Looking After Plants When You Go Away

Looking After Plants When You Go Away

It is easy enough, then, to care for our plants when we are able to give them regular attention, but what is to happen to them when we leave home for a holiday or for some other reason ? This can be a real problem, particularly because holidays usually take place at a time of year when warm weather and bright sunshine make greater than usual demands on the watering can.

The best answer is to have a friend, relative or neighbour to come in and look after your plants for you, having made quite sure that he or she understands what is required. (We all know of the damage that well-meaning friends can do on such occasions.) If this suggestion is impractical, then consider sending the plants to a local nursery, much as you might send the dog to a boarding kennels. Many nurseries either operate a scheme along these lines or will agree to take in ‘boarders’ for brief periods.

But sometimes this again is impossible. Indeed some of your plants may be too large or too firmly fixed in position to allow them to be moved. Then you have to improvise some means of seeing that your plants are watered (don’t worry about feeding) until you can get back to them. The important matter here is the length of your absence. One week need cause no worry at all, two weeks is a comparatively easy time to manage, but after this things begin to get more difficult.

The first thing is to move all plants out of south or west windows and if light is vital to them place them instead in a north or east window, preferably the first. Lack of good light will not hurt most plants for a couple of weeks or so and will considerably reduce the quantity of moisture that they will require.

Solving the watering problem: Small plants can be watered well and then enveloped completely, pot, foliage and all, inside a transparent plastic bag which should then be sealed. And along the same lines, if a plant is too large for treatment of this kind, it may be possible to envelope the pot only so as to reduce the amount of evaporation from the pot. By using a very large plastic bag it is possible to make a temporary indoor greenhouse to hold several plants; it can be propped into a tent-like shape with two or three broom handles or garden canes.

It is possible also to take certain moveable plants and place them in the bath or in a sink. If this contains just an inch or two of water it is probable that the damage done by the brief period of semi-drowning will be outweighed by the benefit of being kept moist until the water has evaporated sufficiently to allow the roots to breathe again.

There are now drip-watering appliances on the market which really are effective and almost foolproof. These usually consist of a reservoir (sometimes called a `glug bottle’ for obvious reasons) placed high and a number of feeder tubes leading from it to the soil surfaces of the various pots. These tubes have a number of adjustable nozzles so that you can decide the amount of water to be released into each pot.

An alternative method which is both more expensive and more effective follows the same principle, the plant pots resting on a sand or pebble base which is kept constantly moist by the trickle tubes. This necessitates a comparatively large tray or bowl to hold the sand.

A holiday in the garden: There is, however, still another means available to us for keeping our house-plants moist and in good health during a temporary absence from home. This method costs nothing and is highly effective. Here one merely collects all the plants which can safely be moved and takes them out to the garden. In a shaded position they are plunged in soil or in a special bed of moist peat and the soil surface is liberally sprinkled with slug pellets. In summer weather these plants will almost without exception benefit from their spell out of doors.

Most house-plants enjoy nothing more than to be put out in a gentle summer shower. Some plants can be left outside during the whole of the summer, but in this case to take special care that they are not attacked by insects, slugs or snails. There will usually be an appreciable improvement in their appearance when you take them indoors again towards the end of the summer and certainly before any frosts may be expected. Some plants may even have grown to the extent that their roots are growing out of the pot or that they no longer fit comfortably into the space vacated when they moved out to the garden.

In the latter case it is sometimes possible to prune certain plants, particularly climbers, to keep them neat and shapely. If re-potting is required make sure always that the roots go into a new pot only one size larger than the old one. This is important, for house-plants need to be slightly pot-bound, to have their roots curled and cosy in the pot that is their home.

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