Keep Plants Watered While Away

Ideally, a friend or neighbour can step in to water and feed your plants if necessary. It is perhaps a good idea to first offer them a run-through, or leave instructions by each pot. However, what if nobody is available to help? Various measures can be taken to care for the plants left behind when you go away. Here is a guide on how to keep your plants alive whilst on holiday.

Landscaping Ideas

Pre-Departure Checks

Always check plants thoroughly for pest and diseases in the week leading up to the holiday, and deal with them then, otherwise they will enjoy the holiday as well. Water and feed the plants thoroughly before you leave.

Keep Plants Alive

Move Their Pots

Moving plants away from windows means that they will be out of direct sunlight (which dries them out) in the summer, and safe from cold draughts in the winter. In the summer, move the plants to the coolest room, and in winter to the warmest (assuming the heating will be turned off). Fridges and freezers give off heat, and in the absence of central heating, it can be a good idea if you go away in winter to put plants on top of these appliances.

Keep Plants Alive

Watering Systems

While dormant in winter, many houseplants will tolerate a few days without water, providing they are given a thorough watering before you depart for a holiday. However, in the summer, many plants will need constant access to water.

Plants take up water through their roots, and in doing so draw it through the soil. Capillary matting is a means of extending the reach of the roots into a well of water collected in, for example, a bath, sink, large bowl or deep roasting tin. As the soil in the pot becomes dry, the water is drawn up from the well through the matting and into the pot.

One option is to place the pot directly onto the matting and have it dangle over the side into the well. For instance, place a washing-up bowl full of water in the sink with the plants on the matting on the draining board above. This works best with plastic pots; for terracotta pots, push the matting up into the drainage hole to ensure a better connection.

Keep Plants Alive

Alternatively, push a strip of the matting into the compost at the top of the pot. This will act as a wick, drawing up moisture from an individual well, and would be a good option for larger or more delicate plants that you cannot move easily.

Raising Humidity

Grouping plants together will help reduce water loss from the plants. All plants give off water through transpiration; evaporation of water through the stomata (pores) in the leaves. The drier the air, the faster the water loss. Grouping plants together means the surrounding air becomes more humid than if you place them individually; hence, the evaporation gradient is flatter, and the water loss slows down. For short absences, tie a clear plastic bag around the whole plant and pot, using canes which you insert into the container to keep the bag from touching the leaves.

The Venus Fly Trap

Here is one plant you definitely want to keep alive, but luckily, it can find it’s own food! The Venus Fly Trap is a fascinating specimen, that is genuinely predatory, and actually captures and eats insects! Not one for the fainthearted, but kids will love to watch the jaws snapping when prey triggers them. The plant prefers a sunny spot and is relatively easy to look after. How it works is impressive, as it releases a scent similar to fruit and flowers, and has an intense red colour to fool the insects into thinking it’s a real flower.


Venus Fly Trap

The traps of this fascinating plant are at the ends of the leaves, with special hair-like sensors which cause the trap to trigger when the prey touches it two or three times in quick succession. This prevents accidental triggering by rain or debris falling in. The traps are also smart enough not to close on really tiny insects which would waste valuable energy for very little return. Once the jaws have closed, there is no escape.

The struggling insect stimulates the trap to close further, immobilising it. The leaf produces digestive acids which kill, then dissolve the body and absorb the valuable nutrients.

Once closed, traps take five to 12 days to reopen after the prey has been digested and will only work a couple of times before they become unusable. Do not be tempted to close them yourself as this will weaken the plant.

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Spring and Summer Care

  • The plant should be watered from below during the growing season. The easiest way is to permanently stand the pot in a saucer which is filled with rainwater to 2.5cm (1in) deep.
  • Don’t be tempted to feed plants yourself, they’ll catch all that they need themselves. If you must, just leave them outside for a few days in the summer to ‘catch up’.
  • The Venus Fly Trap may flower, but it is best to cut these off as this will weaken the plant and result in fewer, smaller traps.
  • Never apply fertiliser to the plants.

Autumn and Winter Care

  • From September onwards, you will notice some of the leaves begin to die off, and this is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about as the plant enters its winter dormancy.
  • Watering at this time can be reduced so that plants are kept just damp. All you need to do is let the water tray empty before filling it up again, to about 1cm deep.
  • Any dead foliage can be cut off.
  • Plants need a cold winter rest. If you are growing your plant indoors, move it to a cooler position such as an unheated greenhouse, porch or unused and unheated room.
  • The secret of success is always rainwater, never tap water, and allow winter rest.

I hope you enjoyed this guide on how to keep your plants alive whilst on holiday.

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Indoor Plant Disease Identification

Diseased Plant

House plant diseases tend to be fungal rather than bacterial or viral. The most likely are here in this guide to indoor plant disease identification. If the symptoms don’t match, check the further resources section for where to find more information.

Landscaping Ideas

A Healthy Environment

As with preventing pests, infection is much less likely on healthy plants, so look after them well. Good housekeeping is also essential to avoid cultivating an atmosphere in which disease could take hold. Also to prevent spreading any existing disease. Keep plants tidy, removing dead leaves and other detritus from around the base of them. Make sure tools and equipment, including the pots themselves, are clean, by washing with soap or other detergent and hot water. If the plants’ compost develops mould on its surface, repot it, washing off the roots entirely before replanting in fresh compost.

Fungicidal sprays are available to treat some diseases but reserve them for only when they are necessary. Select a treatment which is specific for the condition you have identified and always read the label before choosing a product. Make sure that you follow all the manufacturer’s instructions, including maximum dose, spray and harvest intervals.


Also known as grey mould and, to wine-makers, noble rot. Spores are ever-present in the air, everywhere, and readily infect dead or weak tissue, before spreading to the rest of the plant.

Signs of damage: Fluffy grey moulds developing quickly on leaves and stems, or spots on petals.

Control: Prevent infection with good air circulation and by promptly removing dead or damaged tissue with neat cuts to minimise open wounds. Remove and dispose of infected tissue, trying to contain it in the process, to avoid spreading more clouds of spores.


Both powdery and downy mildews are fungal diseases which cause white mould on leaf surfaces.

Signs of damage: Patches of white mould; powdery on the upper side, downy on the underside with corresponding yellow patches above. Leaves yellow and die; inhibition of growth is evident.

Downy Mildews

Downy mildews invade plant cells, and only the spore-bearing structures show on the leaf surface as a white or grey fuzz. Early stages of fungal attack can be seen as yellowish blotching on the lower leaf surfaces. These blemishes are followed by a bloom of white or greyish-white spores, and if left untreated, the plants may be severely crippled.

Powdery Mildews

Plants suffering from these diseases are easily recognised, as their leaves, stems, flowers or fruit may be covered with a white-grey powdery coating. The fungus causing the disease may be specific to the host plant; for example, rose mildew will not affect any other type of plant, or it may have a broad host range attacking many varieties of herbaceous plants. The disease is superficial, but if it is not combatted, it may result in a loss of leaves.

Control: powdery mildew often infects plants with dry roots and wet leaves, so ensure proper air circulation and correct watering. Downy mildew is also characteristic of damp environments and usually affects young plants. Remove affected parts as soon as they are seen and improve the atmosphere around the plant.


These tend to be brought in via the plant or occasionally through infected pests or tools.

Signs of damage: The whole plant will become stunted or distorted, with yellow spots or streaks on the leaves.

Control: It’s impossible to treat a virus, so the plant must be disposed of, and all tools and equipment thoroughly cleaned afterwards to avoid the infection spreading to other plants.

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Mindfulness with Plants


Mindfulness is the practice of training the mind to focus on being aware of one’s surroundings to quieten the rest of the chatter in the brain. It can be as simple as concentrating on breathing, but can also involve bringing attention to an object or repetitive activity.


As plants and gardening are already well known to bring a sense of peace and calm, combining the two is a logical choice, effortless to do when using house plants, leading to a happy mind.


The aim is to have something to entirely focus the attention and senses on, for five to 10 minutes a day. It is better to use a single plant, rather than a collection, as in this way concentration can be more readily focussed. It could be a high-maintenance orchid, or a similar tropical plant, which needs time spent on it; for example, misting and cleaning the leaves every day. Alternatively, it could be a plant that has elements that are particularly stimulating to the senses, such as fragrant flowers or tactile leaves, or one that is merely captivating to look at.

How to be Mindful

If carrying out maintenance, concentrate entirely on the sensations; for example, the action of squeezing the misting bottle handle, perhaps the feel of water falling on your hand and the look of the water as it falls through the light and onto the plant. If sitting in contemplation of a plant, focus all your attention on it and really look, smell or feel the plant, appreciating every nuance.

It is perfectly natural for your attention to wander during these exercises, but bringing it back to the task at hand is all part of training the mind to focus.


What to Plant for Mindfulness

Tactile plants, such as an air plant (Tillandsia argentea), Delta maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum), Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) and African violet (Saintpaulia).

Fragrant plants, such as lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora), citrus trees (Citrus), jasmine (Jasminum), lilies (Lilium) and Pelargonium.

Visually interesting and detailed plants, such as auriculas (Primula auricula), Cape primrose (Streptocarpus), cacti, bromeliads (Nidularium, Neoregelia), Solenostemon and Fittonia.

Delta Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum raddianum)

This is one of the most delicate ferns, with black stems bearing tiny leaflets that tremble in the slightest breeze. A slightly scented-leaved version is also available. Water regularly and feed with a diluted fertiliser in spring and summer. Prune only to remove dead fronds.

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)

The bird’s nest fern is a very tolerant plant, making it an ideal beginner’s house plant. The large flat, glossy leaves are mid-green and have an attractive black midrib and crinkled edges. Pot using a mix of 75/25 multipurpose compost and grit, and water as required. Clean the leaves regularly to keep them clean and shiny. Prune only to cut out dead leaves to the base; brown edges can also be trimmed.

Citrus Trees (Citrus)

Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and more, all citrus trees can be grown in a large pot indoors, though they will appreciate being outside in the summer, if possible. Meyer’s lemon and Nagami kumquat are good compact trees. Water freely in summer, sparingly in winter. Feed in summer. Misting can help pollination. Prune only to pinch out shoots (to encourage bushy growth) and to remove dead and side-shoots borne on and at the base of the stem.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum walisii)

The peace lily forms clumps of dark-green ovate leaves and white flowers (spathes). All parts of the plant are extremely toxic. Water regularly in summer, sparingly in winter. Feed monthly in summer. Prune only to remove dead leaves and flowers. It will benefit from an occasional misting.


Sometimes mistakenly referred to as “geraniums”, these fall into two groups, both suitable as house plants. One is grown primarily for flowers (commonly red or white, though their bi-colour leaves are also attractive), the other for their scented leaves (bright and crinkled leaves, scented with anything from rose, lemon and apples to cloves and cinnamon). On the latter, the leaves and summer flowers (pink or white tones) are smaller but can be used in the kitchen. Water and feed regularly in summer, sparingly in winter. Cut back to a short, open framework each spring.

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Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus)

This plant has a primrose-like flower borne on delicate stems above long, slightly furry, dark-green leaves. Varieties available can include pastel-pink, blue or purple flowers (see the specialist nurseries listed on this site for the best choice). Best watered from a saucer to avoid rotting leaves, but do not allow to stand wet. Water regularly in summer, sparingly in winter. Feed monthly in summer. Prune only to remove dead leaves and trim flower spikes back to the base.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)

A typical house plant or gift at Christmas time (hence the name), when generally it is in flower (varieties of red, pink and white). Despite the name, it hails from the rainforest and needs a partially shaded, humid position.

Click here to buy this cute rabbit planter!



Coleus (Solenostemon)

Perennial plants, often treated as annuals, though can be over-wintered. Their serrated leaves come in a wide range of beautiful colours and patterns; it is possible to buy seed mixes that give a good spread of colours within one packet. Protect from direct sun on hot summer days, and mist frequently to maintain high humidity. Pinch out growing shoots of young plants to encourage bushy growth. Seed can be sown in spring, or over-wintered plants can be cut back to a short framework in spring.

Mosaic Plant (Fittonia verschaffelti)

This is a creeping, ground-cover plant noted for the coloured veins (usually white or pale pink) on its leaves. It is a good candidate for terrariums. Water regularly in summer, sparingly in winter. Feed in the summer. Prune only to remove dead stems.

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Do you have a particular house plant to help create mindfulness? Which plant do you think inspires calm and peaceful thoughts? Who would have known that cleaning a plant’s leaves can benefit your own well-being?

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House Plant Pots

Spring Bulbs

aWhen it comes to choosing the correct pot for your houseplant, there are a couple of basic things to consider. The container should be large enough to hold the plant, taking into account some growth. Otherwise, the plant can suffer from a restriction in its size. It may need repotting into a larger container at a later date. Whatever pot you choose, it must also accommodate the need for watering.

The aesthetics, however, is entirely down to personal taste and budget. It’s a good idea to make sure the style and colour of the pot will not only suit the room but also suit the plant.

Choosing the Right Pot

Freestyle Pots

With the resurgence of the houseplant’s popularity, designers and homeware shops are offering an increased range of pots to choose from, but home-made options are unique and could cost you a lot less. Try jazzing up a basic bowl by painting it with blackboard paint, which you could then decorate with chalk, or by wrapping it in a piece of fabric or strip of silver birch bark.

