Monday, September 06, 2010

How do you water your plants when you're on holiday?



If you garden on a balcony where the rain never reaches, going on holiday means you have to find some way of getting water to the plants when you're gone. There are lots of possibilities - get a plant sitter, buy those special gels that dissolve into the soil providing moisture, get an automatic watering system - but they've all got disadvantages.

Plant sitters first of all. Unless they're really gardeners, they tend to overwater - so you come back to drowned plants sitting in saucers of water. I know - I've tried that one. And unless they're friends or relatives who you can do the same for while they're away, you have to pay them. And that can work out expensive.

So do the gels. They work - I've used them in the past. But at €3 a tub, they're really only an option if you have the odd houseplant. I worked out that I'd need seventy of them to do the whole balcony...

Then there are those systems where you have a water container with capillary matting or tubes running into the pots. Again, less feasible if you have a lot of plants spread out over three long balconies as I do.


Then this year I found these. Ceramic spikes that fit into an ordinary mineral water bottle. Turn them upside down and the water slowly permeates through. I bought a couple, and they do work - on my "test run" I gave the plants no other water for ten days, with temperatures between 25-30°C (77-86°F) each day. They were fine, and the bottle was still a third full at the end. So they could easily have gone on for a fortnight.

But again they're hideously expensive - €7 for two, and I needed seventy. So I tried Amazon and found something similar (though not quite so classy). Plastic spikes that release the water drip by drip.

They're still not giving them away. But unlike the gels, you've only got to buy them once, and can reuse them again and again. Which means that the initial outlay is a bit less painful to contemplate.

The only real disadvantage if you want to use them in quantity, is that you have to save and store bottles for months before you leave. We were getting to the point that every time you opened a cupboard a score of plastic bottles would fall out...


When I went on holiday, the balcony looked as if I was running a bottle farm. But who cares - I wasn't there to look at it.

If you want to try them...

17 comments:

Natti said...

Very interesting. I would definitely need to try something like this. With about 40 plants distributed in 3 balconies I too face this problem when I am going out of town. I am trying some drip irrigation methods but that would require an elaborate setup. This seems reasonably easy, but then the storage required for the bottles seems a little uneasy on space.

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

Perfect! The pic looks really cool, too!

Aimee said...

Thanks for this helpful tip! Really need them for my garden.

Jan said...

Good idea! In the UK when I went on holiday I used to put the indoor plants on the draining board and run bits of botton string from the soil to the washing up bowl. It worked, but would be hopeless for you in the heat.

ZZ said...

What a great idea. Thank you.

Tom said...

That's interesting. I wonder if there is a way to get the price down even further by making them from scratch?

Pam's English Garden said...

Hi, Sue, I try very hard not to go away during gardening season, because I just worry about my plants and don't completely enjoy myself. Oh, dear, now you know what a fanatic I am about my garden. Pam x

Julia Gaw said...

Hi Sue,

Lovely blog you have here. I'd like to run an idea past you – do you have an email address to which I can send you a proposal?

All the best,
Julia

Sue Swift said...

Thank you for all your comments. I'm now back from holiday and didn't lose a single plant, so it worked ...
Tom - yes, I'm actually experimenting with some home-made alternatives, but the results have been inconsistent so far. I'll publish again on the topic when I'm sure it works!
Julia - click on "View my profile" in the sidebar and you'll find I've activated the e-mail link. I usually have it turned off, but I'll leave it there for a while so that you can get back to me.

LadyLuz said...

Brilliant solution, Sue. I see a similar thing in the Spanish veg gardens here, especially for melon growing. Rows and rows of the 5L plastic water bottles half buried in the soil. I guess they punch fine holes in them and let the water drip feed.

Aralia said...

Are those ceramic ones made by Blumat? They have also sets which can be connected to a bigger tank of water, which is elevated (e.g. on a chair, pots on the floor). So you can have one tank of water and a small hose from pot to pot and one ceramic piece in each pot. I've also seen these sets for those plastic ones, which may be cheaper.

J.C. said...

Hi, I also worries about how to get my plants watered when I am away from home for several days. Fortunately a few neighbours would help by coming over to water them. Recently my next door neighbour offered to help and I was so grateful for their kindness.

I hope I can find an alternative solution so that I don't have to trouble my neighbour.

David said...

You are the first naturalist,nature lover I'm coming across in my life,you love plants like you can hear them speak to you...I wish there were more people like you:)

catharine Howard said...

Hi Sue that ceramic method of watering looks v useful indeed. Thank you for the info

Művelt Kert said...

Dear Sue, I often hear the question from friends how they shoul care for their balkony plants during holiday. Now I'll have an answer. Thank you!

Congratulations for the award!

Eszter

Juliet said...

I have some of the plastic spikes too, though I found the more expensive ones (I don't have ceramic ones, but I have more complicated plastic ones from the HDRA organic gardening catalogue) are a bit more effective.

I've also found just filling a bucket or bottle with water and running strips of cloth (torn from an old towel or T-towel) from it into the soil of pots works quite well. The only difficulty is leaving the lid of the bucket loose but making sure it does stay on (so nothing drowns in it).

m3rma1d said...

I grow African violets and I wick water them, I spend half my time at my boyfriend's 400 miles away. My neighbor tends to my cats while I'm away all the time, and he has strict instructions to just fill the wick reservoirs while I'm gone, and STILL he manages to kill a plant almost every time I'm gone. :-p Oh well, my fault for leaving them all the time I guess. And at least the cats survive.

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