How to Keep Outdoor Plants Watered While on Vacation
You’ve spent hours and perhaps significant sums creating the garden of your dreams. Hanging baskets, window boxes, and large and small containers abound in your beautiful oasis. But like mostly everyone in the summer, you enjoy taking a break from home and go on vacation for a few days or more. So how do you maintain that beautiful lush garden while you are away? Read on to learn how to keep outdoor plants watered when you cannot be there to do it yourself.
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Prepare Your Plants One Month In Advance
Like how you make a list and prepare for a vacation in advance, you should do the same for your plants. Here is a list of 6 things you can do to prepare your plants before leaving.
1. Scratch the surface of the soil in your pots with a scratcher to allow for better water penetration.
2. Fertilize your plants with Jack’s Classic Blossom Bloomer or a good liquid fertilizer one month in advance of your departure. This will ensure your plants are extra robust and healthy. You can also add organic matter like compost or manure directly to the soil. Follow the instructions on the container for amending the soil.
3. Trim back the healthy growth of the plant one week before leaving. In addition, cut out any dead stems and diseased or dying leaves. Contour the plant into a particular shape. Do not overcut it, just give it a nice trim. A smaller plant will require less water.
4. Place shredded leaves, stems, twigs, or other organic material (but not grass clippings) from your yard around the the base of the plant ensuring you do not touch the actual plant. This will help retain water. You can also use organic mulch in place of the organic material. Upon returning home, remove the added mulch to prevent rot.
5. Water your plants well and deep before you leave. When watering with a hose or watering can, add water to the base of the plant and use a more gentle shower type watering. Do not sprinkle the foliage with water because the water will not fully penetrate the soil to the roots and will evaporate more quickly. Wet foliage also encourages disease.
6. If you choose to use a self-watering method, experiment beforehand to determine whether or not it is appropriate for your plants.
Traditional ideas for watering plants are usually cheaper and simpler than purchasing water-drip irrigation systems. Here are a few suggestions.
Ask A Neighbor
A traditional way to water your plants while you’re away is to ask a reliable neighbor to do the task. If you are fortunate enough to have a good neighbor close by, it is best to provide some instruction on how to provide for your plants before you leave.
Show them which plants need to be watered.
Model how to determine if water is needed by using the finger method by sticking your finger in the soil. If it is dry down to the first inch or to the first knuckle, it’s time to give it a good watering. If it is not, wait a day and check again.
Give the plant a good soaking to at least a slow count of 10 to 20, depending on the size of your container.
If the water runs quickly out of the drainage hole, poke the surface of the soil with a stick or screw driver to break open the top crusted layer of soil.
When watering hanging plants, continue watering until the water seeps through the bottom in many spots. Again, the water may just flow off if the soil has hardened.
Forewarn your prospective waterer about rainfall. It can be deceiving. If it has rained, your neighbor may think the plants were sufficiently watered. However, most rainfalls do not do a deep, steady watering so your neighbor should do the finger trick to determine whether the plants need a dousing.
Window boxes close to the house rarely get enough water from a rainfall unless the rain is slanted from the proper direction. Consequently, they will need to be watered regularly.
Hire A Watering Service
There are many sources from which to hire a watering service. Try one of the following:
Nextdoor (app in your community where you can ask advice on obtaining a particular service)
Watering Can (wateringcanapp.com)
Vacation Plant Watering through TaskRabbit
Things To Consider When Hiring A Professional or Neighbor
There are many factors to consider when hiring a professional or neighbor to water your plants. You should determine which plants will be serviced, how they will be serviced through either pruning, misting, fertilizing, and/or watering, the frequency of watering, and of course, consider your budget.
It is far cheaper to hire a neighbor or a teenager to water your plants. A common rate for a teenager is between $10 and $15 per watering. If your neighbor does not want any money, you may want to give them a small gift to show your appreciation.
Professional services charge by the day, by the hour, by how many plants you have, and/or the services needed to keep your plants alive. This is obviously the most expensive choice. They may also tack on a special fee for travel expenses.
Generally speaking, professional plant-sitters charge between $10 and $50 per day.
Stragegic Placement of Plants
Place plants together in a full-shaded area.
If you choose to hire someone to water your plants or even if you do not, you should place your container plants, including hanging baskets, close together to retain as much moisture from the surrounding plants as possible. Plants release water vapor. Clustering them together will create a humid environment surrounding your plants and keep them more moist.
The plants that require full sun will survive in the shade for a week or so.
Also, gather all window boxes if they are not attached to your home and put them close together in the shade. Separate into groups those plants that need less water and those that need more if you choose to hire someone to water your plants. Instruct them as to which group needs more and which needs less water.
Fill a large, flat waterproof container with a lip that is filled with pebbles. Then place the planters on the pebbles and add water to create natural humidity from evaporating water.
