If you’re anything like me, you will never be able to truly relax while away from home, knowing that the houseplants are thirsty. Fortunately, I have learned (through trial and error) that there are plenty of options available to keep my precious indoor plants thriving without simply flooding them and hoping for the best before the long vacation drought.
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Automatic watering systems for indoor plants include DIY or commercial options. Methods include watering globes, automated and homemade drip systems, capillary mats, and simple wicking systems. Select an automatic watering strategy according to the plant types and the duration of your trip.
Just the term ‘automatic watering system’ sounds technical and can be enough to terrify novice plant owners, but fortunately, it is just a fancy term for a straightforward setup. In fact, the system you use can be as simple or complicated as you choose and depends a lot on what type of indoor plants you have.
Choosing The Right System That Will Work For You
Most of us don’t want to invest in expensive equipment or learn to set up a complicated watering system, each time we want to have a little away time with the kids. With that in mind, I faced my fears and was pleasantly surprised.
Even with my mind in vacation mode, automatic watering systems are easy to set up, so let’s get started on selecting the perfect automated watering system for your indoor plants.
How To Know What Watering System To Choose
Automated watering systems come in all shapes and sizes, and most are really simple to use. You can even create some DIY ones to try for short trips until you find a system that works for you – and your plants!
While you will probably need a specialized, metered, reliable automatic watering system for something like a bonsai, some indoor plants, like snake plants or ZZ plants, will manage with simple basic watering systems that don’t cost a lot. You will be able to go on vacation and know that your plants are hydrated and thriving.
1. Know Your Plants
Keeping your indoor plants happy and watered takes a bit of planning, but it doesn’t have to hold you back from taking that vacation or spending time with relatives that live far away. The trick is to know and understand the watering needs of your plants.
While your cute succulent garden probably won’t miss you even if you are gone for two weeks, your kitchen parsley most definitely will! So start your trip planning by making an inventory of the types of indoor plants you have.
2. How Long Will You Be Away?
There are plenty of DIY methods to water your plants if you are only going away for a short trip. We are often over-anxious plant parents, and if you water well before you go, most plants can cope perfectly without being watered for a few days.
If you are planning a more extended trip, your system’s complexity depends on the plants you have and how many there are.
3. Understand How Much Water Each Plant Needs
Like any living thing, whether human or plant, the bigger it is, the more water it will require. So next time you water, take note of the volume of water you are dispensing into each pot.
Most of us instinctively tilt the watering can until we feel like the plant has had enough, but most automatic watering systems will need you to set an exact amount and frequency that water should be dispensed.
4. Different Plants Have Different Requirements
While a simple drip system will work well for many indoor plants, having wet feet constantly could spell disaster for succulents, indoor lavender, or orchids. Some plants need the soil to dry out between waterings, so simple drip methods would not be suitable.
5. Think Like A Plant
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. If you won’t be away for long and your indoor plant usually gets a lot of direct sunlight, you could try to slow down the rate of evaporation by:
- Moving it out of direct sunlight (don’t shock the plant by moving it to a totally different environment, just position it out of the sun)
- Add a layer of mulch to the top of the soil. Something like Coconut coir or even pebbles or marbles will prevent the soil from drying out quite as quickly as usual.
- Increase the humidity by adding a pebble tray or grouping your plants. The soil is less likely to dry out if the air isn’t dry.
6. Water The Plant Thoroughly Before You Leave
No matter what automated watering system you choose, it is essential that the soil around your plants is well soaked when you start. The watering system should only replace water as it is absorbed or evaporates, so your plant needs to start with a full tank.
Never close up the drainage holes under the plant’s pot to make the water in the soil last longer. Very few plants can thrive in swampy conditions; invariably, poor drainage and damp roots cause fungal diseases.
7. Decide On The Most Suitable Automatic Watering System
It doesn’t have to be complicated! After all, people with indoor plants have been going on extended vacations long before the invention of automated plant watering systems. The system you select should depend on your situation and is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
So let’s check out some of the most popular and effective methods available to water your indoor plants, so you can have it ready to set up before you leave.
Automatic Watering Methods You Can Try
There are any number of easy watering systems that you can make with things you find around the house. These should only be used for short trips or very hardy plants. Let’s go through a few of these methods and some convenient purchasable options that you can use to keep your plants healthy while you’re away.
Use any absorbent rope, cloth, twine, or yarn. Poke one end just under the soil next to your plant and the other into a container of water alongside it. If you have a large container of water, you can set out multiple plants around it.
A wicking system is fun to set up and perfect for succulents and hardy plants that don’t like being soaked. My girls love helping me set this up; it is like doing a little transfusion on each potted plant.
Limitations: This is a short-term option.
Homemade Drip Systems
You can use any bottle with a pointy top that can poke into your plant’s soil. If it’s a small plant, you must make a hole in the cap and replace it on the bottle. A wine bottle without a lid can work if it’s a large pot plant.
Fill the bottle with water, invert it and push it into the soil. You have to be very careful not to let the water spill out before it gets planted next to your plant! If you struggle to get the drip holes the right size, you can purchase nifty watering spikes that will fit most long-neck bottles.
Limitations: It can be tricky to get the bottle into the soil without damaging the plant’s roots, and this method can be challenging if you have a lot of indoor plants.
I haven’t tried this method myself because I have too many large indoor plants for it to be practical, but I have read that these capillary mats work well for small pots. Capillary mats are basically like the wicking system – from below. Pots are placed on the thick wet surface, and the soil gradually absorbs moisture through the drainage holes.
Limitations: It may inhibit proper drainage and isn’t suitable for large indoor pots.
Indoor Watering Globes
These are my absolute favorite automatic indoor watering gadgets! While they may not last for extended trips, they are gorgeous and add a touch of sparkle to your small houseplants. Whether you are going on a trip or simply want to ensure that your plants are always watered, these convenient glass water spikes are the answer.
Limitations: Depending on the size of the plant, the water may get depleted quickly. Not suitable for large houseplants.
Automatic Drip Watering Systems
If you will be away from home for an extended period, it is worth it to install an automated drip watering system. These ingenious systems can feed multiple plants simultaneously; best of all, it doesn’t need to be connected to your power supply.
Some indoor watering systems can be set up to water your indoor plants for up to 60 days. Even better, these waterers can dispense water at variable rates to each pot. Limitations: Your plants will look so good when you get back, you may wonder if they need you at all!