Alternatively, think “outside the pot” and use containers that might not be a conventional plant pot. You could, for example, try one of the following:

Recycled kitchen tins and cans

Old stereo speakers

Disused chairs with the upholstery taken out of the seat

Unwanted shoes; think wellies or even stilettos!

Choosing the Right Pot

Watering and Drainage

There are two options for potting a houseplant; either the plant goes directly into a closed pot, the container that will be on display, or it is kept in a plastic pot with drainage holes, that is then disguised by a more attractive outer pot (which is usually watertight).

For smooth, mess-free watering, the latter option is best, and there is less risk of over-watering, provided excess water is not allowed to pool in the base of the outer pot. Closed pots have no drainage holes and need more careful watering to ensure the compost does not become too saturated.

Choosing the Right Pot

How to Clean Pots

Plastic pots can simply be scrubbed using a cloth soaked in warm, soapy water. All traces of soil and grime should be rinsed away. If necessary, they can be added to a gentle bleach solution, to completely sterilise them, which may be a good idea to remove all bacteria if you intend to grow seedlings in them. Bacteria in leftover soil can, unfortunately, cause the seedlings to topple over. Clay pots can be cleaned using steel wool and diluted vinegar for the best results. This is particularly effective for removing any lingering traces of salt.

Choosing the Right Pot

Orchid Pots

Many garden centres and retailers sell orchid pots; colourful, attractive outer pots that can hold an orchid (usually Phalaenopsis) in a clear plastic pot. The roots of orchids, as well as the leaves, contain chlorophyll and will grow up towards the light to get the required nutrients. This can look messy, depending on your point of view, and can make the plant unstable in the pot. A clear container allows light to get into the pot, so the roots don’t have to climb out in search of sun.

It is ideal, though not necessary, to keep an orchid in a clear glass or plastic pot with drainage holes, as this will mean most of the roots will stay inside the container. It’s also useful for checking how moist the soil is inside the pot.

Luxury Phalaenopsis: Pack of Three Moth Orchids with Gold Pots

Commonly known as the Moth Orchid, Phalaenopsis is one of the most popular indoor Orchids available. Large, showy blooms rise above the leathery foliage on slender, black stems. The flowers are irresistibly luxurious, bringing instant elegance to your home and lasting up to several months. These stylish houseplants can bloom at any time throughout the year, and with the right care, will flower for many years to come. While in flower, Phalaenopsis Orchids require a sunny position with a night-time temperature of 16-19C (61-66F) and day temperatures between 19-30C (66-86F). Choose a brightly lit location away from draughts and radiators, avoiding the direct glare of the sun.

Choosing the Right Pot

Click here for your set of spectacular orchid pots!

Monkey Puzzle Tree

For those of you who have space for a larger indoor plant, which comes supplied with an attractive pot, why not consider a Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria heterophylla)? As an added bonus, it can be used as an alternative to a Christmas tree! It really is a beautiful tree, having tiers of fan-shaped branches and is easy to care for, not requiring any pruning. It is best kept indoors over winter, as although it can tolerate low temperatures, it would not survive being frozen. The Monkey Puzzle Tree is slow-growing, and its new growth in spring is a vibrant green, which darkens in the autumn. It prefers bright light and should be kept near a window, or it could lose its needles.

Choosing the Right Pot

Click here for your very own Monkey Puzzle Tree!

Senecio ‘String of Pearls’ (House Plant)

Here is a fascinating idea; an indoor hanging basket which can also be positioned on a high shelf for maximum effect. This exotic houseplant spills over the side of its pot with long trailing stems, of round beaded foliage – hence its name of “string of pearls”. You will be pleased to learn that they are easy to care for, with their only requirements being plenty of light and occasional watering. They are not keen on drafts, so keep them away from an open window. As an added bonus, they are said to help purify the air in your home. A single plant may look a little spindly, and they look at their best when clumped together.

Choosing the Right Pot

Click here for your “String of Pearls” hanging basket!

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Do you think having an attractive pot is necessary? Or is it all about the plant? Have you recycled anything and turned it into an indoor pot?

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How to Build a Hydroponic System at Home

Salads and Hydroponics

Hydroponic systems are a way of growing plants without using soil or compost. They are becoming increasingly common in the agricultural industry and are used in the growing number of urban farms, but can also be incredibly useful for growing at home.

Hydroponics and Salad

What Does a Hydroponic System Look Like?

In a hydroponic system, all the nutrients that soil would provide are given to the plant through the water. It is a system commonly used in commercial glasshouses for growing salad vegetables but is also useful in growing situations where compost or soil would be too heavy or bulky, such as roof gardens and living walls.

