As the holiday season nears, here are a few ideas to ensure that your houseplants survive while you’re away. If a friend is watering them for you, move all of the plants into one room, so that nothing gets forgotten. The kitchen is ideal, as they are near the water supply and can stand on the draining board, ideally it should be north facing or shaded from direct sunlight, if not, partially draw the blinds to protect them from scorching sun. Grouping plants together maintains humidity and stops the leaves from browning. Explain how often to feed and water but don’t rely on memory! Keep the instructions simple, putting labels in individual pots, like ‘do not water’ or group those with similar requirements together. Plants with specific needs should have detailed, written instructions on paper, making two copies in case one gets wet or lost. Keep feed and insecticide nearby. It is always worth telling your friend that it doesn‘t matter if a plant dies (even if it does!) you don‘t want them to endure two weeks of terror until you return home if something goes wrong. Remind them that more plants are killed by over-watering than under-watering; slightly drooping leaves indicate that watering is needed. Finally, after all of their efforts, buy them a present to say thank you!
If you don’t have anyone to water your plants, lay an old towel, capillary matting or similar absorbent material over the draining board with the end in a sink, wet the material and stand the plants on top in their pots, not decorative containers. Part fill the sink with water and capillary action will water the plants as required. You can also lay a towel in the bath or drape it over an upturned washing up bowl with the end in two or three inches of water. Alternatively, make a wick from string, a piece of wool or shoelace, wet it, dip one end in water and bury the other in the compost or invest in an automatic watering system that can be bought from the DIY store or garden centre. Remember to feed, water and control pests before you leave so the plants can survive the first few days.
In the greenhouse and outdoors, keep pinching out the side shoots of tomatoes which appear between the base of the leaf and stem. This directs all of the energy into the single stem and fruit and flower production. Use your finger and thumb, not a knife or secateurs; a clean cut is more likely to encourage fungal infection causing endless problems later on.
Check daily for lily beetle, these small orange-red beetles and their larvae strip the leaves, (see picture) weakening the bulb so it may not flower the following year. Try to pick them off by hand and they often drop from the plant so put your hand underneath to catch them, alternatively, spray with translocated insecticide or wipe off the larvae (which hide under their own excrement!) with a damp cloth