Home & DesignHello, Summer

How to Keep Your Plants Alive (& Thriving!) All Summer Long

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Summer starts on June 21st! In honor of all the BBQing, sprinkler-hopping, and ice cream truck-chasing to come, we give you Hello, Summer, a picnic basket full of easy-breezy recipes and tips to help you make the most of every minute this season.

I love plants. And despite living in a postage stamp-sized apartment, I’ve squeezed succulents onto every sill, draped pothos vines over dresser ledges, and packed herbs into crowded terra cotta pots. Not only is it soothing to surround myself with green, but it’s satisfying to watch them reach for sunlight and perk up for water. Sure, it’s not my mom’s sprawling garden, but each plant brings me a little closer to the roots I left in Louisiana.

Earlier this month, I returned from a 10-day vacation rejuvenated and rested. My plants? Not so much. My cacti looked parched, pothos seemed sunburned, and herbs, brittle. Bone-dry soil greedily soaked up water as I actually apologized to my plants out loud.

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It turns out that when I asked my roommate to care for my cat, I forgot the other 10 living things in my apartment.

I started thinking, as we enter the season of week-long (or month-long, you lucky duck!) vacations, what’s the best way to ensure your plant pals have a fighting chance? We asked Christopher Satch, Plant Scientist at The Sill in New York City for advice.

“The biggest mistake a person can make is thinking of your plant as a piece of furniture or decor instead of a living thing,” Satch says. “They have to come up high enough in your priority queue that your brain tells you to check on them.”

What to do before you leave

Every plant has different watering needs, but most indoor plants shouldn’t be watered more than once a week. So, for week-long vacations, Satch recommends following your normal routine before you leave and after you’re back. Don’t be tempted to overwater before leaving, it could cause the roots to rot.

Plant care for two-week (or longer) trips can get a little trickier. Your best option is to enlist a plant sitter.

“Find the best plant person amongst your friends and have them come over once a week to check on and water your plants for you,” Satch says. “Really instruct them on how to care for your plants, especially if they aren’t familiar with plants or don’t have plants themselves.”

We love people who love green things

If you don’t have plant-friendly friends, your next best option is to move your plants into the center of a room that receives natural indirect light. That way the sun won’t crisp them up.

“They’re not going to be 100 percent pristine or super-awesome looking toward the end, but they won’t die,” he says. “The goal is not death.”

As for watering, Satch advises against watering bulbs, which don’t hydrate evenly and could drown one half of the roots while the other half die from thirst. Satch also thinks it’s a bad idea to move your potted plants outside.

“Your plants need more attention when they’re outdoors,” he says. “You have other variables that will affect the plants and dry them out faster: hot and cold cycles; the wind drying out the plant; torrential rainfall that could drown them. You could have a really hot heat wave that could crisp them out in a day.“

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Tending your plants once you're back

If you’ve come home to a forest of seemingly dead plants, don’t lose hope. Some plants, like calatheas, pothos, or the ones with woody stems (like rubber trees), might come back to life.

“Some plants can die down to the soil and re-grow. It’s hit or miss. If a plant doesn't come back after returning it to the proper light conditions in like, two or three weeks, then consider it dead,” Satch says.

Not all of my plants bounced back (RIP, thyme), but most seem out of the woods. Especially after I promised them to never set and forget them again.

What do you do with your plants when on vacation? Share your best tips in the comments below!