Whether you’ll be 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 while you’re away.
It only takes a little bit of time to prep your plants so you can focus on more important things, like strong sunscreen and a good book!
Tips to Keep Plants Alive While You’re Away
1. Tweak light and temperature
The more sunlight your plant receives, the more thirsty it will be over time. This is for a few reasons, the biggest being that plants utilize the most water during a process called transpiration, and the rate of transpiration is dependent on, and increases with, the amount of sunlight the plant receives.
So the more natural light your plant is getting, the more water it’ll need. To help your plants from wilting while you’re away from lack of water, you can move them a little bit further away from their source of natural light. Place them in the middle of the room so that the heat and light from the windows does not dry them out as fast as usual. Once you return, you can move your plants back to their usual spot. If you don’t want to relocate plants, you can also draw a sheer curtain over the window.
If your plants were not receiving plenty of light to begin with, due to obstructed windows or the season, you can decide to keep your plants where they are. A good way to determine is to ask yourself how often you have to water a plant—if it's every week, you might want to adjust its placement if you’ll be gone for a longer period of time. But if it's every other week, you may find no need to move them.
And as always—whether you’re home or away—never leave an air conditioning or heating system blasting on or near a houseplant. Although a luxury for humans, A/Cs and heaters tends to rob your indoor environment of the humidity most tropical plants crave.
2. Maintain moisture
If you plan to be away for a week or less, watering your plants thoroughly before departure will be sufficient. Make sure you are only watering plants with dry or mostly dry potting soil. Let any excess water drain from your potted plant before you’re on your way, so the potting soil is moist but your plants are not sitting in a saucer of water, which could attract pests or lead to root rot.
Note this is only necessary for plants that need to be watered once a week or more. Drought-tolerant houseplants, like succulents and cacti, will be fine for a week or two without water. And during the winter months, when plant growth slows and some plants go dormant, you may skip watering them altogether.
If you plan to be away for more than a full week, there are a couple of ways to prepare your plants. Try one of the tips below or a combination—depending on the length of your trip, the variety of plant, and the time of year.
Continue to keep in mind: how often do I usually water this plant during this time? Since you won’t be home to keep an eye on your plants, you want to avoid overwatering them before you go!
1. Add lava rocks, mulch, or wood chips to the top of your plant’s soil to help hold moisture before or after giving dry soil a good soaking. Damp newspaper can also do the trick. This will help the soil stay moist for longer.
2. Water your plant thoroughly and then cover with a clear plastic bag to just below the lip of the planter, creating a makeshift greenhouse. Make sure to cut a couple slits in the plastic to allow for ample air circulation... plants need to breathe, too! Use sticks (or leftover chopsticks) to hold the bag up and away from the foliage. You want to make sure no foliage is touching the bag.
3. Line a shallow tray with small rocks and fill the tray up with water to slightly beneath the top of the rocks. Set your planter on top of the rocks—the base of the planter should not be touching or sitting directly in the idle water but right above it. This will help to increase humidity and moisture levels, but should not lead to over-watering or root rot.
4. Transport your humidity-loving plants, like ferns and air plants, to your bathroom (provided you have a window that receives some natural light) or another small room and group them together. The smaller the room, the easier it is for your plants to maintain humidity and moisture.
5. DIY a self-watering system with capillary wicks or empty bottles:
– Submerge one end of the capillary wick in a basin of water (choose the size of the water container based on how long you’ll be away for) and the other end of the wick into your plant’s potting mix. Your plant will pull the water it needs through the wick while you're away. (This is our team's preferred method for extended periods of time away from our plants.)
– Upcycle old plastic or glass bottles by filling the bottle with water and puncturing the bottle top. Make sure the hole is small enough that water will be released slowly, over time. Flip your filled bottle upside down and stick the top of the bottle, with the punctured bottle top, deep into your plant’s potting soil.
6. Call on a friend. If you’re going to be away for an extended period of time (over a month) and have a friend that’s willing to water your houseplants for you—take them up on the offer! Leave your friend with clear written instructions, or walk them through your care routine a week or two beforehand. We won’t judge if you ask them for photo updates while you’re gone... Just make sure to bring them back a souvenir (or send them a new plant as a thank you when you return.)
3. Forgo the fertilizer
If you occasionally use fertilizer, make sure to hold off on fertilizing your houseplants until you return from your trip. Do not fertilize your plants in the weeks prior to your departure. You’ll want your plants to grow as slowly as possible while you’re away, which will help your plants conserve energy and water.
4. Do some light pruning
In addition to pruning off any dead, dying, or unhealthy-looking foliage, you can prune off any buds and flowers, which usually require more frequent waterings to stay healthy.
Pro tip: The tricks above, in particular ways to "water" while away, mostly apply to tropical plants. When it comes to drought-tolerant plants like varieties of succulents, ZZ plants, or snake plants, they can go over a month without water, especially if placed out of direct light. If you’re an avid traveler, succulent plants are the houseplants for you.
Whatever preparation you take, give yourself a big pat on the back when you return to happy and healthy houseplants. They missed you, too.
Words By The Sill
Empowering all people to be plant people—a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of plant experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.