If you’re spending a long weekend at the beach or a full month abroad, we’re sharing our top tips and tricks for keeping your houseplants happy and healthy.
You can spend more time on more important things, such as strong sunscreen and a good book, by prepping your plants ahead of time!
Light & Temperature Adjustment
Over time, the more sunlight your plant receives, the more thirsty it will be. Several factors contribute to this, the most important being that plants use the most water during a process known as transpiration, and the rate of transpiration increases with the amount of sunlight the plant receives.
In other words, the more natural light your plant receives, the more water it will need. In order to prevent your plants from wilting from lack of water while you’re away, you can move them farther away from the source of natural light. Place them in the middle of the room so that heat and light from the windows do not dry them out as quickly. Plants can tolerate weeks or even months of lower than optimal light, even if they’re in full sunlight. As soon as you return, you can move your plants back to their usual location.
When you’re home or away, never leave an air conditioner blasting on or near a houseplant. While an AC is a luxury for humans, it tends to rob the indoor environment of the heat and humidity most tropical plants need.
Keeping the Soil Moist
If you plan to be away for less than a week, water your plants thoroughly before departure. Don’t water plants that have dried or mostly dried potting soil. You should let any excess water drain from your potted plant before you leave, in order to keep the potting soil moist but not allow your plants to sit in a saucer of water, which could attract pests or lead to root rot. Only water your plants once or twice a week if they need it. You can go a week or two without watering your drought-tolerant houseplants, like succulents and cacti.
There are a couple of ways to prepare your plant if you plan to be away for more than a full week. Take advantage of one or more of the tips below, depending on the length of your trip and the type of plant. Consider: how often do I usually water this plant?
- If your soil is dry, add a layer of mulch or wood chips to help retain moisture. You can also use damp newspaper. The soil will stay moist for longer if this is done.
- Cover the plant with a clear plastic bag to just below the lip of the planter, creating a makeshift greenhouse. Be sure to cut a few slits in the plastic to allow ample air circulation… Plants also need to breathe! To hold the bag up and away from the foliage, use sticks (or leftover chopsticks). You should ensure that the bag does not touch any foliage.
- Place small rocks in a shallow tray and fill it with water to just below the top of the rocks. Place your planter on top of the rocks – the base should not touch or sit directly in the idle water, but just above it. Increased humidity and moisture will benefit plants, but should not lead to over-watering or root rot.
- Plants that thrive in humidity, such as ferns and air plants, should be transported to your bathroom (if you have a window that gets some natural light) or another small room and grouped together. Your plants will be able to maintain humidity and moisture better in a smaller room.
- Get a friend to help you. You can ask a friend to water your houseplants if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time (over a month). Make sure your friend has clear written instructions, or walk them through your care routine a week or two before. When you’re gone, don’t be afraid to ask them to send you photos. Don’t forget to bring them a souvenir.
Hold off on fertilizing your houseplants until you return from your trip if you occasionally use fertilizer. In the weeks before your departure, do not fertilize your plants. While you’re gone, you’ll want your plants to grow slowly, which will help them conserve energy and water.
You can also trim any dead, dying, or unhealthy-looking foliage, as well as any buds or flowers, as these usually require more frequent waterings.
Most of the tips above apply to tropical foliage plants. Plants like succulents, ZZ plants, and snake plants can go over a month without watering, especially if they are placed out of direct sunlight. You should grow drought-tolerant plants if you are an avid traveler.
When you return home to a healthy and happy houseplant, give yourself a pat on the back. As well as you, it missed you.