As the holidays are coming to an end, and the cold weather sets in, many of us are looking forward to getting away to warmer temperatures for a while. But, what about your houseplants while you’re gone?! Only a plant-savvy human being can give an assortment of houseplants the different amounts of water they’re likely to need while they are home alone. But it isn’t always easy to find a willing plant sitter, and it’s even harder to find one who not only means well but has houseplant skills (returning to find that two-thirds of one’s little green children have drowned is no better than finding them dried to a crisp). So if you must leave them unattended, the following steps should keep them alive — if not happy — for up to a month.
- One at a time, bring the plants into very bright light and check them over top to bottom for pests and diseases. Don’t forget to look under the leaves and against the stems where they enter the soil. Problems that are very small now can balloon in your absence, and since the plants will be grouped together, those problems are likely to spread. Any afflicted plants should be treated and, for good measure, kept quarantined in a room of their own while you’re gone.
- Decide on a water-delivery system, ideally one that is triggered by the plant itself. Like the overzealous friend, timer-driven waterers usually deliver more than the plants need. Garden-supply stores and catalogs sell an assortment of capillary mats and water wicks that are less likely to drown plants, or you can go the low-tech route and opt for just supplying humidity (put the plants in plastic dish tubs lined with deep layers of pebbles or styrofoam peanuts and shallow layers of water.
- Set up the system where the plants will stay cool and get only a small amount of light. The bathroom is probably the best place since it is usually both cool and dark, and is the room best protected against water damage. If the plants will all fit in the tub, plan to put them there. Don’t draw the shower curtain unless the room is very bright.
- Water everything thoroughly. Soak clay pots until saturated; bottom-water plants in plastic pots until soil at the surface is wet. Let excess water drain, then group plants closely but not tightly — there must be a bit of air circulation or they’ll all get fungus diseases.
- Speak to them lovingly and close the door. They’ll be fine.