How to Keep Your Plants Alive While You're On Vacation

Because the last thing you want to come home to are wilted, yellowed plant babies.

June  7, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

Keeping your plants alive when you go on vacation is almost as stressful as packing for said vacation. How many pairs of shoes do I need? Do I need something fancy? Should I water the plants before I go? All questions that took me years (and a few sad plants) to answer.

As an avid indoor plant parent and traveler, one of the last things I do before heading off into the sunset is water my 15+ houseplants. The very last thing you’d want to see when you get home after all that sunshine and tequila are your plant babies wilted, yellowed—and worse still, dead.

Save yourself the shock and horror with these easy tried-and-true tips to keep your plants alive while you're on vacation.

1. Shower your plants

Before you head off for vacation, give your plants a good shower—literally. I bring all my plants to the shower or kitchen sink (during the day and never at night to avoid fungus), drench them until water runs out of the drainage holes, and then repeat for good measure (especially if the soil was super dry to begin with). Once the soil is thoroughly soaked, I let the pots drain out while I wipe down the leaves and then place the plants back onto their saucers or drip trays. The shower gives them all the water they need for a week or two, so by the time I come back from the beach, they’re still perky and happy.

For large plants that can’t be moved easily, I just water them normally until water drains out the bottom. Look for a watering can with a long, thin spout (to keep moisture off leaves) and a generous body (so you make less trips to the sink).

Blomus Modern Watering Can, $55.99 Photo by Rocky Luten
Remote Shutter Store Watering Can, $14.99 Photo by Amazon

2. Use self-watering planters

If you’re going away for longer periods of time (or are prone to overwatering), self-watering planters are a great way to keep your babies happy. These are a few different types, but what I’ve had the most luck with are planters with an inner pot that sit on top of a water reservoir. The inner pot has extra drainage holes where you can thread rope to draw water from the reservoir up to the soil, keeping it at the right moisture level. Make sure to change the water when you get back from vacation to avoid breeding gnats and pests.

MUDEELA Planter Pot, $21.99 Photo by Amazon
DecoPots Self Watering Planter, $13.59 Photo by Amazon

3. Or self-watering bulbs

These cute little bulbs slow-drip water into the soil to help keep it damp. Fill up the bulb with water, cover the spout with a tiny piece of a coffee filter, make a little hole in the soil away from any major roots, and then quickly stick the long spout in. Make sure the spout is deep within the soil so water can get at the root ball and it doesn’t release all the water too quickly. These are perfect for small to medium potted plants, but you can DIY the same concept with a wine bottle for large plants and trees. Just remember to keep a saucer or drip tray underneath to avoid any potential water damage.

Mainstays 12” Plastic Self Watering Globe For Planters, $1.97 Photo by Walmart
Mkono Plant Waterer Bulbs, $8.32 Photo by Amazon

4. Move plants to a shady area

Plants in direct sunlight will dry out faster than those in indirect sunlight, so whenever I leave for vacation, I move anything that’s by a window to a less sunnier area. I usually put them on a storage or bar cart so I can move them around easily—it also comes in handy when I have to cart them (pun intended) to the bathroom or kitchen to water them.

Yamazaki Home Fit-Anywhere Slim Storage Cart, $65 Photo by Rocky Luten
Laurel Foundry Modern Farmhouse Ermont Bar Cart, $119.99 Photo by Wayfair

What are your tried-and-true tips for keeping plants alive while you're on vacation? Drop your wisdom in the comments below!

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Written by: Jada Wong

Jada is the market editor at Food52 with a decade of experience writing and editing for online publications such as Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, and Insider.


mizerychik August 15, 2021
When I go on vacation I place all my plants in the sink or tub, and place a large pitcher full of water in the middle. I run strings from the pitcher into each plant, and they wick water to the plants slowly, so nothing gets dry or over watered. I set my dehumidifier's outflow tube to drain into the pitcher, so it's always getting refilled with fresh water.
Jada W. August 16, 2021
So smart!
Kirstin June 8, 2021
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of purchasing the watering glass bulbs, I use a wine bottle or beer bottle. Works just as well and is free (and more durable for outside vegetable gardens)!
Jada W. June 8, 2021
Great tip, Kirstin! I use my water bulbs for small or medium plants, and a wine bottle for my larger plant babies—works like a charm!