So, you’re heading out of town for a well-deserved getaway. You’ve made your list and you’re checking it twice. Your luggage is packed, your transportation is secured, and your itinerary is full of opportunities to relax and enjoy some new scenery.
But one box remains to be checked. You need to figure out how to water plants while away from home.
Plant parents know the satisfaction of nurturing their plant babies from seed to sprout. So how do you keep your lovable green friends healthy while you’re out of town? I have a few solutions for watering plants while away.
How to Water Plants While Away from Home: Six Methods
Try your chosen method two weeks in advance to ensure that it meets your garden’s needs.
1. Recycled Bottle Method
- An empty bottle, preferably with an aluminum cap (e.g., a soda bottle or bottle of wine)
- a nail and hammer
- Pliers or tweezers
Time to Complete: 10-15 minutes
- Find a suitable (plastic or glass) bottle to upcycle into a self-watering reservoir. Remove the cap.
- Remove any plastic film from the inside of the bottle cap.
- Using the hammer, nail, and a safe surface, puncture the bottle cap three to five times from the inside (to prevent warping).
- Fill the bottle with water and replace the cap.
- Dig a small hole in the soil near the plant(s) you are watering.
- Place the bottle upside-down into the hole in the soil.
This is a simple DIY self-watering system for any gardener. This technique will keep your potted plants or garden bed hydrated for about a week. For large projects, add bottles as necessary.
2. Self-Watering Globes
Time to Complete: 10 minutes
- Purchase self-watering globes
- Fill the globes with water.
- Place the self-watering globes in your soil.
This affordable self-watering system can be used to easily water several plants in a garden bed, or individually self-water several potted plants.
3. Water Storing Crystals
Time to Complete: 10 minutes
- Purchase water storing crystals.
- Place a pinch of your crystals in the soil (in the base layer of a potted plant, or just below the surface layer of your garden bed).
- Water soil according to the instructions provided with the crystals (generously over-water).
Water storing crystals are a non-toxic way to create a self-watering garden. The crystals absorb water when the soil is over-hydrated, and then gradually release water as the soil dries. This method, great for dry climates, allows you to enjoy a week or so without watering.
3. DIY Self-Watering Planter
- A well-draining pot
- A reservoir container (e.g., large food storage container) that fits within the base of the pot
- A nail and hammer, electric drill, or sharp knife
- A bottle (e.g., a recycled water bottle)
- Two natural fiber fabric strips (e.g., cotton)
Time to Complete: 20-30 minutes
- Find an appropriate reservoir container.
- Puncture 15-20 holes into the lid of the reservoir container.
- Make one of the holes large enough to hold the mouth of the bottle.
- Cut off the base of the bottle to create a fill tube.
- Create two pairs of parallel horizontal slits on opposite halves of the reservoir lid. The slits should be placed near the outer edge of the lid, forming the four corners of a square.
- Create a small hole near the brim of the reservoir to allow drainage. Add more holes if the plant will be placed on an uneven surface, or if it requires additional drainage.
- Place the lid onto the reservoir, and place the reservoir into the well-draining pot.
- Place the bottle (fill tube) cap-down into the designated hole in the lid.
- Place the two fabric strips into the slits on top of the lid. They should form two separate columns. Synthetic fibers will last longer, while 100% natural fibers will eventually biodegrade and require replacement.
- (Optional) Add cage or trellis and affix the spokes into the reservoir lid.
- Add soil above the reservoir, and lightly water the upper surface before potting your plant.
- Fill the fill tube with water until the reservoir is full (when water begins to drain from the base of the pot).
- Place a water-catcher (such as a saucer) beneath your new self-watering pot.
This method comes with the satisfaction of knowing you can turn just about any planter into a self-watering container. This video provides a great explanation of self-watering containers and a start-to-finish demonstration of building one.
5. Rain Barrel and Soaker Hose
- A rain barrel or large reservoir container
- A drill and a rain barrel faucet (if your reservoir doesn’t have one already)
- A soaker hose
- A watering timer
Time to Complete: 20-30 minutes
- Choose your reservoir, ensuring that it can hold enough water to last while you travel.
- Fill your reservoir with water (or use accumulated rainwater).
- If necessary, drill a hole in the reservoir to install the rain barrel faucet.
- Install the faucet according to the instructions provided.
- Attach the soaker hose to the faucet and embed it in the soil everywhere water is needed.
- Automate your self-watering system using the watering timer.
With this DIY self-watering system, you can conserve water by setting a watering schedule. You can even skip watering whenever there is rainfall. Depending on your project size, this will keep your garden hydrated for two to four weeks.
6. Drip Hose System
Time to Complete: 20 minutes
- Select a perforated hose and fitting.
- Install the fitting to connect your perforated hose to the water supply line.
- Place the perforated hose on top or below the soil, alongside borders and key areas to irrigate.
- Automate your self-watering system with the timer.
This method features easy installation and an automated system that allows you to forget about watering plants (while still getting the job done).
Designing Your Self-Watering System
Consider these variables when leaving your plant babies at home.
Trip Duration & Weather Forecast
A weekend retreat won’t require the same preparation as a trip lasting a week or longer. Be sure to peek at the weather forecast for your vacation days so you can adapt accordingly.
Your Garden’s Needs
Creating any kind of self-watering system begins with understanding how much water your plants need. Double-check the needs of your plants at their current stage.
Similarly, gardeners cultivating a variety of plants will want to ensure that each species is watered according to its requirements. Succulents and cacti thrive in drier environments, while several flowers (e.g., daylilies, violets, primroses, and hibiscus) and tropical plants enjoy wet soil.
Finally, consider whether your home is a better location to place your self-watering garden. Outdoor container gardens could benefit from relocating indoors until you return.
If you’re traveling when temperatures, winds, and humidity levels are fluctuating, take note. If temperatures are forecast to surpass safe limits for your outdoor potted plants, try moving them indoors where they can receive indirect sunlight.
If your plant babies prefer a moist environment, placing these plants in close proximity to one another can help cultivate shared access to water vapor.
Maximizing your plant babies’ immediate environment can help preserve their wellbeing while you’re away. Container gardens benefit from well-draining pots made of breathable materials (to prevent mold and root rot), and plants in any location enjoy better hydration when you lightly layer mulch atop the soil.
Rules of Hydration
Misting plants, or showering them with a sprinkler, is a great way to remove tiny pests (such as aphids or spider mites) and dust that may damage your foliage over time. It’s best to mist plants in the morning, so that the leaves have plenty of time to dry.
As a general rule, it’s best to water from the bottom. For container gardens, this may mean briefly soaking a well-draining (cloth) pot in water. It could also require placing a water catcher under a well-draining pot in order to allow the roots to soak up as much moisture as possible.
For garden beds, directly watering the soil reduces evaporation. Together, these tactics prepare your self-watering garden to thrive during your trip.
Final Care Before You Travel
For weekend vacations, a larger-than-usual serving of water could be just right. However, it’s important not to overwater sensitive plants, or plants that will be left unattended for a week or more. That’s what DIY self-watering is for.
Feeding your garden ahead of time is also a great way to give your greenery a boost while you’re gone.
Lastly, consider any pest control that is relevant to your garden and take steps to mitigate the risk of infestation. For example, mixing diatomaceous earth into your soil saves your plant babies from spider mites that could siphon moisture and nutrients.
Recruiting Someone You Trust
If possible, enlisting a loved one (or a paid plant sitter) to look after your plant babies is ideal. Even if you have everything under control, a hands-on helper can reinforce your peace of mind while you travel.
Why DIY Self-Watering Systems?
DIY self-watering systems are practical, affordable, sustainable, and boost your sense of accomplishment as a plant parent. Without a plant sitter, a self-watering system is essential.
Assess Your Plant Babies
After taking the proper steps to create your DIY self-watering system, you can return home to a thriving garden.
Tell your plant babies how much you missed them, and give them a hearty feeding and watering (as necessary). Congratulations! You’re a fantastic plant parent.
Now you know how to water plants while away from home. No matter where you go or how long you’re away, your DIY self-watering system can give you the reassurance of knowing your plant babies are green and happy.
Check out our Garden Watering page to learn more about the best methods and products to create systems for watering your garden.