I’m off on holiday in a couple of weeks. Believe me, I really can’t wait for the escape. But for obsessive houseplant collectors like me, going away at the height of the growing season can be tinged with anxiety. Given the fact that I am currently watering my growing army of ferns, orchids, carnivorous plants and herbs virtually every day in hot weather, a two-week absence could be enough to finish off some of my more delicate specimens. But things don’t have to be this way!
If, like me, you are planning a summer break, there are a range of super-simple measures that you can take to ensure your houseplants survive the temporary abandonment. And the best thing is it’ll only take you five minutes to do before you dash out the door.
As the primary factor affecting how quickly your plants will dry out is temperature, simply moving them from sunny window sills to cooler, shadier spots can reduce their rate of water loss by up to 80%. It doesn’t really matter if they are sun-loving plants either as, for a short break, water stress is likely to have a much larger impact than a spell with lower light levels.
This is particularly important for fast-growing, thin-leaved plants, such as ferns, herbs and indoor bedding plants, which are likely to succumb to the effects of water stress far more quickly than slow-growing or succulent plants such as aloes, cacti, yuccas and tillandsias. Specimens to prioritise also include ones in small pots, as their small volume of growing media will dry out more quickly, as well as anything in a porous unglazed terracotta container (as opposed to plastic, metal, etc).
Grouping your newly repatriated plants together in a close huddle will further reduce water loss by creating localised humidity, as the leaves of neighbouring plants both emit and trap the water vapour of each other.
If you want to go one better, the standard advice is to put all your plants on a tray of capillary matting and saturate this with water. With this traditional horticultural technique plants can draw on the moisture in the matting through the holes in their pots via the wick effect when thirsty.
As a person who doesn’t have massive trays or capillary matting to hand (frankly, who does?), I find simply laying an old towel down in the bathtub, sticking my plants on top and giving the whole lot a good soak with the shower works brilliantly. The frosted glass of my typical “bright but cool” bathroom helps cut down the exposure to direct sun and the small size of the room also helps trap the most humidity.