winter vacation care for houseplants

deer145December 17, 2013

i am going on a 12 days trip from dec 23 to jan 4. there is no one to water my plants and there is too many to bring them to a family member. since winter means less watering will they be ok for 12 days if i soak them before i leave?
i think, on average, i have been watering most of them once every week, a few of them every 3 to 4 days. i'm not exactly sure of the accuracy of that schedule, i never really took notice before, i just water when my moisture probe tells me to. will they survive 12 days without care??

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First, what plants do you have? This will be very important.

I'm sure with more information we can better help answer your question.


    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 5:34AM
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It will also help to know what temperature you will be setting your thermostat at? Depending on the plant some will do well on trays with stones & water. Also try to hold off watering them until the 22nd. You'll be getting alot of great advice here. Have a wonderful vacation :>)
(Mid Hudson Valley)

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 9:29AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Please don't try to compensate by leaving water sitting in drip saucers, in case that wrong thought creeps into the mix.

Those few 3-4 days' watering plants, maybe those should go to a relatives' house? That sounds like a lot of watering for winter time. My plants have gone from getting a drink every few days while outside to some taking 3 weeks to dry in the house. If they really are dry in that short time, I would wonder if they're getting fully saturated when watered, or if the root ball has become hardened, hydrophobic (where water runs off but doesn't soak in?)

I'm also concerned there might be very little soil and mostly roots in these pots. Probably not something you'd want to address right this minute, I know I'd be too busy, but mentioning it to consider, and in case you don't know that this could also plants to dry very quickly. If there's any of that, it's something you'd want to correct with a root trim and repot when practical (which isn't when you won't be there for 2 weeks.)

You could get some of those gel balls, get them fully saturated, then put a layer or little pile of them on the soil surface of the quickest-drying plants. I say the balls instead of the broken crystal kind since the balls would be so much easier to retrieve later. (A coffee filter, piece of paper towel, or some kind of little mesh bag could also help with removing them from the pot later, anything permeable.)

That said, I would give them a good drink, turn the heat down to about 55-60 & not worry about it. (I would pick each one up after watering if possible, to make sure it's gotten heavy, fully saturated/moisture absorbed evenly throughout root ball.) That's what I've always done (and it's that cool in here a lot of mornings during the winter while we're here anyway since we don't run the central heat. 64 in here at the moment, after frost outside last night.) As temps go down, so does moisture usage. The shorter days of winter also cause most plants to grow less quickly and use less water because of that as well.

Plants aren't usually as thirsty as we think they are. I would also be very suspicious of the moisture meter.

I'm sure you'll get some info about wicking too. You might end up doing a combination of things, depending, as said, on what these plants are. I'm curious too. Knowing that could help folks give you more specific advice.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 10:32AM
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You know what.......your confession that you worry about your plants re-watering them, shows that you no doubt about it, are watering them too much, too often.
This is winter.....plants do not need water like they do in the summer months....they are resting....the sun is way down, the winter solstice arrives on Sunday...the shortest day of the they are not growing like they do in summer.

Twelve days is nothing to a plant---water your plant the day you leave...normally.....i.e. if they need it, water drainage...dump the excess in the saucer not leave water there to be sucked up again to the roots.

After you come back in twelve days the plants will not need any further drop that watering can....and check them again in another twelve days...chances are they still don't need watering.

Don't leave them on a watering system....that only causes them to be overwatered.

Round about mid February, you can begin to water them more on a needed basis...the sun will have begin its voyage north....and plants will begin to grow and so will need a bit more water and fertilizer.

I say again....twelve days to a plant is nothing....leave them not over water them or after those twelve days you might find your plants are in terrible shape.

Go.....have your twelve days vacation....and give your plants the same vacation time...they'll enjoy you being gone.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 11:17AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

So what's going on with those plants that you 'think ' might be watered every three days or so? Read purpleinop 's comments carefully to see if something might apply to your situation.

I'd like to know, too, what kind of plants those particular ones well as well as their size. Knowing the kind of pot would be helpful, too. If we had more information, we might be able to come up with a way to get them through twelve whole days.

If the container is small, or the plant needs repotting, or the container is porous, or you aren't saturating the soil properly or the humidity is very low, etc., etc., a plant can dry out very rapidly. It's not difficult to come up with some easy and practical measures.

So....give us some more information so that we can help!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 4:46PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Goren what is this quest of yours today? How odd and unpleasant. But hopefully you'll at least read the advice you've inadvertently solicited for yourself.

Hearing how long it is taking some of your pots to dry, I would wonder about dense, airless, heavy, muddy, mucky, and/or soggy soil in these pots of yours. The conglomeration of advice you've given today is the classic type about necessity to avoid overwatering to compensate for poor soil. Not all growers use a mix that is capable of rotting roots since killing plants by doing the one thing that we must to keep them alive (watering) is maddeningly frustrating and avoidable in almost every instance.

It's not the watering can, it's the soil (often aided by a drip tray, tap water chemicals.)

