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Gardeners' Dirt: Prepare plants for their staycation

By By Charlie Neumeyer - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Aug. 1, 2013 at 3:01 a.m.

These peace lilies (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum) are fairly needy indoor plants and require water on a regular basis.  They are shown being watered by a wicking system.   Requiring minimal light, they usually need water about once a week. If they are wilted when you return from travel, they can likely be refreshed again with added water.

Basic Plant Staycation Instructions

  1. Always water plants thoroughly before leaving.

  2. Be sure plants are as healthy as possible, check for insects and diseases and remove dead leaves and flowers.

  3. Move the plants out of direct sunlight.

  4. Turn the thermostat up but not off.

HousePlants Requiring Infrequent Watering

  1. Hoya or wax plant (Hoya carnosa)

  2. Snake plant or mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

  3. ZZ plant or Aroid palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

  4. Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

  5. Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)

  6. Jade plant (Crassula ovate)

  7. Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Source: Better Homes and Gardens (bhg.com)

Plan ahead to avoid returning from your vacation to a house full of dead plants. We all have seen that vision.

My wife and I are planning a cruise later this summer, and we will be gone for an extended period of time.

While we were making our checklist of things to take care of before our trip, we added taking care of the houseplants and the plants in pots on our porches.

While I have a plan in the back of my mind for the exterior plants, the ones inside the house are a different story.

Reviewing options

I thought about pitching out all of my water-loving plants and keeping only the low-maintenance ones, but my wife didn't think that was such a good idea.

So, I talked with several Master Gardeners to get their ideas on caring for houseplants when they were out of town, and they offered several options.

One person had a relative who came to the house and watered the plants as needed. Another had purchased some glass globe reservoirs that allowed water to seep slowly into the soil.

Another punched a small hole into the lid of a plastic container and put that into the pot. Several mentioned the wicking method, but none had actually tried it.

The experiments began

The last two ideas intrigued me, so I decided to try them out. The methods were inexpensive and easy to set up.

Hole in plastic container lid

I purchased a gallon jug of water and used an ice pick to put a small hole through the lid. I put the jug in the container and the water started dribbling out.

However, the next day when I checked the jug, there was a problem. Because there was no vent hole, the jug had collapsed upon itself.

Additionally, more than half the water had seeped out of the jug, so this was really a short-term fix.

Wicking method

Because I had never tried the wicking method, I went to the Internet for information on the process and found an interesting article at www.thriftyfun.com titled "Wick Watering for Container Plants."

The author put water in a large container and then inserted wicking cord into the reservoir and used a pencil to push the cord as deep as possible without disturbing the roots.

I thought this was worth a try, but I used a piece of 100 percent cotton fabric and tore it into a strip about 2 inches wide and 3 feet long and soaked it in water.

I also used a piece of cording about 3 feet long. I marked the water level so that I could ascertain if the process was working and loosely covered the gallon jar with plastic wrap to prevent evaporation.

The next day when I checked, the water level had gone down about 1/2 inch. The next day, it was down about the same amount. However, at this point, since the soil was saturated, the wicking action ceased. Two weeks later, the soil is still damp, but the plants are beginning to wilt.

Mini hot houses

Another site, gardeningknowhow.com, suggested placing the plants in a bathtub that has been lined with a sheet of plastic and then a layer of wet newspaper.

Place the plants in the tub, and then cover the entire tub with clear plastic to create a miniature hot house. Be sure that the plastic does not touch the leaves, using stakes if necessary.

One could also create individual hot houses using plastic bags to cover the plant and securing the bag around the pot. Again, be sure the plastic does not touch the leaves.

Friend is surest method

Overall, the surest option is to have a friend come over to check on the plants and water them. Just be sure to leave notes on any special needs of particular plants. And if you travel frequently, consider the care factor when choosing houseplants.

Peace of mind

Whichever method you choose, knowing that your houseplants are being cared for will not be one of the nagging problems that will keep you from having a carefree time.

Of course, there's always the dog's behavior, and did I leave the iron on? And did I remember to suspend the delivery of the Advocate? Enjoy your vacation and leave your plants to their staycation.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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