What I really need is a friendly robot who wouldn't mind watering my plants while I'm gone.
February 13, 2011 10:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm going away for 2 months. How do I keep my plants watered?

I've got a bunch of pretty hardy houseplants: 2 cacti, 1 jade plant, some jade plant seedlings, and a cyclamen. I have repeatedly gone away for 4 weeks and left them sitting in pots and pans of water, and they've all survived just fine. I think the cyclamen even liked it. That was also in the Southwest though, where everything dries out really quickly and nothing gets moldy.

But now I'm going away for two solid months, and I'm in the Northwest where mold is a real concern, so I'm not sure what to do with them. The one person I could probably leave them with almost killed them last time. I will also be leaving in the early spring, so I can't just stick them outside, which is probably what I would do otherwise.

So I'm looking for suggestions for ways to keep my plants alive. There's an overwhelming number of fancy watering devices out there. Which ones work best? Can you set a drip watering system to a really slow speed so it would last a long time?

If you have any lost-cost suggestions, that would be great too. Could I rig something up in my bathtub? My bathroom gets pretty good sunlight, actually. Thanks for your help.
posted by colfax to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's an overwhelming number of fancy watering devices out there. Which ones work best?

At the lab we always use these plastic bags with an attached string during the summer holiday. You fill the bag with water (about 1L), hang it off the side of the pot and put the string in contact with the soil to wick out the water. Nobody around here is much of a gardener, but our plants seem to do ok with them.

Refill time is about two weeks IIRC, which would be too little for your case, but you could use a setup like this to provide your untrustworthy friend with a minimal hassle / low risk solution.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:03 PM on February 13, 2011

I have left plants sitting in several inches of water in the bottom of my bathtub for six weeks. Some but not all survived. I think the lack of light was the problem there.

Otherwise, can't you just loan them to a friend to look after?
posted by lollusc at 11:03 PM on February 13, 2011

Sorry: missed your statement about your friend. Can you take them into work and put them in a shared space and ask a colleague to water them sometimes? If they are in a tearoom or something, people are likely to intervene if the colleague forgets and they start to wilt.
posted by lollusc at 11:04 PM on February 13, 2011

Best answer: I could be wrong but I think many cactus can go two months w/out being watered no problem. Keep in mind that they grow in dry regions where the only source of water is dew, so if you keep them on a porch just the dew may be enough for them.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 11:15 PM on February 13, 2011

Best answer: Anecdotal at best, but we have the same-similar plants at our house and routinely forget to water the plants for 6-7-8 weeks at a go.

Alternatively, you could resort to gadgets such as Aqua Globes, these vacation water devices, or some hydrospikes.

Have a great trip!
posted by cior at 11:28 PM on February 13, 2011

Forgot to mentch: Our plants are still alive. Except for that one weird one.
posted by cior at 11:28 PM on February 13, 2011

Do you really have no other friends or neighbors or coworkers who could do this for you? I can't imagine that anyone you might ask would say no to stopping by once a week or so. How would you feel about getting someone to house-sit for two months? If you are in a college town, I'm sure that you can find a decent and reliable student or a grad student who will be happy to escape their dorm for some privacy in exchange for two months of plant watering.
posted by halogen at 11:47 PM on February 13, 2011

Best answer: For succulents, given the choice between no water for two months and any kind of steady drip, I would probably choose no water for two months. ESPECIALLY where mold is any concern. Succulents really dislike steady water with no chance to dry out....
posted by sparrows at 1:28 AM on February 14, 2011

For a month-long absence, I recently tried this: water deeply, then cover plants (or at least soil, for the big ones) with clear plastic bags or wrap. Bags from the dry cleaner worked really well for this. The idea is to approximate a terrarium, minimizing evaporation, though I was in a hurry and I didn't seal my plastic bags or anything like that, and for the unwieldy ones I just placed bunches of saran wrap any which way on top of the soil, so there was still a little air circulation. For particularly thirsty plants I also set up a drip system like the string bag mentioned above. The results were beautiful! Happy plants after four weeks without my attention. Their soil was still a little moist, so I think this could work for a longer period of time.
posted by philokalia at 6:22 AM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: I tried those Aquaglobes(™©®†ℵ) once, and came back 3 months later to find globes still full of water and sticks-in-dirt, so I can't recommend those, except to say that they work great as drainage mixture when smashed up in the bottom of the pot for your replacement plants.

That self-watering probe (sounds dirty) that cior links to looks like a fancy version of Dr Drac's string-bag suggestion, which I can endorse as actually functional.
posted by rokusan at 7:41 AM on February 14, 2011


I would hire a house sitter for that long. A college kid, a neighbor's teenager.

That's going to be the best guarantee the plants make it.

You could also go the route of hiring someone through a professional agency.
posted by zizzle at 8:04 AM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: Kind of riffing off the string bag concept, couldn't you place your plants around your kitchen sink, fill the sink full of water, and then make string wicks to the plants from the sink?

Or is that ridiculously convoluted and silly?
posted by elsietheeel at 8:31 AM on February 14, 2011

Just a thought, if you are uncomfortable with the house sitting idea, you could loan the plants to a friend, or even give them away and start fresh when you come back.
posted by Xoebe at 10:04 AM on February 14, 2011

I have no idea how well it works, but a local company called DriWater produces a "time-release water."
posted by harmfulray at 12:51 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: I'm surprised your jade and cacti didn't mind sitting in pans of water. Maybe in the SW it evaporated really quickly.

I don't know about the cyclamen, but for the jade and cacti, I'd just water well (and drain well) before you leave and not worry. I'm pretty sure those plants can survive 2 months w/o water.
posted by kirst27 at 1:43 PM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your thoughts!

I'm currently living in a pretty new town, so I don't know a whole lot of people yet, which is why I've been thinking about non-human solutions. But it's heartening to remember that the succulents will probably be just fine without water. Coming from the drier Southwestern climate, it freaks me out a bit how quickly mold and rot take hold here in the damp Northwest.

And it sounds like some version of the string-in-a-pot-of-water would help keep the cyclamen alive if my very nice but somewhat flaky friend forgets to come by as regularly as she means to.

Thanks again.
posted by colfax at 4:05 PM on February 15, 2011

Response by poster: So, here's an update in the name of being helpful to future readers.

I watered the cacti and the succulents really well right before I left, and then left them totally on their own for two months. They all survived just fine, even the seedlings. I had been watering them fairly regularly in the months leading up to my leaving, so they were pretty water-rich at the beginning, I think. All of the jade leaves are a lot thinner now than when I left, but they're all still green and alive. The smaller seedlings even sprouted some more leaves.

The cyclamen I left with a friend, because I didn't want to risk it, and so it's just fine as well.
posted by colfax at 3:33 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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