Do not place them up against your house because the eaves will prevent rain water from penetrating the pots.
Methods For Self-Watering
There are many methods you can utilize for self-watering. They range from easy DIY projects to complicated and expensive water drip systems for containers and hanging baskets. Below are a few examples of how to keep your outdoor plants watered using water drip systems.
TIP: Try out these methods a week or two before your trip to be sure they are working properly.
Water Drip System Using a Plastic Bottle
Poke a few holes into the lid of a plastic bottle using a heated needle.
Fill the bottle with water almost to the top and replace the lid on the bottle.
Invert the bottle and place it lid first into the soil of your pot, immersing it in the soil by a half an inch. Do not place it too close to the plant. You do not want to damage its roots.
You can secure the bottle using a bamboo stick taped around the up-side-down bottle. Force the stick into the outside edge of the container and it will keep the bottle standing straight up, allowing the water to seep into the soil.
Alternative Water Drip System
You can also use a small drill bit, nail, or ice pick to poke a few holes in the bottom and lower quarter of a plastic bottle. Place the bottle, holes side down, into the soil, fill it with water, and screw on the lid.
For a faster flow of water into the soil, loosen the lid; for a slower flow, tighten the lid.
These two methods will water the plant for up to a week, depending on the size of the plastic bottle. Be sure to rinse the bottle thoroughly before using it.
If the water is not draining properly, place the bottle in a sock or nylon stocking to prevent soil from clogging the holes.
Use more than one bottle in large pots.
String cotton twine through the drainage holes of the planter containing your plant. Fill a larger container that has no drainage holes around 2/3’s full and place the planter in the container above the water line. The twine should be long enough to extend into the bottom of the container full of water below it. You are trying to nest the smaller planter into the larger container without submerging it into the water. If the rim of the larger container will not support the plant, place a brick or jar inside the large container to elevate the planter above the water line.
The submerged wick in the water container will slowly draw up the water to the bottom of the smaller planter. This process is called wicking.
Larger planters may require a wider piece of cotton twine to water the entire plant.
Monitor this method before leaving home to ensure it is working properly. Also, do not use this method if the plant is prone to root rot.
Create a Terrarium
Terrariums are essentially gardens in a sealed container. According to Ambius, “The plants and the soil in the terrarium release water vapor – essentially recycling water. The vapor is then collected onto the walls of the vessel and trickles down to the soil.”
You can replicate this method using a large clear plastic garbage bag.
1. Water your plant well.
2. Place the plant into a doubled up clear plastic garbage bag.
3. Blow some air into the bag to inflate it before tying it up.
4. Poke numerous holes in the top to allow for air circulation and for the plant to breathe.
Warning: DO NOT place this makeshift terrarium in the sun. It will bake your plants!
Purchase Water-Drip Systems
There are numerous water drip planters that are available for you to purchase. They range from $20 to well above. Plow and Hearth has a few varieties to choose from that look nice and are not that expensive.
An Upgraded Big Powered Automatic Drip Irrigation Kit can be purchased from Amazon. For an unbiased review on this product click here. This product is usually used for indoor plants.
Drip Irrigation Kit, 169FT Greenhouse Watering System is suitable for an area of 120 square feet. This can be used for lawn irrigation, patios, roof cooling, agriculture, vegetable , greenhouse, flower bed, swimming pool misting, fog cooling irrigation etc.
You can also purchase plant watering spikes from Amazon. These are decorative bulbs that you fill with water and stick into the soil. They slowly release water into the plant. Do not place the spike too close to the plant.
Keeping Plants Moist in the Ground
Water is retained in the ground much longer than in pots. The cooling air only touches the surface of the ground. In contrast, pots are surrounded by circulating air on 3 out of the 4 sides causing evaporation to occur more rapidly. Therefore, it’s much easier to properly water plants in the ground.
Options for Keeping Plants in the Ground Well Watered
1. Prepare your plants/garden one month in advance as described above.
2. Right before you leave home, scratch the ground around the base of the plant and thoroughly water your garden. Spread good organic mulch around the base of your plants without touching the stems. Also add another layer of mulch throughout your garden. This will help help retain water in the ground.
3. Purchase a good soaker hose and place it strategically around the base of the plants. Attach the hose to an automatic water sprinkler device.
4. Use a sprinkler attached to a hose that is then attached to a timer. Set the timer for early morning sprinkling. This way the water on the leaves will evaporate and not cause any mold, mildew, or disease to form.
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Final Thoughts: How to Keep Plants Watered While on Vacation
You CAN go away and not come home to a wilted waste land! Follow the suggestions listed above to help keep your beautiful garden properly watered and thriving.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share it with others and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
For more information on maintaining your garden in mid-summer, click here.