Watering plants while away on vacation: 8 ways to keep them healthy

Worried about watering plants while away on vacation? Our guide has everything you need to know to keep them in top condition

A spray of water being directed over garden plants
(Image credit: Jürgen Wiesler/Alamy Stock Photo)

Many gardeners worry about watering plants while away on vacation. In fact, the thought of beloved greenery and flowers dying when you're on holiday can cause lots of stress – especially if you've spent time and effort tending to them.

During a scorching spell in the height of summer, just a week's absence has the potential to cause damage, and watering plants during a vacation can seem an impossible task. But don't panic! Once you've got the know-how, keeping them hydrated while you're away is easy enough to do – and you won't need to rely on a kindly neighbor to pop in and do it for you.

Watering healthy pea plants using a purple watering can

Cropping plants and flowers growing in containers and baskets need the most water

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

8 simple tips for watering plants while away on vacation

Going away from home doesn't mean your plants have to suffer from a lack of water. Follow our quick and easy ideas for watering plants while away on holiday and your indoor and outdoor garden will stay happy and healthy while you relax elsewhere.

1. Give plants a thorough water before you leave

Woman watering potted tomato plants in a trough

Greenhouse crops such as tomatoes need watering well before you go away

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

The first thing to do is prioritize what needs the most water in your garden to ensure that they are hydrated well before you leave and straight away once you return. This includes the following:

  • Anything growing as part of your greenhouse ideas that doesn’t have access to rain.
  • Plants grown in your container garden or in hanging baskets that have limited access to water.
  • Edible plants that need lots of water to help their crops swell and grow.

Start by giving all these plants a thorough soaking before you go. Saturate the soil so the roots get a really good drink. This may see most of them through until you return from your vacation.

Greenhouse plants, however, will definitely need watering while you are away. If you don't have a friend or family member who can pop round and water them for you, then you'll need to provide other means to keep them hydrated (see below).

2. Create a DIY irrigation system with plastic bottles

plastic bottles as diy irrigation system

This plastic bottle filled with water and liquid fertilizer will slowly keep the plant watered and fed

(Image credit: ULD media/Alamy Stock Photo)

Looking for cheap garden ideas that will keep your plants watered? 'You can easily DIY your own drip irrigation system using just a plastic bottle,' says the team at Greenhouse People.

'Remove the bottle cap and pierce small holes using a pin. Fill the bottle with water and secure the lid. Flip the bottle upside down and you'll notice the water will begin to trickle, but this will quickly subside once a vacuum is created inside the bottle.

'Position the water bottle with the bottle lid just below the surface of the soil and use a stake to keep it upright,' they continue. 'The bottle will slowly drip-release the water without you having to do a thing. You could even distill some liquid fertilizer for plants that need that extra oomph.

'Best of all, this hack can be used year-round and is perfect for the summer holidays, so you can enjoy your time away without worrying about your plants.' Collect rainwater to use rather than taking it from the tap to make an extra saving.

Alternatively, you can invest in terracotta, pottery, or plastic nozzles – widely available in garden centers and online – which can be fixed onto bottles and pushed into the soil as above.

3. Use water-retaining gel or granules

water retaining granules in soil

Water-retaining granules will help keep your plants hydrated

(Image credit: FotoHelin/Alamy Stock Photo)

Water-retaining gel or granules (available on Amazon) are a great method for reducing the frequency of watering your plants, says the team at Gardening Express. 'They hold on to water and release it throughout time, ensuring that the soil remains moist.'

Follow the instructions on the packet of your chosen product – but generally, you simply mix them into the soil. They can be effective for both potted plants and for flower beds in the ground.

4. Don't forget to mulch

mulching borders

Mulching will lock moisture into your flower beds

(Image credit: ronstik/Alamy Stock Photo)

Mulching is a great way to keep plants healthy all year, protecting them from frost in winter and hot, dry conditions in summer. Because of the latter, it's useful if you're planning on going away.

