Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2003

Plant sitters need detailed instructions

June 15, 2003

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— So here you are, summer vacation is just a few short days away and then you'll be able to leave on that dream trip. But some stay-at-home members of your extended family could emerge badly wilted by the experience.

What do you intend to do about your plants?

There's this vegetable garden you've been cultivating for months, the house plants you've carted along move after move and the ornamentals bursting with color alongside the front entry. There's also that great thirsty expanse of lawn.

Enlisting a few friends might help -- people you can call upon in an emergency. But you'd better leave a lengthy set of instructions. Friends have been known to kill other friends' plants with too much kindness, usually by over-watering.

You could scan the Yellow Pages for plant sitters, but that might be a pricey proposition: Bothersome, too, if you have to drag every blooming thing somewhere else.

How about doing some serious plant planning early in the vacation equation? You make provisions for your pets. Why not for your plants?

Your strategy will depend in large part upon where you live -- a climatic variable ranging from the sultry heat of the Mississippi Delta to the misty cool of the Oregon coast. There's also how long you'll be gone.

Start by providing for three elements every plant needs to survive: light, water and temperature.

"Concentrate first on plants in containers," says Charlie Mazza with the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "Those will dry out much more quickly. Plants that have demonstrated a frequent need for water also will have to be accommodated.

"(Try) self-watering containers," Mazza says. "They're terrific."

Some prevacation transplanting might be in order, say from your more porous clay or terra cotta pots into the new self-waterers or plastic containers that hold water better and longer. Just beware of root rot and be ready to return your favored plants to their original containers soon after returning home.

You could throw together a makeshift greenhouse.

"(That) consists of several layers of newspapers placed on a plastic drop cloth in the bottom of your bathtub," says Jan McNeilan, an Oregon State University Extension Service consumer horticulture agent.

"Put the plants in the tub and turn on the shower long enough to wet the leaves, soil and newspapers," she says in an Internet news release. "Then pull the shower curtain and drape another plastic drop cloth over the top, attaching one edge to the back wall with tape to form a greenhouse sort of tent.

"Leave the light on in the bathroom and your plants should be in top shape when you get back," McNeilan says.

That should work for everything but African violets, cacti or succulents. All have leaves that rot easily. Try using wicks for those plants, which favor root watering.

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