Keeping Plants Alive When You're Away

Q: I'm going out of the country for June, July and August, the hottest months of the year, and I am looking for advice on how to keep my plants alive for the duration. They are all in containers and include a rose bush, tomatoes, peppers, mint, and a few others. For the grass I can use sprinklers, but the plants? Thanks very much in advance.

My hardiness zone is 8-10

BK from Milpitas, CA

A: BK,

Leaving plants in the summer is much more perilous that taking off for a week or two mid-winter. The plants are actively growing now and require much greater amounts of water. Ideally, if you're going to be away for that length of time, you would want to hire a plant sitter. This could be a friend or someone who advertising this service. Contact local garden centers and nurseries for suggestions. If you can't find a plant sitter (or don't have a friend that can drop by), you can try setting up an automatic watering system in your bathtub.

  1. Several weeks before your trip, start collecting plastic buckets (lids are not necessary). Punch a small hole in the center of the bottom of each bucket and stop fertilizing your plants.

  2. Buy inexpensive candle wicks and using a tweezers, push one end of the wick up into the pot through the drainage hole on the bottom. Make sure it's in contact with the compost in the pot. You might want to experiment with this for a few weeks before you leave to ensure the plant is able to draw water up through the wick.

  3. If possible, trim plants that can stand pruning back so they require less water.

  4. On the day you leave, water all of the plants thoroughly from the top until water runs out the drain hole. Place damp peat moss or mulch around the top of the pots to keep soil moist.

  5. Group the plants together in the bathtub. Use the plastic buckets you collected (bottom side up) as plant pedestals. Run the self-watering wicks from the bottom of the pots down through the hole in the bucket so it will dangle in the water when you fill the tub.

  6. Fill the bathtub with tepid water. One quarter full? Your guess is as good as mine. Just don't fill it so full the buckets start to float. You might need to punch some holes in the side of the buckets to let water in (and air out).

  7. Shut the shower curtain/door, and make sure the blinds or curtains on any windows in the room are closed at least _ way. Less light will slow down growth and the plants will require less water.

I have no experience leaving plants for this amount of time, so saying a few prayers won't hurt either-one for the plants, and the other one for the bathtub not to spring a leak!


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May 22, 20060 found this helpful

Three months is a long time - but I have WICKED my plants for shorter periods. that is, I have put containers of water next to the pots, and made a wick out of paper towels from the water to the plant. The water is sucked up into the plants - (There are also fancier devices you can buy on the same principle.) ALSO, I have TENTED my plants - that is - enclose them in clear plastic bags or other clear plastic for sort of a mini-green house - That way they get sun, but the mosture evaporates on the plastic and keeps the plants moist. HOWEVER, I am not sure that this will last for more than a few weeks. Couldn't you get someone to fill up the containers for the wicks every 3 weeks or so? Or - what my grandmother did - put all her houseplants in the bath tub and have someone water them occasionally. OR you could install a drip watering system on a timer, like your sprinkler. Hope this helps.

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May 22, 20060 found this helpful

Fill the bathtub with a couple inches of water and place plant containers in the tub. The plants will absorb the moisture they need through the drain hole in the bottom of the container.

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May 23, 20060 found this helpful

Thanks for your advice... I can't put them in the bath tub as they need the sunlight. the Wicker way sounds nice and frugal. I'm putting that down as a possibility and going to check how much a drip system will cost.

Thanks very much.

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May 23, 20060 found this helpful

Have you thought of having a friend do your watering while you are away or hiring a 'plant sitter'. :-)

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May 23, 20060 found this helpful


I did..:) I asked my neighbour and friend. but I wanted that as a last option as she also has a 1.5 yr old always on the move toddler..:).

Thanks :)

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May 26, 20060 found this helpful

If you have a location where you can get them all reasonably together - buy a bubbler hose (about $10.00 at any hardware store) and a faucet timer. String the bubbler from plant to plant and set the timer. I do recommend you splurge and get a good timer. As a precaution, ask a friend to swing by once a week just to make sure 'everybody' is alive and well. I also recommend you test the theory for a day or two before leaving, just to make sure you set the timer correctly.

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May 27, 20060 found this helpful


will it work if the plant are all lined up? I have the pots lined up against my ~east facing wall. It is the only one that recieves max sunlight. the smaller plants in front of the window and the tomato plants by the side against the wall part of the wall.

$10 seems a much easier amt to deal with..:)


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August 12, 2011 Flag

How can I water indoor plants when away? I can group them all in the bath tub. I don't want to lose my orchids!

By soncee

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August 12, 20110 found this helpful

Yes I have put my plants in the tub while I was away since then I have tried several things that really seem to work better. Outside plants can be watered (large inside also) by using a plastic water bottle filled holes put in the cap. It comes out slowly and keeps everything evenly watered.

Depending on how long you will be away is to what size bottle you want to use.The large 2 liter bottles down to drinking 8 oz. size just fill and put a couple couple allowing the water to flow at a slow rate.

Taking this idea I took an empty pill bottle and did same thing for my inside plants. You can add a small amount of unflavored gelatin. This way you are also feeding the plant, giving soil a "boost" at the same time.

More delicate plants like orchids can be tricky. Be sure to spray lightly every day up to going away, since you will be gone hopefully reducing any air conditioning it will be hotter than usual in your home. Fill a container with water so it will evaporate into the air allowing moisture to be where in any other case there wouldn't be. Take a plastic container(13x9 or larger) or several plastic ice cube trays. Put holes throw out each container.

Next if possible put plants in sink or bath tun;instead of plants maybe getting too much water with tub filled you now have a slow, leaking allowing plants to get water at a even, steady flow. Remember to place a pan, pot or bucket filled with water it will evaporate making air moist; replacing misting you usually do.

I have tried filling the sink only to come back to where it had drained out, so I came up with the leak proof way. If you get ice cube trays they can be broken in how many ever squares you think that plant would need. Example 8in. planter could have 6 squares filled completely with water, slowly draining out into the plant.

You can buy more expensive glass bulbs that you put in soil however the empty drink containers and ice cube squares/plastic containers work just as well for me. When you use larger cake pan like container it is meant to use by putting several plants close together,so each plant receives water.

My neighbor went on a cruise we did this and he didn't lose one plant. Please make sure you place plants according to how much sun light is needed; only a few plants can't survive with not having sun for a week or more. If you have a plant that absolutely can not go without sunlight make sure you put them in a space where they receive only the smallest amount of direct sun, enough to thrive but no need to get more than needed makes the watering issue harder. I suggest closing all of the blinds (except if one is needed for sun light),curtains, etc. Plants won't need near as much water.

Once you get home I suggest a good "boost" if gone awhile (more than a couple days). I do this using diluted unflavored gelatin, if you have a regular food use it when returning. Get back to the normal watering routine and they will be fine. Discount stores,big box stores will have either inexpensive plastic food containers as well as ice cube trays. If using ice cube trays if possible put about 1/4 inch into soil. Have a great vacation with no worries!

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August 12, 20110 found this helpful

So sorry. I'm Luana M. from San Diego who posted last post.

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