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 5:41PM
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Far from blaming the soil---you can safely and with good management, grow a plant in nothing but water---soiless mixes are the thing nowadays.
Whenever a plant suffers.....blame the soil---its has to be the soil--instead of blaming the source of the problem....the owner and his/her need to think that plants need watering at the first hint that they are suffering. Instead....what they should do is unplumb the tap and leave the poor plant alone.

Since 90% of plant problems do lie at the feet of overwatering----its very easy to think a plant's problem is due to tender care of owners who just cant leave the watering can out of sight,

I say, when you think the plant needs water---go on vacation for at least a week....then come back and test it---and if still damp....go away for a few days more.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 8:56PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Goren, I'm sorry I was unable to explain in a way you would understand, but glad you said so. That's OK, I have more time and patience.

First, let's be clear about watering. It's not a crime and I repeat, it's the one thing plants need from people or they will die.

As you have clearly explained, some plants can take forever to dry out. This is not because of the amount of water added to the 'soil,' but because of the size of the particles and the way they fit together like a puzzle. This prevents air circulation within the soil and it stays moist for an extended time. This is not the ideal environment for roots and to compensate, one must be careful to NOT add more water until this mess has dried significantly.

I don't use soil-less mix, and even put home-made compost and other 'wrong' material in potting mixes so I'm not advocating any particular brand or mix, just a texture of being chunky, airy. There are many ways to arrive at this destination. (The one I choose requires frequent repotting as the organic materials break down.)

But the point IS the destination, regardless of particular ingredients or percentages of them. A mix that has no tiny particles will dry more quickly. That's a fact. Anyone who has not experimented outside of the box, (or bag - bagged potting soil as the case may be here,) can't appreciate the significance of this.

Many people are satisfied with and fairly adept at playing the "avoid overwatering" game, that's great. Those folks don't come here asking for help because they don't have sick plants. But many don't realize that it's not necessary to walk this tightrope if they enjoy watering plants often, and/or have been losing plants to root rot. Your advice of how to not overwater plants in stuff that takes forever to dry out is helpful to folks in such situation. Upon realizing there is an alternative, many would like to improve this situation even if you don't. Why would anyone continue to place their plants at risk if it's not necessary? Most choose to attempt to improve.

Until/unless you are willing to experiment with this concept, it's silly and meaningless for you to comment hypothetically about it, but it does give an opportunity to provide more info to the discussion.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 9:42AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Plant roots need to have access to three things.....water, oxygen, and dissolved nutrients. We can no more grow a plant in "nothing but water " than suspend it by a string in the middle of the living room. Oxygen is just ad essential as water.

In containers, it falls upon us to provide a good balance of those three ingredients no matter what the growing medium is. A 'soilless' mix is anything made without any of the components of a real earth based soil...sand, silt, and clay. Some of the typical ingredients are peat moss, conifer bark, coir, compost, vermiculite, turface, perlite, and others.

I purchase mine ready made ; it consists primarily of pine bark fines with a little peat and perlite.

Losing the watering can is not a solution for someone who may be watering excessively. Hard, dry pockets will form in the typical peat based medium in which roots will die.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 12:54PM
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Thank you so much for you helpful advice. there's one plant that needs to be re-potted and that's the one i water more often. i think with a soak of water right before i leave it will be fine. i'm going to give all my plants a nice soak, not too much, and i think they will be healthy and happy when i get home. i think you guys are right, i am ovewatering, they might benefit from 12 days without my burdening love.

Thank again for all your help! everyone on this site is great. Happy Holidays!!

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 3:09PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Deer, glad to share info, I know you'll do the same when an opportunity presents itself. Have a blast on your vacation! I keep meaning to ask, where does one go, from Z10, on vacation for winter? Where it's cold & snowy? When you get a chance, that would be interesting to hear.

Your plan sounds fine, sending good vibes that all goes well!

When you come back, I hope you'll also come back to this discussion. From your comment, "I'm overwatering my plants," I don't think the concept that folks have tried to impart has sunk in, probably just not explained with the right words. It took me a few months of basically arguing with people here until I got what they meant. Then I realized I'd kind of been doing that by adding bigger chunks to bagged potting soil, but not all the way there until eliminating the small particles. Getting rid of peat entirely is a move I don't regret though many use *some* with great results.

The texture/composition of some stuff in pots is what harms plants' roots, not you & your watering can. Once a mix is found that matches the type of waterer you are, and how often you want to repot plants, you'll be amazed at the results. There are recipes of specific ingredients and amounts of them, or you may take the concept and apply it using a blend of appropriate materials most readily available to you. There are also many testimonials of specific brands of bagged potting mixes that are not found at BBSs like Lowes, HD and Walmart that sound great to me, just not to be found out in the sticks where I live. Hope I've weged the door open to further investigation on your part without sounding like there's one right answer that I or anyone else is trying to force. When you have time to investigate what might work better for your style & your plants than what you are currently using, come on back & ask whatever questions you have.

Or, if you are sick of hearing and talking about it, maybe think there's too many dirt-wackos in here, an update on how much fun you had and plants' status from this 'experiment' would be great too.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

How was the vacay, Deer? How are your plants?

    Bookmark   January 10, 2014 at 12:49PM
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