Your bags are packed, you’re ready to go, you’re standing here…realizing that $130 fiddle leaf fig you bought will be withered kindling by the time you return. You bought a tree, not a dog, for the very reason that you don’t want to be tied down! So, how do you keep your plants alive while you’re on vacation? It’s a question we’ve asked many a time, after coming home to a pile of dead leaves. That’s why we turned to Alfred Palomares, vice president of merchandising and resident plant dad at 1-800-Flowers.com for his secrets to keeping everything from low-key succulents to total-diva gardenias thriving. Here’s what he had to say (including a hack that will make you want to stock up on yarn ASAP).

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how to care for plants vacation watering rules
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1. Prep Your Plants

A little plant care can go a long way in keeping your plants healthy while you’re gone. “The day before your vacation, remove any dead leaves and blooms from the soil to avoid bacterial growth,” Palomares says. “Give the leaves a good dusting as well to be sure that insects or dust mites haven’t taken up residence under the plants’ leaves. If left for too long, these insects can bite through the leaves.”

2. Determine Whether Your Plants Are Low- or High-Maintenance

Some houseplants, such as pothos, yucca and succulents, don’t mind a little neglect—they’re fine with minimal light and watering. Others, like the maiden hair fern, red maranta prayer plant (aka the 2021 Plant of the Year) and the aforementioned gardenias, are a lot needier.

If your plants fall under the low-maintenance category, you can get away with giving them a thorough watering—making sure their roots aren’t sitting in water—and placing them in a spot where they’ll get the recommended amount of sunlight needed, depending on what type of plant they are.

If you’re dealing with a high-maintenance plant, or you’re going to be away for several weeks, Palomares suggests phoning a friend to “plant-sit.” The red maranta prayer plant and maiden hair fern, for example, require daily misting, so you may want to drop them off at a friend or relative’s house, if they can’t swing by regularly.

how to care for plants vacation humidifier trick
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3. Test a Few Watering Techniques

Self-watering sticks can help keep low-maintenance plants alive if you’re going to be away for a month or longer, but Palomares has three other tricks to try before your next vacation. Whatever you do, though, he suggests testing the technique out before you leave, just to make sure it works for your plant.

  • The Pebble Tray Trick — To ensure your plant isn’t overwatered before you leave, “fill a tray with pebbles and top it off with water,” Palomares says, setting your plant on top. “This creates humidity but does not leave plants sitting with wet roots.” (Note: This tip also works well for humidity-loving plants, like the prayer plant.)
  • The Yarn-in-Water Hack —“This DIY watering system works best on plants that need to be watered slowly and should only be used if you are away for about one week,” the plant dad cautions. Essentially, you fill a jar with water and drop one end of a string of natural-fiber yarn in the bottom of the jar. Stick the opposite end about an inch deep into the plant’s soil, Palomares says, and when the plant’s thirsty, it’ll “sip” water through the yarn.
  • The Humidifer Method — For tropical, humidity-loving plants, a humidifier with a programmable timer is a game-changer. Look for one large enough to hold as much water as you’d use for the plant, he recommends, then set a schedule so your greenery gets the moisture it craves.

4. Move Your Plants Away from the Windows & Radiators

Before you head out, reposition your plants so they’re far away from air vents, drafty—or extremely sunny—windows, radiators and A/C units. This helps prevent their leaves from drying out or burning, Palomares explains. (Just make sure they’re still in a bright enough spot to get as much sunlight as they’ll need in a day.)

With that done, you’re ready to hit the open road (while maintaining social distancing and adhering to COVID-19 guidelines wherever you’re going, of course).

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