the other end of the pit in your plant’s potting mix. Your plant will use the water needs it through the pit while you’re gone,” Marino said.

Buy it from Amazon for $11.99.

A variety of succulents that can go weeks without water

No strangers to arid climates with limited sources of water, “succulents — from the Latin word ‘succulentus’ for sap or sap — are defined by their moisture-storing capacity and come from many botanical families,” Marino said.

This range of pre-potted and adaptive succulents such as the aloe urchin and the spicy fascinated hawthornia enjoy sunny environments, are exceptionally hard to kill and can go up to three weeks without a single drop of water.

Left: Buy Bloomscape’s Hedgehog aloe for $39.
Right: Buy The Sill’s succulent range for $55.

A way to make a makeshift greenhouse

Another way to maintain the moisture levels of your plants for longer is to create a temporary makeshift greenhouse using simple and easy-to-find items. Marino told us how: “Water your plant and cover it with a clear plastic bag to just below the rim of the planter, creating a makeshift greenhouse. Cut a few slits in the plastic to allow adequate air circulation and use stakes to keeping the bag up and away from the foliage. You want to make sure no foliage touches the bag.”

Buy bamboo planting sticks from Amazon for $7.99.
Buy plant wrap bags from Amazon for $12.99.

A set of mushroom shaped watering cans

Pangborn said certain aids, such as watering bulbs, are a convenient way to water your plants without risking root rot. If you choose this option, Kistler said, “Always test these weeks in advance if you decide to use them so you know how your plants will respond.”

These hand-blown irrigation bulbs are made from ultra-durable, high-density glass. They are almost 7 inches tall and will work with most plant sizes.

Buy it from Amazon for $25.99.


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