Are you planning for a vacation and have to leave your plants behind? Or do you tend to forget to water your plants for a couple of days and need to know how long your plants can go without water?
Generally, plants can survive up to 7 days without water. However, your plants’ type and maturity level may affect how long they can go without water. Full-grown tropical houseplants can survive 2-3 weeks without water, while succulents and cactus can survive up to 3 months.
In this article, you will learn about:
- Signs your plants need immediate watering
- How to test if your soil is too dry
- Factors affecting how long plants can survive without watering
- Practical methods and tips for watering your plants while on vacation
Let’s get started!
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Signs Plants Need Immediate Watering
Plants need water to generate energy by photosynthesis and keep their turgidity, which is vital in proper growth and development.
If your plants are thirsty, they will show obvious signs of stress. If you see any of the following symptoms in your houseplants, waters them as soon as possible:
Drooping and Yellowing on the Leaves
The most apparent indication that your plants require water is drooping and yellowing leaves.
When there is not enough water, the vacuole in plants cells shrinks, pulling the cell membrane away from the cell wall. This lowers turgor pressure within the cell, causing stems and leaves to become flaccid and droop.
If the water shortage continues, plants will start to shed their leaves to conserve water resources. Leaves will turn yellow and dry before they fall off. Water your plants as soon as possible to prevent more leaves from turning yellow.
Once you notice signs of stress on plants’ leaves, you need to ensure that the stress is caused by underwatering. If your soil is dry, then you can confirm that the plants need immediate watering.
How to Test if your Soil is too Dry?
There are a few ways to test how dry your plants’ soil is:
Check the soil’s dryness by putting one of your fingers into it as far down as possible.
Examine whether any soil residues are sticking on your finger after removing it to see how wet the soil is.
If your finger comes out reasonably clean, the soil is extremely dry, and it’s time to water.
If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can use something other than your finger to determine how dry the soil is.
You can buy specially designed probes from your local garden store. But if that’s too much trouble for you, then a metal rod like a chopstick or skewers should do the job well enough.
Push the metal stick into the soil until it has gone deep enough to touch the bottom of your container
Remove the stick and observe how much soil is stuck on the probe. If there is a lot of loose soil, then you need to water your plant as soon as possible.
A moisture meter is another approach for determining how dry your soil is. You can pretty much find these cheap gadgets at any local garden store.
Plunge the probe of the meter into the soil until it reaches the desired depth.
Read how wet your soil is by looking at the meter’s display.
If the reading is less than 3, your soil needs to be watered as soon as possible.
Measure the Weight of the Pot
The last but least reliable method is to measure the weight of your pot. Moist soil usually feels heavier in weight. If the container feels too light because the dirt has dried out, it’s time to water your plant.
However, it won’t be easy to keep track of how heavy your container is with larger plants. Instead of lifting your plants’ container, you should use a moisture meter or soil probe instead.
Can plants recover from lack of water?
A lack of water for up to two weeks can result in the leaves of plants curling and drooping. However, your plants will recover as long as you give them adequate deep watering according to their watering routine.
Unfortunately, a longer period of dehydration can cause irreversible damage to your plants. The cells in the leaves and stems will start to collapse, and their vascular system will fail, resulting in the loss of leaves, flowers, and fruits.
A sustained period of drought will result in plant death.
Factors Affecting How Long Plants Can Go Without Water
The time that plants can go without water varies depending on how much water the plant requires during its growing season.
Watering frequency will vary depending on a variety of factors, including:
Plants with higher water requirements, such as fruiting vegetables and flowering plants, will require more frequent watering than drought-tolerant plants.
In general, most tropical houseplants need 1-2 inches of water weekly, while other plants like succulents only require about the same amount of water every 2 to 3 weeks.
Plants Size and Maturity Level
Plant size will also determine how long the plant can go without water.
Larger plants will need more frequent watering than smaller ones because their water requirements are higher.
As they mature, plants need more water to maintain the turgor pressure that holds the cell firm and provides the characteristic shape of plant structures.
Larger leaves also imply a greater surface area for water loss through transpiration.
Aside from the plant, you should also consider external factors such as the soil. The water retention capacity of your soil will influence how often you need to water your plants.
The texture, composition, and amount of organic material present in the soil will determine how well it can hold water.
Silt and clay soil has smaller particles but a greater surface area than larger sand particles. This allows the soil to hold more water, allowing plants to go longer without needing to drink.
Temperature also plays a critical role in how often and how much water your plants need.
As the temperature exceeds 80°F (27°C), plants will experience more water loss through transpiration.
To make matters worse, water in the soil evaporates faster at higher temperatures. As a result, plants will require more frequent watering as the temperature rises.
During the winter, plants enter a dormant period, meaning they require less water.
