If you are traveling for a few days and leaving your plants behind, you may wonder how to keep them alive so that they aren’t parched twigs by the time you get back. Though it sounds difficult, it’s not impossible, even if you’ll be gone for over a week. The two most important things to remember are light and water: your plants need a steady supply of both.

Your herbs need moisture to stay alive

Your herbs need water while you are gone, and simply overwatering them once before you leave won’t work. You should water them, of course, but take the time to set up a self-watering system and provide a way to conserve moisture and prevent evaporation.

Make a plastic bag “greenhouse” for smaller herbs.

Greenhouses don’t need to be fancy glass containers. A simple plastic shopping bag from the grocery store will work well enough. Up-end the bag over your pot and prop it up on skewers or chopsticks to keep it from touching the top leaves of your plant. Seal the bag closed with a large rubber band or string.

If your herbs are too large to fit under a plastic bag, there are some other things you can do to conserve moisture.

Create a moisture trap with a pebble tray.

Create a moisture trap by putting tiny pebbles into a shallow tray (like a baking pan) and filling it with water so that the water just covers the rocks. Place your pots on top of this. The water will be able to travel up the drainage holes of the pot as needed when the potting soil gets too dry. Use small pebbles; water won’t travel easily from large rocks. 

Create a moisture trap with wet towels or newspaper.

If you’re short on trays and rocks, wet a towel and place it under your pots instead. Do this in a bathtub or sink so that the water doesn’t leak all over the floor. As an alternative, wet newspaper or paper towels and cover the soil. The newspaper will keep prevent evaporation as well as provide some moisture.

Set up a self-watering system.

After setting up moisture conservation, set up this self-watering system. 

  1. Fill a plastic jug with good water and place near your plants.
  2. Cut a length of cord or twine that will stretch easily, but not limply, from the jug to the pot. One end should be a few inches underwater and the other end should be resting in the pot. The cord/twine should be a natural or otherwise porous material so that water can travel through it. Plastic, for instance, will not work.
  3. Use a small rock or heavy object to hold down the end of twine in the pot.
  4. Place a strip of duct tape over the mouth of the jug so the water doesn’t evaporate and the other end of twine doesn’t slip out.
  5. Water will travel through the cord/twine by cohesion. Water molecules tend to stick to each other, and as long as there is room for them to move, they will continue traveling. Water will seep from the jug down the cord into your pot. You will be able to tell that the water is traveling if the cord is wet, so it’s a good idea to set this up a few days in advance to make sure it’s working before you leave.

Your herbs need light to stay alive

Use a south facing window, or a grow lamp.

Herbs need light as well. We recommend up to 6 hours of direct sunlight, so placing your herbs in a south-facing window is best. If you can’t manage that, you may need to get a grow lamp. Grow lamps are not expensive (we can get one for under $40) and will make a world of difference for your herbs.

One thing to keep in mind is that the heat from sunlight will cause water to evaporate, so direct sunlight will cause your pots to dry out faster. This is why, if you place your plants in a window and aren’t there to water them yourself, you will need to cover them with a plastic bag or have some other moisture conservation scheme in place. 

Trim herbs back to make it easier for them

Trim back larger herbs before you go and clip any flowers or buds. These take a lot of water to maintain, so your plant won’t have to work as hard if they’re not there.

Keeping it simple: how our bottle gardens provide moisture and light

And how do we do it?

The World’s Smallest Garden is designed with a self-contained watering system built in. While the plants are young, the engineered smart soil uses a capillary action (similar to the rope technique above) to wick water up to the seed. As the plant matures its roots grow down into the bottle. Essentially the product sets up a way for plants to water themselves, so you don’t have to. Just place them in a window and allow the product to work its magic while you’re gone.

But however you choose to take care of your plants, rest assured that if you can provide them with a steady supply of moisture and light, they will be waiting for you, healthy and green, when you return!