Issue: December 18, 2004

How can houseplants survive our vacation?


We will be visiting our children and grandchildren for the holidays and will be away for about two weeks. How can I be sure that my houseplants survive our absence? I have never had much luck asking someone to come to my home to care for the plants.


It is difficult to get someone to care for your plants like you do. For long periods of time, that is the only option, but there may be some loss of plants.

Another option is to minimize the needs of the plants while you are gone. The primary need in a two-week period is water. There are several things you can do to reduce the water needs or to extend the water supply during this time.

By lowering the temperature in your home while you are away, the plants will use less water. Most plants can tolerate temperatures as low as 50 to 55 degrees for this time. Lower temperatures reduce plant water use and will extend the time between irrigations. You can also remove plants from direct sunlight, placing them in locations that have bright light but not direct sunlight. Sheer curtains will help diffuse the light as well as provide increased security for your home. The plants need some light, but lower light coupled with lower temperatures will allow the plants to survive your travels.

There are ceramic slow watering devices to attach to plastic bottles filled with water. The ceramic portion is buried in the soil to slowly moisten the soil. (The plastic bottle should be upside down above the ceramic watering device.) This further extends the time the plant can survive your absence.

Rather than the slow watering device, you can also place the plants inside loosely closed plastic bags that will serve as greenhouses to reduce water loss. If the bags are tightly sealed, fungal problems may develop; however, a few holes punched in the bags will allow for air exchange and reduce the chance of fungus. Clear plastic bags should be kept away from direct sunlight. White plastic bags may be closer to the windows since they will reflect surplus light and not overheat.

While these techniques may not save every plant, they increase the chances for their survival without the need for a surrogate gardener during your absence. Have a safe trip.

Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly program made for gardeners in the Southwest. It airs on KRWG in Las Cruces Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., on KENW in Portales on Saturdays at 10 a.m., and on KNME in Albuquerque on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.