Photography by Thomas Story

Lauren Dunec and Heather Arndt Anderson  – November 1, 2017 | Updated November 25, 2019

Nothing kills the joy of travel like the worry of coming home to dropping, dying houseplants.  Sure, you could conceivably bribe a friend to come across town to give your potted collection a few cups of water, but it feels like a pretty big ask. And if you’re traveling for the holidays, there’s a good chance your friends will be away, too, and are also scrambling for plant-sitters. If you’re in the same boat, and wondering how to keep houseplants watered on vacation, here are five ideas for giving your plants a better chance at surviving an indoor drought.

Recycle a wine bottle

Photo courtesy of Plant Nanny, ‘Plant Nanny Wine Bottle Stakes’

Fit the top of a wine bottle filled with water inside one of these conical terra cotta stakes, flip it up-side-down and stick it into the soil. As the plant roots absorb water, they will slowly pull water through the terra cotta.  Terra cotta stakes available from Plant Nanny.

Create a Mini-Greenhouse

If you have a lot of plants, keep it simple by putting several in one large tub and putting a large clear plastic tote over the plants (this hack also works outdoors as a cheap cold frame). For individual plants, you can use plastic bags: water the plant well and then stick four bamboo stakes around the edges of the pot. Tent the container with a large, clear plastic bag, spritz the inside with mist, and stretch a rubber band around the pot to hold the bag in place. Poke a few small holes in the plastic bag to allow fresh air to enter. Move the plant out of full sun and be sure that none of the leaves touch the plastic. 

Use an Olla for Large Containers

Photo courtesy of Dripping Springs Ollas

Bury one of these unglazed clay cotta pots beneath the soil, leaving the neck of the olla exposed above soil level. Fill with water and place the lid on the olla to prevent evaporation. As the soil of the container dries out, plant roots will be able to draw as much water as they need through the clay. Available from Dripping Springs Ollas.

Sub-Irrigate

Provide a reservoir of water below the soil of potted plants and allow plant roots to absorb water upwards as needed. Repot plants in containers specifically designed for sub-irrigation or look for products to add an underground reservoir to your containers at home. Fill the tank with water and allow the plants to take as much as they need. Plant Sippers to add to existing containers available from Ollie.

Add Super Absorbent Water Crystals to the Soil

It sounds crazy but the crystals in diapers have got to be one of the most absorbent substances out there. Remove the crystals from clean diapers, soak them in water, mix with potting soil, and replant your house plants. The crystals will hold water in the soil without making it too soggy and can allow plants to go twice as long between waterings.

Self-Watering Pots

Photo courtesy of MOMA

These are probably one of the easiest ways to keep houseplants watered on vacation, and we like them so much we wrote a whole post about them. This sleek version goes with any decor.

Keep Reading: