My husband and I don’t stay in one place long. A friend once said our moving and travel habits make us look like we’re running from the law.
Now typically traveling and houseplants don’t mix. That’s because plants like things like water, but they lack the necessary feet and thumbs that would allow them to go to the sink and get said water.
Nope, houseplants are not a good idea for nomadic people such as ourselves. But it turns out I’m a sucker for houseplants with zero self control and now I’ve got an mini botanical garden in my bedroom.
I can’t bring myself to give away Leafs Erikson or his new little brother Groot, and since it’s a big task keeping track of who needs water and when, asking a friend to water them isn’t really an option. So, I’ve been testing ways to keep my entire houseplant menagerie watered while we’re out of town – whether for a few days or a few weeks.
My Houseplant Watering Needs
All of my plants are indoor potted houseplants. About half are potted in a well draining medium called Gritty Mix, and the other half are in the water retentive soil I got them in. They range from a 9 foot tree all the way down to a snake plant in a 4 inch plastic pot. Some like to stay evenly moist and others like to dry out between waterings.
Clearly, a one size fits all solution won’t work here.
Automated Watering Options
Normally I water a plant thoroughly, let it drain really well, and then let the soil dry over a period of a few days to a couple of weeks depending on the kind of soil and the size of the pot. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The “let it drain really well” part seems problematic with automated watering systems. Watering liberally will flush out salts in the soil, and it ensures all of the roots are getting moisture. But if the excess water is left in the catch tray it could overflow and damage floors or cause root rot. No bueno on both counts.
I’ll let you know if I come up with a way to make my normal technique work with an automated system. But for now while I’m away I’ll be watering my plants more frequently in smaller “sips”.
There should be less chance of damaging floors/furniture, and less water in the soil means less chance of root rot.
There are lots of options here, some of which I’ve tried and others I’m willing to try. The following 10 options range from super low tech to super high tech, and they run the gamut from almost free to almost $100.
10 Options for Keeping Plants Watered While You’re Away
Most of these work with a reservoir of water plus gravity and/or capillarity. Water is slowly and constantly released into the soil. No electricity required.
- Upside down bottle of water – free-ish
- Sandwich bag of water with a pin hole – free-ish
- Aqua Globes – ~$12 for 2
- Plant Watering Stakes ~ $18 for a set of 4
- Water Retentive Crystals ~ $8 a bag – You mix this stuff into the soil while you’re potting your plant so you would have to think ahead to use this option. It’s supposed to keep more water in the soil without bogging down the plant roots.
These are ready-made options that use battery power to control the flow of water. The Oasis is a gravity driven constant drip system, but it can be set to release water more quickly or slowly (I think that’s what the battery is for). The continental system uses a pump on a timer.
- The Oasis Plant Watering System ~$90
- Continental AWS-10 Automatic Watering System ~$30
- A DIY version of the Continental concept ~ $22
I’ll give you a gold star if you try one of these. Both use a small pump and a timer. The Ecoduino also has a soil moisture meter that triggers the pump when it thinks the soil is too dry. Documentation and setup are pretty technical for these, hence the gold star.
The Plant Watering Systems I’ve Tried
I’ve tried about four of the options above. Here’s what I think so far.
Gravity drip is fine – but there’s still a chance of overflow
I like that some of these options can be adjusted per-plant. For example, I can add more bags, bottles, or globes to the plants that need more water. And I like that a lot of these options are cheap. But I’ve had some trouble with gravity drippers too.
I’ve used the sandwich bag method twice. Both times we’ve had to leave town last minute and I didn’t have a better system in place.
The first time, one of the bags drained too fast and the catch tray overflowed onto my dresser. The next time I was careful to prick tiny holes, and used less water in each bag. All plants survived both times, so I would absolutely use this method again if it’s all I could do.
I tried Aqua Globes back when we lived in West Hollywood. Some people love them, but I’ve found that they can clog or release water too quickly.
Pump watering systems are probably ideal
I like the idea of a pump since it doesn’t constantly release water into the pot. A lot of plants like to dry out at least a little between watering. A pump watering system might make these plants happier.
The Ecoduino is the most customizable option because you can go in and change the code to change the pumps behavior. But the kit is only good for one plant out of the box, and you have to set up the board and pump system yourself with very little instruction. I actually set up an Ecoduino a while ago but haven’t used it beyond testing that it worked.
This week I’m trying out the Continental AWS automatic plant watering system. I just got it in the mail today, and set it up for a test run this evening.
So far, this is the best option of the bunch. It can handle 10 plants out of the box, and it was super easy to set up. If a plant needs more water than the rest, just direct an additional tube to that plant. I might even buy another one for the rest of my plants.
I haven’t tried the Oasis, but I’ve been really close to pulling the trigger on that purchase a few times. I love that it’s set up to water something like 10 houseplants at once. And I love that it’s got a really simple interface. But, I really have my heart set on a pump based system and the Oasis is a gravity dripper, so I haven’t closed the deal on this one.
Our Next Trip Means Trial By Fire
I’m definitely going to try the Ecoduino and the Continental automatic watering system for our upcoming three week trip. I might use sandwich bags as a fall-back. I’ll update you on what worked when we get back.
If you have a minute, do a little indoor rain dance for me. Ask the automated watering gods to smile on me and help these systems keep my plants alive while I’m away. Or at least make my plants grow feet and thumbs so they can go to the sink and get their own damn water.
Let me know if you’ve tried the Oasis, or any other vacation plant watering strategies. I’d love to know what works for you.
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