Ideally, a friend or neighbour can step in to water and feed your plants as required. It is perhaps a good idea to first offer them a run-through, or leave instructions by each pot. However, 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.
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.
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.
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, without becoming waterlogged.
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.
Alternatively, push a strip of the matting into the compost in 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 cannot be moved easily.
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 they were to be individually placed; hence, the evaporation gradient is flatter, and the water loss slowed. For short absences, tie a clear plastic bag around the whole plant and pot, using canes inserted 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 they are triggered by prey. 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.
The traps of this fascinating plant are shaped from the ends of the leaves, with specially adapted hair-like sensors which cause the trap to be triggered when touched 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. Digestive acids are then produced by the leaf 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.
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 it’s 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.