Sometimes the roots simply dangle in an ever-moving aerated stream of water and diluted fertiliser, and sometimes an inert growing medium, such as rock wool, is used to anchor the plants.

Hydroponics and Salad

Hydroponics at Their Simplest

Many people will have had a go at growing hydroponically without even realising it. The old childhood activity of growing cress “hair” from an eggshell “head” stuffed with damp cotton wool is essentially a form of hydroponic growing.

Hydroponics and Salad

Advantages and Disadvantages of Short-Term Crops


Hydroponics has many benefits. There is no messy compost and, especially when used in commercial environments, the nutrient balance for the plants can be adjusted to the perfect level, depending on the maturity of the crop and even the daily weather.

Once the system is in place, it also cuts down on costs. Lush growth can be quickly achieved due to the watering and feeding system. The use of artificial light means that crops can even be grown underground, which has the potential to revolutionise urban food supplies.


Disadvantages include the environmental cost of the growing media, many of which are not biodegradable, and the initial capital outlay. The average home isn’t going to be able to convert a room into a greenhouse using LED lights, heating fans, water circulation and feeding pipes just to grow a bit of salad for dinner! However, many small-scale set-ups include lighting options for gloomier kitchens. These off-the-shelf products are ideal for a windowsill or desk space and come with full instructions.

Hydroponics and Salad

Creating a DIY Hydroponic System

Have a go at creating a home system using a bit of DIY.

The plants will need a container (such as a length of guttering that is higher at one end than the other).

They will also need a substrate (rock wool, perlite or similar) for their roots.

Water and diluted fertiliser can be poured into the guttering and allowed to flow down and out. A more complex system could collect the run-off in a tank and pump it back to the top.

You can find books on the specifics of hydroponic growing to help you, or seek out further guidance online. Recommended books include “Ditch the Dirt: How to Grow Beautiful, Edible, Hydroponic Plants at Home” by Rob Laing (Dovetail March 2018). Online websites include www.ikea.com, www.seedpantry.co.uk and www.homehydrosystems.com.

Hydroponics and Salad

What to Plant

For growing some salad leaves, such as lettuce, rocket, mizuna and mibuna, hydroponic systems are a fun experiment. If there is sufficient space, they can also be used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, peppers, annual herbs and wheatgrass.


Greenhouse lettuce can quickly be grown in a hydroponic system, using a mineral and nutrient mixture to feed the plants. The most commonly used method is that of the nutrient film technique. This is a closed system, which means that any surplus nutrient solution is recovered after use, ready to be recycled.

Hydroponics and Salads


This popular green salad crop is also known as arugula, and both the perennial and annual varieties are suitable for a hydroponic system. They are highly productive plants and can be harvested weekly to encourage further growth. Rocket has a lower light requirement than other salad vegetables, making it ideal for a tired hydroponic system.

Hydroponics and Salad


This Japanese mustard plant is often found in commercial salad leaf mixes but is incredibly easy to grow at home. Being a small, compact plant makes it suitable for those with limited space, and it will sit happily alongside other salad crops, using the same nutrient formula as that of lettuce or rocket.

Hydroponics and Salad


Mibuna is very similar to mizuna but has a more intense mustard flavour, and different shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and continues to thrive, even when neglected. The plant can endure extreme cold but doesn’t tolerate heat particularly well. It is ready for harvesting in as little as three weeks, and the leaves can be hand-picked or cut with scissors.

Hydroponics and Salad


Although it is possible to grow tomatoes using a hydroponic system, it is more expensive than the conventional method. They require a material which is strong enough to support their roots, such as rock wool, coconut coir or perlite. The material should be soaked before adding the seeds and placed under artificial light.

Hydroponics and Salad


The favourite salad vegetable, the cucumber, positively thrives when grown in a hydroponic system. They require only moisture, nutrients and warmth for a rapid growth rate, with the hybrid varieties being the most successful, as they are resistant to disease. As a vine plant, they are ideal for vertical hydroponic systems.

Hydroponics and Salad


Hydroponics is the fastest way of growing chillies, and you can get a high yield in a relatively small space. They work well in a static solution system, where the nutrient solution is aerated by the use of pumps and is changed once per week. For a more extensive set-up, with more plants, a continuous flow system can be used.


Green peppers typically grow the best using a hydroponics system, but you need to be careful to ensure the plants are not too close to the artificial lights, as they burn quickly. Care should also be taken with the temperature too, as extreme heat may cause the flowers to drop, thus not producing any peppers.

Which salad items do your family enjoy? Why not take this exciting opportunity to grow your own using this simple hydroponic system?

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