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A holiday survival guide for plant murderers

Items not featuring on the packing list for your next vacation: pair of shoes number 12 (just because they don’t fit in your suitcase). The vacuum cleaner. And your house plants. To help you enjoy a carefree stay under the Spanish sun, plant experts Sofie Vertongen, Emma Sibley and Sarah Delaval have put together a checklist that’ll help prevent the mass murder of your leafy friends while you’re away.

Antwerp

Interior architect Sofie Vertongen is the driving force behind web shop Phyt and the physical store The Plant Corner in Antwerp.

Before you go

1. Invest in the right planter

“Invest in a planter with a hole at the bottom: plants in a pot like this always do better simply because the water can run through more smoothly. If you have beautiful pieces without an opening at the bottom, you can add hydrograins to the soil. They will absorb the surplus of water and release it gradually”, says Sofie.

2. Water for the road

“Water your plants before you go and remove them from windows that expose them to direct sunlight. This'll prevent them from drying out too quickly. Cacti and succulents can last a couple of weeks without water, other plants can survive without your attention for about a week if they’re not in direct sunlight”, Emma explains.

3. Water reserve

Sofie: “If your planter is on a plate, add water to the plate too. It'll create a reserve without drowning the plant.”

4. Plant support groups

“By putting your plants together, you create a microclimate that is healthier for your plants and helpful for your kind and helpful neighbour who’s taking care of your plants while you’re away”, says Sofie.

5. Bottle it

“Take a plastic bottle that fits in your planter and pierce holes in it. Bury the bottle in the soil, leaving the opening above the surface. Say goodbye to your plant with a good splash of water and fill the bottle. When the earth gets dry, the water will gradually seep from the bottle”, Emma advises.

6. Terracotta treatment

“Do you have terracotta pots? They need a special treatment before you go. Let them soak in some water for a night to satiate the planter. A dry terracotta planter would otherwise absorb all the water, leaving nothing for your plant”, says Sofie.

London

Emma Sibley is the founder of London Terrariums promoting gardening under glass in urban environments and organising workshops about these self-contained ecosystems.

7. Towel down

“Put your thirsty plants on an old wet towel and hang one end in a bath or basin filled with water. That will keep the humidity level high and allows your plants to soak up water when they need it”, Sofie explains.

8. Cotton candy

“If you don't have a towel you can sacrifice to your plants, create an easy draining system with thin strips of old cotton sheets or yarn. Put one end around the base of the plant with the tip slightly pushed into the earth and put the other end in a bucket of water. By doing this, the plant can absorb enough water without drowning the roots.”

9. Well gel

“If your neighbours, friends or DIY skills can’t help you out, water gel is your saviour. You put the little sachet on the soil and let the magic happen. The gel will gradually seep through the sachet and the earth to the roots of the plant depending on its needs. And it’s an ecological technique that prevents evaporation. A sachet of 266ml in a planter with a 15-20cm diameter will last you 30 days”, says Sarah.

10. Watering globe

Emma: “A really handy gadget is a watering globe. It looks like a giant pipet with a round end filled with water and a pointy tip you stick in the soil. When the earth dries out, the water flows from the globe and raises the humidity levels again. A globe usually lasts a week – so if you’re away for longer, you’ll have to ask a friend to fill it up.”

Paris

Sarah Delaval is one of the founders of Paris Pousse, a French online green concept store that aims to make plants and designer planters affordable and accessible to all.

What your kind neighbour should bear in mind

Morning glory

“Ask your neighbour to always water your plants in the morning. That way they’ll have all day to photosynthesise which reduces the chances of dead plants upon your return”, Sofie adds.

Singing in the rain

“When you water your plants, use rain water”, Sofie explains. “If you don’t have access to it, you can fill a bucket with water and leave it out over night before using it on your plants.”

Sunday pool party

Sofie: “Monstera plants, fig trees, Alocasia plants – the more exotic types are booming. Sure, you can turn up the heat in your living room, but the rain forest is also very humid. It’s important to water both the soil and the leaves of these plants. You can use a wet sponge to brush over the leaves or you can put them in the bath or shower for a Sunday pool party.”

How you killed your cactus

“Did you even manage to kill your cactus? That’s no surprise. They seem easy to care for, but you should know the following: cacti hibernate. During the winter months you shouldn’t give them any water or nutrients. During summer, you should water them every two weeks or month, depending on the type”, Sofie warns.

Rescue mission upon your return

So you've just got back from your relaxing holiday and realise your plants are dying as no one gave them water. “Don’t drown them just because you want to make up for the lack of water”, says Sofie. “Plants that haven’t been watered for a while need to go through a three day treatment. Give them little bits of water each day until they fully recover and then start watering as normal.”

Article written by: Wided Bouchrika

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