By Renate Tilson

If you are going out of town on vacation and leaving your plants “home alone,” make sure they don’t end up in the compost pile. Whether you are away for a weekend or an extended stay, there are a few things you can do to ensure plant survival.

Before you leave, water your plants well—most can last for a few days with this alone. If you will be away for longer than a few days, an excellent way to keep humidity levels up around your plants is to line the bottom of a shallow tray with small rocks or pebbles and then place your potted plants on top of the rocks. Fill the tray with water to almost the top of the rocks. As the water evaporates, your plants will enjoy increased humidity levels while you are gone. This is also an excellent trick for everyday watering. However, if you are going to be gone for several weeks, ask a friend or neighbor to come over once or twice a week. You could also ask a trustworthy teenager in your neighborhood to help out. Take the time for a short intro session with your plant babysitter, “My Garden 101.” I suggest writing things down, listing the plants that need special attention.

Preparing to be away, I place my houseplants in a shady and cool place indoors or, if outside, in a shaded spot out of direct sunlight. Once there, they won’t dry out so quickly. Make sure container-grown plants with similar water needs are grouped together so they are easy to locate and water. Although you may be tempted, do not leave your plants in a deep saucer of water; that can cause root rot. Instead, set your plants on a tray filled with pebbles as suggested above. If you have an irrigation system, set the clock to water up to two times a week. Weave the soaker hoses around the potted plants and set the timer for 3-4 hours. Mulching the plants is always helpful for reducing evaporation and the drying out of the dirt. Cover the soil with grass clippings, compost, or shredded paper—anything you can easily hustle up.

Terracotta pots, porous in nature, will dry out much faster than plastic pots. Keeping plants, both indoor and out, in plastic pots will help them retain extra moisture.

Moisture crystals are a wonderful addition to your potted plants for everyday purposes but are especially practical if you will be leaving your plants for a while. Also available at garden centers are drip spikes, a handy invention that will water your plants for you. Place a spike with its attached 2-liter bottle tipped upside down. You will be able to adjust how much water it releases daily.

If plants are in full bloom at the time you leave, take your clippers to them. A good trim now will stimulate all sorts of pleasing new growth while you are gone. If all goes well, another crop of flowers will celebrate your return. You can do the same with your vegetables. If the crop is fairly well advanced, though, there is no holding it back. Invite the neighbors over to harvest the ripe produce—that way someone will be sure to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

So stop your mail, cancel the newspaper, and pack your suitcase. You can now leave your garden in good conscience.