Question: I am going on vacation and my houseplant sitter is no longer available. I would appreciate any advice on keeping them alive while I am away.
Answer: When your absence is for an extended period of time, planning on a friend visiting is the best option. But if your vacation is two weeks or less there are some things you can do to minimize damage to your plants.Your goal is to create a temporary environment that helps supply the basic needs of your plants for an extended period.
The number one requirement that your plant cannot do without is water. This can be a challenge and some minor damage may still occur. To accommodate the lack of water supply you can try to decrease the water needs of your plants or extend the water supply during your vacation time. Lowering the temperature in your home during your vacation will save you money and also help your plants use less water. Normally temperatures in our homes range from 65 to 70 degrees. Lowering your thermostat to 50 to 55 degrees is tolerable for houseplants and will slow the need for water
Moving your plants away from the windows and placing them in an area that receives indirect light will help reduce water needs. If there are sheer curtains on the window closing them also will help. Plants still need some light but by lowering the thermostats and reducing the amount of light, your plants will have an increased chance of surviving extended periods alone.
You also can cover your plant with a large plastic bag or place the entire plant in the bag and loosely close. Closing the bag tightly will lead to fungal problems. Piercing the bag with several air holes helps prevent disease and increase air circulation. White plastic bags or clear bags can be used. Clear bags should be kept away from any direct sunlight whereas plants placed in white bags can be closer to the window.
Additionally, placing the covered plant on a shallow pan of water filled with pebbles will keep the humidity levels up and reduce water needs. On a larger scale, you can place all your plants in a bathtub, filling the tub with an inch of water. Place several bricks in the tub with the plants on top of the bricks. This will keep them elevated so they do not become water logged but benefit from the increased humidity.
For more expensive plants or ones you may have an emotional attachment to, you may want to invest in an automatic watering system or a self-watering probe. These provide a slow continuous trickle of water and allow you to extend your vacation time.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: