Watering plants while away: tips on keeping your plants alive while on holiday


I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

We’ve all been there. You are ready for the holidays, but your garden is not. Discover some of our top tips on what to do if you cannot find neighbours or friends to water your plants while you are away.

Self-watering glass bulb in plant
Watering also works with glass bottles or special glass bulbs [Photo: FotoHelin/ Shutterstock.com]

Read on to discover our top tips to prevent you from stressing about watering your plants while you are away. Whether you have indoor plants, some on your balcony or loads in your flower bed, there is some kind of watering system for every plant.

Watering plants while away

If you cannot find a neighbour to water your plants while you are away, there are some alternative methods you can resort to. Some are better for indoor plants, others for the garden. In addition to automatic watering systems you can buy for your home and garden, there are also various ways to make a watering system yourself.

Watering plants with bottles

A fairly well-known method for watering plants while away is watering with bottles. People often use PET bottles for this, but you can also use glass bottles. In terms of the environment, glass bottles are better as they do not leave microplastics behind in the soil. Bottle watering works best if you use a clay cone that you simply screw onto the bottle and then stick straight into the soil. Clay cones only release water when the soil is so dry that it has a higher suction tension than the clay cone. This means that water is not released continuously, but only when the soil is sufficiently dry. Alternatively, you can drill one or two holes in the top of the bottle, through which the water is released gradually. The holes should be as small as possible so that the water lasts longer. You could also insert a cork stopper, from wine bottles for example, into the hole as this will also release the water slowly.

Plastic bottles used to water flowers
A popular method is watering plants with plastic bottles [Photo: RaffMaster/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Put two long nails in the lid to give the bottle more support in the soil and help to stabilise it.

The size of the bottle should correspond to the water requirements of the plant as well as the length of your holiday. This method of watering plants while away is especially suitable for indoor and balcony plants. The downside is that making this watering system can be quite time-consuming, depending on how many plants you have.

Tip for watering plants with plastic bottles: Conventional plastic bottles contain bisphenol A (BPA). This is a substance that is very likely to change our hormone balance and our epigenetics, i.e. the structure of our genes. Anyone who already tries to avoid ingesting BPA should also avoid watering their plants with bottles of this type, since BPA is also absorbed by plants. This has been proven in several studies.

Glass watering bulb in flower pot
Plant watering does not necessarily have to be controlled electronically [Photo: Helin/ Shutterstock.com]

Watering plants with string

Another method for watering plants while away is with string. All you need is a piece of very thick cotton yarn and a container of water. You can also use strips of fabric or lamp wicks in place of yarn.

Instructions for watering plants with string:

  • Gather all the plants around the water container
  • The water container must be higher than the potted plants
  • Cut yarn or fabric strips into suitable pieces
  • Put one end in the water and the other end in the soil
  • Weigh down the yarn on both sides, e.g. wrap it around a nail so that it stays in the water and in the soil

With this method, the water seeps into the soil via the wick. It is driven by gravity because the water container is placed higher than the plant.

Watering plants in the bathtub

If you are not going away for too long, you can water indoor plants using the bathtub method. If you do not have a bathtub or only need to water a few plants, you can also use a sink or plastic tub.

Several houseplants in a bathtub
Houseplants can also survive the holidays in the bathtub [Photo: JRP Studio/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Plug up the bathtub
  • Place old towels inside
  • Fill with about 3 cm of water, or more or less depending on water requirements
  • Put all the plants in the bathtub

Caution: You must remove the planter or saucer when using this method. The plants need to be able to get the water through the drainage hole in the plastic or clay nursery pot.

Watering plants while away: hydroponics

Plants that are kept in expanded clay granules (i.e. are grown hydroponically) can be watered in reserve. Simply fill the reservoir in the hydroponics pot to the brim before you leave. The water only ever rises to the surface of the clay balls in small quantities due to adhesion forces, where it is absorbed by the plants. So, despite the large amount of water, your plants will not become waterlogged. This makes hydroponic planting practical not only during the holiday season, but also for continuous use. A water level indicator shows how full the reservoir under the expanded clay balls is.

Clay granules inside of pot
Plants in hydroponics can be watered in advance without overwatering [Photo: NataliyaF/ Shutterstock.com]

Note: Hydroponics usually requires mineral fertilisers. As their production is harmful to the environment, we do not recommend using hydroponics on too large a scale.

How to water outdoor plants while away

Automatic watering systems are the most popular choice for supplying lawns and flower beds with water while on holiday. Keep reading to find out how to optimally prepare your garden for the holiday season without them.

One option for watering beds and raised beds is to bury a porous clay pot in them, sometimes known as an olla. The container should have a narrow opening and a bulbous shape and should not have a drainage hole. Dig a hole near the plants to be watered and insert the container into the soil up to the opening. Fill the container with water and cover the opening. The clay pot will gradually let the water seep through the clay and into the surrounding soil.

Clay pot buried in garden
Digging in clay pots for watering is common in some countries [Photo: Dan Shachar/ Shutterstock.com]

Caution: Only use this method if the plants do not have an extensive root system, as the roots could be damaged by burying the container. If you know you tend to go away a lot, it might be wise to bury clay pots with your young plants right from the start to avoid disturbing the root system later.

An alternative to clay pots is clay cones. These are connected via hoses to a large water reservoir, for example a rain barrel. You simply insert the clay cones into beds and pots and water is slowly released into the dry soil. Clay cones with connected valves are also available. The valves are opened via the high suction tension when the soil is dry, which then releases water.

More tips for garden care while away

Here are some useful tips on how to prepare your garden and potted plants in the best way possible in addition to the above-mentioned methods for watering plants while away.

Move plants into the shade

You can place potted plants, houseplants and balcony plants out of the sun and group them together in the shade or partial shade. This reduces evaporation and thus the need for water and means the plants can manage longer without additional watering. This trick does not work for plants in beds, of course.

Prune plants

Cut back all plants that can be pruned before the holiday. Remove any withered flowers and harvest vegetable and fruit plants as much as possible. This also reduces the need for water because more leaves and fruit naturally require more water.

Person pruning roses
Cut back plants to reduce the need for water [Photo: OlgaPonomarenko/ Shutterstock.com]

Mulching beds

To keep water in the soil as long as possible and reduce evaporation, mulch your beds before you go away. You can use bark mulch for this which not only protects against drying out, but also helps to suppress unwanted weeds in the bed.

Watering and fertilising

Refrain from fertilising before the holiday. Fertiliser promotes the growth of the plant, which results in it needing more water. Instead, water generously. Moisten the lawn and flower beds well. You can also submerge potted plants by immersing the root ball in a container of water until no more air bubbles rise to the surface. These watering methods work very well because they cover the water requirement for the first few days, meaning the remaining supply will last longer.

Plants being watered
Before going on holiday, water your plants generously [Photo: Turistas/ Shutterstock.com]

Test the system before you go away

It is important to test your irrigation system before you go away. This is the only way to ensure that everything is working properly. Testing beforehand also gives you a better idea of how much water your plants need and lets you take the right precautions. When it comes to choosing plants, it is a good idea to take your lifestyle into account to make future watering easier for yourself. If you go away a lot (or live somewhere hot), you are probably better off opting for drought and heat resistant plants that also do well in dry locations.

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