Laying a mulch over drought-susceptible areas will help lock in moisture, prevent sun-scorching, and block weeds while enriching the soil with nutrients, explains the Greenhouse People.

'Garden compost is brilliant for mulching, but you can use any organic matter like bark, grass cuttings, wood chippings, straw, and even shredded cardboard.

Spread a thick layer of mulch – at least two inches deep – across borders after watering, taking care to leave a decent gap around plant stems. 'Special care is needed around woody stems which can become rotted if mulch is left touching them,' they add.

5. Use apps to control remote watering

Attaching an automated smartphone watering timer to an exterior garden tap

Many gardening brands have developed apps and kits so you can control watering from your smartphone

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

Many gardening brands have developed smartphone apps that let you control when and where you water your plants from the comfort of your sun lounger.

The apps and the accompanying kits are easy to set up and use. They can be attached to the best garden hose, the best garden sprinkler, or mini drip-irrigation kits that you can string between your containers and greenhouse growbags to keep plants and crops watered.

Set them up before you go and relax poolside knowing your plants can get adequately irrigated while you enjoy your vacation with complete peace of mind.

Our guide to the best self-watering systems has more advice and tips on what to buy and how to use them. 

6. Group containers together in the shade

potted plants on table

Group garden pots together so they are easier to water and create their own little microclimate

(Image credit: graham jepson/Alamy Stock Photo)

Containers are a watering hotspot as lots of plants growing close together in a relatively small space will soon gobble up all the available moisture and water. 

One of the easiest options for watering plants while away is to group your garden planters together in a shady and sheltered spot. This means they are easier to water before you go away, plus they are less likely to be damaged by sun and wind in your absence. However, 'be mindful to not keep them sheltered from the much-needed rain,' says the team at Gardening Express.

Once grouped together, they will also create their own little microclimate that is slightly cooler and damper than the surrounding air, which helps keep them healthier.

Water them thoroughly, and feed them with a liquid fertilizer before you leave home to give them the best chance of flourishing in your absence. 

7. Try self-watering planters

Lechuza plant pot on patio

The Canto collection from Lechuza will keep plants hydrated and looks smart, too

(Image credit: Lechuza)

An even more reliable way to keep your container plants healthy while you're away – and also when you're home but don't have time to water – is to invest in self-watering planters.

They're perfect if you're on the lookout for low maintenance garden ideas, as the clever containers allow the roots of the plants to access water from an integrated reservoir when needed. There are lots of different designs to choose from nowadays, too, so you don't need to sacrifice on style.

8. Remember to water houseplants too

Watering houseplants by standing them on capillary matting that is soaking up water from a bowl

Use capillary matting to suck up and deliver water to houseplants while you are away

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

When you're thinking about watering plants while away on holiday, don’t neglect your houseplants. Consider these easy solutions to keep your indoor garden ideas looking their best when you are away from home:

  • One of the best ways of watering houseplants while away on vacation is to stand them on trays of gravel and then water them well. The gravel will remain damp after the water is absorbed and create a healthy, humid atmosphere around the leaves. 
  • Remember to move indoor plants out of direct sunlight, and if you are closing any curtains or blinds while you are away, make sure you move the houseplants in these rooms to areas of the house with more light. 
  • Absorbent capillary matting is another good option for watering plants while away on vacation and it's widely available from garden centers and homeware shops. Simply cut a length and lay it on a kitchen surface with one end in a bowl of water, then stand your houseplants on the flat area next to the bowl. The water will slowly soak up through the matting and under the plants and should be enough to prevent them from drying out.
  • Alternatively, run a little water in the bath and stand your houseplants in it. A cool, light bathroom provides ideal conditions for most plants.
Ruth Hayes
Gardening editor, Amateur Gardening magazine

Ruth is the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and spends her working days carrying out, writing about and photographing the tasks the readers should be carrying out each week, as well as testing many of the new products that arrive on the gardening market. She is horticulturally trained, with a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society. 

With contributions from