Helping houseplants thrive when you're away

Decades ago, I was afraid I might return home to an apartment full of wilted and dying plants because I had to leave dozens of house plants unattended for two weeks while I was away on business.

Since my apartment's windows faced north, though, and most of the plants were low-light lovers, I was confident they'd get enough natural light. On the other hand, I was concerned they might run out of water.


So after I thoroughly watered the plants before leaving town, I placed the ones that required the most water inside a bathtub filled with sufficient water to sustain them. Fortunately, they survived my absence. But now when I leave town, I take other precautions to make certain the house plants remain OK while I'm gone — without depending upon someone else to care for them.

Tips for house plant care for vacationers


To help our house plants conserve water while I'm away, I move our sun-loving plants, as well as the shade-loving plants, a few feet farther away from their windows.

Additionally, and to mitigate the loss of moisture through leaves, I spray Wilt-Pruf — an antidesiccant product — onto the leaves of the plants most likely to suffer from high temperatures or a lack of high humidity.

I also re-pot the plants that dry out sooner. Then to help them use even less water less often, they're re-potted into pots at least one size larger.

Which reminds me, I've had some success keeping some plants moist longer by re-potting them into self-watering flower pots — that is, pots with built-in reservoirs from which water soaks into roots.

Finally, to help the potting soil retain more of its moisture, yet still drain freely, I use water-retaining soils during the re-potting process. These products work by absorbing several times their weight in water, before slowly releasing the water to roots. Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix is the potting mix I prefer.

This week in the garden

I've been experimentally mulching our tomatoes with three sheets of newspaper, as opposed to 2 inches of straw. Weed-seed-free, and not as messy as straw, newspaper does a good job keeping soil moist and a better job than straw of preventing weeds from sprouting.

Similar to straw, too, newspaper also does a good job of absorbing rain drops that would otherwise splash disease-infected mud onto the leaves.


I would appreciate it, however, if you'd refrain from using this column as mulch.