As there is not enough bright sunlight, photosynthesis also slows down during this time of the year, leading to lower water loss through transpiration.
As a result, plants can survive longer without water during the winter than in the spring and summer when they’re actively growing.
How can I water my plants during vacation?
What if you are going on a vacation? How will your plants survive without you around to water them?
Luckily, there are several ways that you can keep your plants watered while on a long break.
Hire a plant-sitter
Hiring a professional to water your plants may cost anywhere from $50 to $100 per day. Alternatively, you can ask a trustworthy teenager from your neighborhood or a family member to be your plant sitter for $10 to $15 per day.
Either way, you need to provide your plant sitter with specific instructions on how much water to give each plant based on their watering schedule.
This is, in fact, my preferred choice over the alternatives listed below since they will be able to inform me if something is wrong with my plants, and we can address it before it gets any worse.
Set up an inverted bottle system
You may turn a regular water bottle upside down and use it as a watering device for plants that require daily watering while you are away for a few days.
Basically, you need a 2-liter plastic soda bottle for each plant, a nail, and a hammer.
How to create an inverted bottle system:
- Puncture a few holes into the caps of your soda bottles
- Fill the bottles to the top with filtered or distilled water, then replace the caps.
- Bury the bottles upside down about two inches into the soil.
Water from the bottles will slowly drip into the soil as it dries up. This can keep your plants hydrated for up to five days.
Use a Water Wicking Drip System
If you need to leave your houseplants for longer than a few days, use a basic water wick system to keep them hydrated.
How to create water wicking drip system:
- Place a large pail of water on a stool above your pots.
- Place one end of cotton ropes in the bucket and the other end in the soil of your houseplants.
- Let the water slowly wick through capillary action into the soil, keeping your plants hydrated.
This technique works best on plants that need to be watered three times a week. Best of all, with this approach, your plants will stay hydrated for up to two weeks without refilling the water.
Use Plastic Bags to Create Mini Greenhouse
I tried this approach while on a longer trip, and it worked well for my houseplants. When you cover your potted plants in plastic bags, the moisture will be collected as it evaporates and drips back into the plant.
You only need big plastic bags, some wooden stakes, and sticky tapes for this project.
How to create a mini houseplant greenhouse with plastic bags
- Insert four wood stakes on each corner of the pot as a support for the plastic bag.
- Cover the entire plant and pot with a plastic bag. Check that no leaves are touching the bag.
- Secure the plastic bag to the pot with sticky tapes.
- Leave the covered plants in a room with indirect light only; otherwise, the bag will get heated and wilt.
A friend of mine claimed that the plants might survive for up to six months without watering using this method. But I am not sure how long it will really last.
Best Option: Set up a Drip Irrigation System
If you are planning to be away for a month or more, it’s best to invest in a drip irrigation system.
I’m currently using a very low-cost automatic drip irrigation system that works well. It’s simple to set up and may be used on up to ten potted plants. Best of all, you can set both the watering time (6s-30min) and the watering frequency (1 hour -7 days).
They also have a more advanced version that you may use to monitor and control it with your smartphone.
Additional Tips When You are Going on a Vacation
Use the techniques described above, with the following suggestions to improve your plants’ chances of surviving while you are away:
Move plants indoors
When placed outdoor, potted plants are exposed to high temperatures and the wind, both of which cause water loss.
Keeping potted plants inside your home will ensure that they are in a stable environment with optimum temperature and humidity levels.
Add water-absorbing crystals to the soil.
Mixing water-absorbing crystals to your potting soil mix help to increase the water-holding capacity of the soil.
They can store a lot of water in relation to their size. The water is then slowly released into the soil.
Add organic mulch to the soil.
If you prefer to increase the water-holding capacity of your soil more naturally, add organic mulches like pine needles, leaves, coco coir, or wood chips to the soil.
The mulch will also help reduce water loss by covering the soil surface and keeping it from getting too hot.
Consider potting in self-watering pots
Some self-watering pots come with a built-in water reservoir that holds up to three weeks worth of water.
When the soil is dry, the wick draws up water from the reservoir and releases it to the plant slowly as needed.
While self-watering pots keeps soil wet for longer when you’re on a long vacation, it also prevents overwatering.
Frequent Asked Questions
Do plants need to be watered every day?
Daily watering does more harm than good to most plants as it leads to the development of fungus and root rot. Instead, you should water deeply but less frequently.
Deep watering encourages plant roots to grow deep into the soil and helps plants establish a robust root system.
When is the best time to water plants?
The best time to water your plants is between 5 am to 9 am. This allows enough time for plants to absorb water and for the water to dry up before nighttime.
Try to avoid watering your plants in the evening or during early afternoons when evaporation rates are high.
While watering your plants at night will increase the chances of damp leaves developing fungus.