How to Water Indoor Plants on Vacation?

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Whether you’re going on a short vacation or you’re planning a longer stay, making sure that your indoor plants are watered while you’re gone, should also be on your travel checklist.

Most plants will do fine for a couple of days without water, especially if you’ve watered them before leaving. But what if you’re planning on going away for more than a couple of days or more than just a week? You’ll need a whole different strategy then.

Because there are both commercial and DIY solutions available to water plants, you needn’t worry that your plants will wither away while you’re on vacation.

Below, I’ll go over the various methods of watering indoor plants, so you can spend less time to worry about your plants, and spend more time enjoying your holiday.

Making Watering (Pre) Arrangements

Before delving into the various DIY or commercial indoor plant watering tools, I’m going to start by discussing the arrangements you should make in case you’re going away on a shorter trip. One that your plants would be likely to survive without you using any additional tools.

By shorter trip, I mean one that’s less than a week. So, here’s what to do:

  • Make sure you water your plants just before you leave
  • Make sure that heat-sensitive plants are not exposed to too much sunlight or heat that would increase evaporation
  • For really thirsty plants, you should increase the water retention of the potting medium — a thin layer of stones, pebbles, marbles, coconut coir, moss or mulch sprinkled on top of the potting medium, away from the stem, will do the trick. You can even use crushed pistachio shells if nothing else is available.

Of course if you have someone – friend or relative – who is willing to water your plants while you’re away, you don’t need to make any of these preparations, but you do need to leave specific watering instructions, especially if you have plants with different watering needs.

Next, let’s see some of the most common self-watering mechanisms out there including those that you can DIY at home.

Self-Watering Solutions

I’ll start by covering the commercially available watering systems and then focus on DIY solutions.

Self-Watering Pot

A self-watering pot uses a built-in reservoir that stores water and from which water is delivered on a need-only basis, which ensures that you neither overwater, nor underwater your plant.

There are different versions of these pots with different water delivery mechanisms, some use a wicking action, others will have a pump-enabled drip system.

While these are useful, they require replanting, which you may or may not be willing to do right before an unscheduled trip.

You can easily fashion your own self-watering pot at home, which I will get into at the section dedicated to DIY plant watering solutions.

Automatic Watering Systems

These are high-tech solutions that deliver water based on individual settings. Water is delivered from a central reservoir and distributed through small PVC pipes.

Ready-made solutions can set you back with $100, but you too can set up an automatic watering system using Arduino or other similar technologies.

Talking about making your own watering system, the next section deals with various DIY solutions that you can use on a budget.

DIY Indoor Plant Watering Solutions

There are quite a few watering solutions for which you need not dig deep into your pockets. All they take are a little ingenuity and a few tools that you probably already have at home.

Then there are options for the technically minded people, who can use various technologies and programming platforms to create complex watering systems that allow individualized watering.

Let’s see some of these low-tech and high-tech options:

Plant Baths

This is a simple, yet efficient way to make sure your plants get enough water while you’re away, with a few caveats.

It’s not suitable for drought-resistant plants or plants that easily get root rot, nor is it ideal for plants that should be kept in bright light, especially if you have a windowless bathroom.

The idea behind this method is to fill a bathtub with a few inches of water and place your potted plants in the bathtub so that they can absorb water through their draining holes.

As I said, it’s an easy and cheap solution, but it’s far from perfect especially when it comes to plants that enjoy bright light conditions or plants that are prone to root rot. Not to mention pots that are heavy to lift.

Capillary Mat

This is a somewhat similar method to that of a plant bath, except you will need to use an absorbent material that uses a ‘capillary mechanism’ for wicking water to the soil.

You can find capillary mats in gardening centers, but you can just as well set up your own capillary action watering system.

You’ll need a tray, an absorbent material like cotton or wool, and a recipient that will serve as a water reservoir.

Place the mat on the tray, position the pots on the tray, making sure they have draining holes, and place one end of the capillary mat in the water reservoir, so that it hangs down into it.

Makeshift Greenhouse

This too is a low budget, quick solution that you can use on plants that enjoy humidity and warmth. The idea behind this DIY greenhouse is to reuse the moisture of the soil to recycle it back to the plant for use.

Simply take a well-watered plant, place it in a loosely fitting plastic bag or wrap, making sure the plant fits comfortably and the plastic doesn’t touch the plant on too many points (blow some air into the bag before closing it).

With this method, you need to be extra careful to avoid leaving the plant in direct sunlight. This refers to any plant, even those that would otherwise thrive in direct sunlight.

Bottle Drip System

For this method, you’ll only need a wine or beer bottle or a small plastic bottle for smaller pots. Simply fill the bottle with water and plunge it into the well-watered soil.

The plastic bottle should have a small hole on its cap, while the glass bottles should only be used for large terracotta or clay pots. They should also be fitted with a watering spike to control the amount of water that gets absorbed.

DIY Self-Watering Pots

Now, for a more advanced self-watering system that isn’t high tech, you can make a self-watering pot.

There are various different ways to achieve this, but the simplest is to take a pot without drainage holes and create a barrier with small holes in it to divide the rest of the pot from the bottom. The part below the divider will act as the reservoir.

Next, you’ll need pieces of rope or other absorbent material that you need to thread through the holes of the divider making sure they touch the bottom of the pot that’s dedicated to serve as a reservoir. These pieces of rope will deliver water to the potting medium and keep the soil moist.

Next, you need a shaft through which you can pour water into the reservoir and a water level indicator (e.g. Styrofoam with a stick attached), so you can check whether the reservoir needs refilling.

Of course, as I mentioned when I discussed commercially available self-watering pots, this is not a solution you can apply right away as it involves repotting your plants.

DIY High-Tech Watering System

For those who can program, I encourage you to create your own watering system using Arduino Uno, which allows you to create virtually any watering system you envision, from simple ones to complex systems that you can program to personalize irrigation and which can monitor soil moisture, temperature and other parameters.

There are several YouTube tutorials you can use to create an Arduino uno water irrigation system either for indoor plant irrigation or outdoor plant irrigation.

Conclusion

Depending on the watering system you use for indoor plants, you can rest easy that your plants won’t dry out while you’re vacationing.

When setting up these solutions, do take into account the watering needs of your plant, whether constantly moist soil will hurt your plant more than it will help it, and try to find a solution that best matches the needs of your houseplants.

If you don’t have time to set up something complex, look at the most basic and easy solutions that you can implement on short notice.

If you’re going on a scheduled trip and you have time for more complex solutions that allow you to better control the amount of water that your plants receive, then you should definitely set up those solutions instead.

The goal is for your plants to survive until you return home and resume your normal plant caring routine.

The majority of the solutions I presented in this article will help you achieve exactly this, while some solutions can be used as a permanent irrigation system for your indoor plants.

Updated: March 15, 2020

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