How to Water House Plants While Away


According to travel consultant Christopher Elliott, the travel industry has aggressively marketed long-weekend travel with the end result that Americans leave home more often. But even if it's only for a few days, indoor plants need their daily dose of moisture and light. Those who don't have willing neighbors or can't afford house-sitters can use a number of easy strategies to keep plants hydrated. Even the constant business traveler can keep a plant or two healthy with a little effort.

Step 1

Hydrate plants and soil several days before leaving. Soak plants and their pots in tepid water for about 10 minutes; then allow the pots to drain completely before putting them back in their saucers or containers.

Step 2

Build colonies for plants with similar requirements. Gather humidity hogs like ferns, Chinese evergreens and ficus together and separate cacti, succulents and zebra plants that thrive in hot, dry conditions.

Step 3

Push a pencil through pot drainage holes and press a pre-wetted piece of cotton basting string or the end of a cotton shoelace up into the soil. Lay this wick into a gravel-filled tray then fill the tray to the top of the gravel with water.

Step 4

Arrange colonies in ceramic or plastic containers or trays. Put bright-light lovers near but not in sunny windows. Tent colonies of moisture fiends with clear plastic bags held over and around the plant with bamboo plant or other wooden stakes.

Step 5

Group colonies of plants that love hot, dry places near windows, too. If you plan to be gone longer than a week, put succulents in trays with a half-inch of water; moisture will be picked up by terra cotta pots.

Step 6

Put plants in the bathroom if it has natural light. Line a tub or shower with nylon netting or set containers on bricks or upended ceramic pots. Draw a few inches of water to establish a beneficial humidity level. Aralias, ficus and monsteras will do fine in this environment.

Step 7

Upend a 16-ounce drink bottle or larger soda bottle full of water in plant soil for gravity-powered irrigation. Buy a kit to connect irrigation tubes to the bottom of a plastic reservoir to distribute water to several pots.

Tips and Warnings

  • Dry cleaning uses toxic hydrocarbons that vent into the plastic used to package clothing. Air out dry-cleaner bags thoroughly to disperse the benzene fumes before using them to tent plants. Too much water or plastic bag tents that cling to plants may present you with molds and root rot when you return. Leave tent bottoms loose; your plant needs carbon dioxide from the surrounding air.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic or pottery containers
  • Bathtub or large sink
  • Trays
  • Pea-gravel pebbles
  • Cotton rope or shoe laces
  • Clear plastic bags
  • Polymer water-retention beads
  • sticks or bamboo stakes


  • University of Minnesota Morris: Tip of the Week
  • CBS Early Show: Vacation Gardening Tips
  • Good Housekeeping: Preparing Your Houseplants for Vacation
  • Thrifty Fun: Watering Houseplants On Vacation
  • Elliott: Poof There Goes Your Vacation

Who Can Help

  • North Dakota State University Extension Service: Houseplants Proper Care
  • Colorado State University Extension: Guidelines for Watering Plants
  • Purdue University Cooperative Extension: Indoor Plant Care
Keywords: houseplant care, vacation plant watering, houseplant irrigation

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.