If you’re like me, then you’re probably going away over the holidays. A week or two may not seem like a long time when you’re relaxing on a beach in some tropical paradise, but when you’ve got plants at home that rely on you, two weeks can be a lifetime for them. It can get a bit tricky and even frustrating trying to keep them alive. So here’s a couple of tricks to help keep your plants happy so you can enjoy your time away worry-free.
The main problem your plants will face over this period is drying out, especially if you live in a warmer climate like Australia (hello, sunny Brisbane!). This makes it a bit tougher because plants sweat more readily in the heat, just like us. So to combat this, the first and easiest thing you can do is to move your pot plants away from sunny spots. At least a metre from a window is usually enough. Just remember when moving them back into the light to do it gradually to not scorch their leaves or give them a shock.
Another easy way to hold the moisture in pots is to sit them in saucers. Before I leave for a day or two, there’s a few plants that I know are extremely thirsty (I’m looking at you, ferns!). So I like to fill their saucers with water and can rest easy knowing they will slowly suck it up as they need it. For bigger pots, you can transform empty glass or plastic bottles lying around into an easy drip container. Simply fill the bottle with water, quickly turn it over and insert it deep down into the soil. If you have any wine bottles left over from a fun night, they work particularly well because of their long and sturdy necks.
Along the same lines as this is a wicking system. You can make this yourself by digging one end of a fabric rope into the potting mix and have the other end sitting in a water vessel. It will slowly wick the water across the rope and into the soil. Synthetic wicks (acrylic yarn, polyester and nylon) will last for a longer time than natural wicks such as cotton which will be prone to rotting, and the thicker your wick is the more water is transferred. This system will last for a longer period of time than using a drip container, but is only very effective for smaller pots such as the one pictured. If you’re a bit unsure about if this will work for you, there are many pre-made wicking products you can buy instead.
Let’s say you have a few even larger indoor plants, such as a prized monstera that you grew from a little baby or a happy plant that's been passed down for generations. It’s good to know that a general rule of thumb is that the larger a pot is, the slower it will dry out. This means that you can give a large pot a good soaking and it won't need watering for a while.
However this is not always the case. If you have a couple of pots that are not holding any water at all (i.e. the water is draining straight through), this could mean one of two things. Either the plant is root-bound and needs to be repotted or your potting mix is in need of some attention. When potting mix is dry for an extended time it can repel water instead of absorbing it. To solve this problem soak the whole pot in a bucket of water until it has absorbed the water, or apply a wetting agent from your local nursery.
Another way to increase the water holding capacity of your potting mix is to add some water crystals into the mix before potting up your plants. Water is held around the roots for longer and can be absorbed by the plants easily. This is an excellent way to increase the time between waterings.
Usually good potting mixes will come with added water crystals or wetting agents, but some of the cheaper ones don't, and even then they don’t last forever.
On the other end of the scale, for those delicate babies that are too small to use a DIY drip or wicking system on, a good way to replicate this is to put them in a plastic bag to keep the moisture locked in. As long as the bag is sealed and away from direct light it can last for a long time.
If you still can’t get the hang of it, you travel a lot, or you’re just really lazy like me, maybe you need more resilient plants. Some tried and true indoor specimens that are ideal in tough situations include the ZZ plant, cast-iron plant, devils ivy and sansevierias.
These examples perform really well in environments with low light, low humidity and low watering! What more could you need? To keep some peace of mind while you’re away you can also use a service to take care of your plants for you, such as Brisbane Plant Sitting for those in the greater Brissy area. It may seem odd letting a stranger care for your plants, but sometimes that's the only option. I hope these few tips will help you out over the holiday period.
Feel the sand between your toes, sit back with a cocktail and enjoy your holidays, everyone!