If you’re a plant parent, you may be familiar with that dreaded feeling of returning home after time spent away, only to find your beautiful pothos turned crispy at the edges and your once-bright green monstera is now as floppy as a noodle.
And while you might be asking yourself how this could have happened, Lindsay Pangborn, a gardening expert with the online gardening shop and plant education center Bloomscape, said that even during a short trip or absence, “plants can decline quickly under certain circumstances.” Pangborn also said this doesn’t mean you need to write off vacationing forever. It just means it’s important to maintain a controlled environment for your plants for the stretch of time that you’re not there.
“One of the easiest things you can do to prep for an extended period away is quite easy: Make sure your plants will experience the same conditions they’re used to when you are home,” she said.
Erin Marino is a plant expert at The Sill, a plant shop that offers workshops and has storefronts in five major cities. She said that prior to creating a care plan for your plants, you should take into consideration the time year, type of plants that you have and the length of time that you intend to be gone.
“In winter, houseplants can go into a state of dormancy or semi-dormancy. And since plants only take up water based on the amount of light they receive, you will find yourself watering less often than you did in the summer,” Marion said.
Pangborn suggested grouping moisture-loving plants together in a small room, which call allow them to create their own humidity, while also making sure the plants that most enjoy the sun have unobstructed access to natural light.
“Plant health issues related to watering can happen quickly, so again, consistency is key,” she added. “Plan out your watering schedule so that you can give your plants a good soak the day before you leave. Be sure there isn’t excess water in the saucers that could cause rot issues.”
Both Pangborn and Marino said that as tricky as plant care can be, especially when leaving your plants unattended, there are also tools and products available that can help maintain a consistent environment and prevent you from burying your favorite fern. Keep reading to find handy watering aids, timed lighting systems and more as well tips on how to use each of them.
A bag of organic lava rocks that hold onto moisture
According to Marino, adding a thin layer of materials such as lava rocks, wood chips or mulch on top of your plant's soil prior to watering can help keep the soil moist for longer. Lava rocks in particular are highly porous so they can absorb water and slowly release the excess moisture over time. Get it from The Sill for $15.
A way to keep the humidity levels high for your plants
"Humidity is key to keeping your plants healthy," Pangborn said. This is because many house plants originate from humid jungle environments, making them unaccustomed to the drier indoor conditions of your home.
For shorter stints away or everyday use, this BPA-free humidifier by Pure Enrichment can be an effective and safe way to regulate and balance the moisture levels in the air around your plants. It offers 25 hours of continuous operation and has an automatic shut-off feature once the tank runs out of water. Get it from Amazon for $39.99.
A trio of resilient plants that easily adapt to absences
If you're a frequent traveler but also enjoy coming home to mini jungle, you might want to consider opting for lower-maintenance plants that are less likely to die in your absence. Pangborn suggested the semi-succulent offerings of the "tough stuff" collection from Bloomscape. "These are a group of three 4-inch plants that can handle a range of conditions, from low to full sun, low humidity and minimal watering.They can specifically adapt to nearly all light conditions and require very little water, and therefore thrive well on their own," she said. Get it from Bloomscape for $69.
A clever way to increase moisture and humidity for your plant
Both Pangborn and Marino suggested creating a pebble tray, a simple and affordable way to maintain comfortable levels of humidity for your plants, especially for those extended periods of time when you might not be able to constantly refill a humidifier.
"To create a pebble tray, simply place a layer of pebbles in a tray and add enough water so the pebbles are not quite covered. Then, set plants on top. As the water evaporates from the tray, it increases the moisture in the air around the plant, and the pebbles hold the plant above the water so that the roots are not constantly wet," Pangborn said. Get the pebble tray from BotanicalBird at Etsy starting at $10.Get the natural stone pebbles from Amazon for $14.99.
A way to control the temperature in your home, no matter where you are
For plants of a more finicky nature, Pangborn explained that temperature is a key variable to consider. "If possible, keep your thermostat set to the same temperature while you’re away (though it’s OK to have a few degrees difference). Any extreme change in temperature can seriously stress your plant," she said.
Google Nest is a programmable home thermostat that you can control even when you're not at home so you can avoid any dramatic temperature fluctuations that might affect your plants. Auto-schedule heating and AC units and monitor energy consumption all from the app. It's compatible with 95% of heating and cooling systems. Get it from Amazon for $210.35.
A grow light with a built-in timer
"If you use grow lights, invest in timers so that the lights come on automatically each day. Light is how your plants make food, so without it, they will very quickly show signs of stress like yellowing leaves, dropping leaves and stretched-out growth," Pangborn said.
These full spectrum and high efficiency LED lights use a circular memory timing function that allows you to program the lights to turn off and back on every three, nine or 12 hours based on your plants' needs. Just be mindful that the more light your plant receives, the more thirsty it will become. Get it from Amazon for $25.99.
A wick that helps your plant water itself
Marino's preferred method of keeping plants watered during long absences is a capillary wick, which serves as an irrigation system for your plant. It can also preventing over-watering.
"Submerge one end of the capillary wick in a basin of water (choose the size of the water container based on how long you'll be away for) and the other end of the wick into your plant's potting mix. Your plant will pull the water it needs through the wick while you're away," Marino said. Get it from Amazon for $11.99.
A variety of succulents that can go weeks without water
No strangers to dry climates with limited sources of water, "succulents – from the Latin word 'succulentus' for juice or sap – are defined by their moisture-storing capacity and come from many botanical families," Marino said.
This assortment of pre-potted and adaptive succulents like the aloe hedgehog and the spunky fasciated hawthornia enjoy sunny environments, are exceptionally hard to kill and can go up to three weeks without a single drop of water. Left: Get the hedgehog aloe from Bloomscape for $39.Right: Get the succulent assortment from The Sill for $55.
A way to make a makeshift greenhouse
Another way to stretch your plants' moisture levels for longer is to create a temporary makeshift greenhouse using simple and easy to find items. Marino told us how: "Water your plant and then cover it with a clear plastic bag to just below the lip of the planter, creating a makeshift greenhouse. Cut a couple of slits in the plastic to allow for ample air circulation, and use sticks to hold the bag up and away from the foliage. You want to make sure no foliage is touching the bag."Get bamboo plant stakes from Amazon for $7.99.Get plant film bags from Amazon for $12.99.
A set of mushroom-shaped watering bulbs
Pangborn said that certain aids like watering bulbs are a helpful way to keep your plants watered without running the risk of root rot. If you do choose this option, Kistler said to "always test these out weeks ahead of time if you decide to use them so that you know how your plants will react."
These hand-blown irrigation bulbs are made from high-density and ultra-durable glass. They measure nearly 7 inches tall and work with most plant sizes. Get it from Amazon for $25.99.