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Vacation Succulent Care Instructions

8 years ago

Just wanted to share some instructions I'm working on for a very good friend, who will be taking care of my succulents for me when I go on vacation. If you have some suggestions or questions, feel free to contribute!

I made it sound simple to her, "just come and help water my plants", but it's not such a simple task. She promised that she will do her best not to kill anything. =)

Covering everything is a real challenge! Instructions to follow in the next post:

Comments (31)

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    When to water:

    • Water on specified days (pre-arranged to fit her schedule).
    • If one day late, that is okay, but not longer than that (some plants may drop flower buds if stressed too long).

    How long will it take?

    • Probably 2 hours the first day.
    • 1-2 hours after that.

    It's dark! How to turn on the lights?

    • Slide white timer switch (on bottom) carefully to the left.
    • Slide it back to the right to but it back into timed mode before leaving (important).

    What to water:

    Coloured cable ties have been stuck into the soil of many pots with special instructions:

    • Green = Do not water ever.
    • Yellow = Water once only.
    • Pink = Submerge pot to the rim until you see water and remove (water quickly).
    • Orange = Try not to get the bottom leaves wet.
    • Black = Hold over sink and use small watering can liberally until lots of water comes out.
    • Blue = Toxic sap, wash hands with soapy water if you touch the plant.

    Where do the plants go?

    • I've taken photos to show where everything goes.
    • For pots on the edges of grow lights, put them back in the same orientation.
    • For plants with flowers, be careful when lowering lights so they don't get crushed.

    How to lift lights:

    1. Lift wire support on one end of lights while pulling adjustment string.
    2. Raise other end similarly, higher is better so the lights are out of the way.

    I've made a watery mess! What do?

    • There is a pile of rags on the floor to absorb any watery mishaps.
    • There is also a roll of paper towels in the corner.
    • Hang wet rags to dry evenly on the white drying rack/bar.

    I've made a soil/gravelly mess! What do?

    1. Don't panic, it is okay if a pot is tipped over or dropped.
    2. There is a black mesh that goes in the bottom of pot, ensure it is in place.
    3. Carefully attempt to place plant back into pot as it was, along with its soil mix.
    4. If anything breaks off, set aside and do not throw out. Extra saucers are under the counter, left side.
    5. Ensure all roots are covered, there is extra gravel under the counter, right side.
    6. Skip one watering for any dropped plant (follow coloured tag, if applicable).

    I've made a terrible mistake or something is dreadfully wrong and I need help that is not covered in this list!

    1. Don't panic.
    2. Take some good photos, along with notes of what happened.
    3. Email to "emergency plant consultant" (address goes here) and put my name in the subject line.
    4. They are very knowledgeable about most of my plants and should be able to give recommendations on what to do.
  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Removing circulation fan:

    1. Turn it off and set on floor under table (so it doesn't get wet).

    Removing plants and watering them:

    Note: Start with the smallest plastic pots, then the small terracotta ones, etc.

    Note: Try not to touch leaves of powdery looking plants.

    1. Arrange white/clear trays for soaking plants on counter as per photo.
    2. Arrange black trays for letting plants drain on side table as per photo.
    3. Collect pots of same size to be watered and place in trays until nearly full. Double check for coloured tags!
    4. Use cold or lukewarm tap water to fill large watering can.
    5. Pour water from watering can into trays until at soil level.
    6. Let soak for 3 minutes (I use my phone timer).
    7. Move pots from white/clear trays to black trays to drain. Use white plastic saucer to catch drips/water pouring out.
    8. Note that the black trays are slanted, so water collects at the bottom.
    9. Once all white/clear trays are empty, you can place the next set of larger pots to soak.

    Putting plants back after draining:

    Note: It's easier to put back plants that go in the back before the plants in the front.

    1. When plants are soaking, you can put back the other plants which should have drained in the black trays.
    2. Pick up a pot, catch drips with white plastic saucer, and turn 30 degrees and give a little up/down motion to get rid of excess water.
    3. Put plant back to its place, as per photos.
    4. Empty excess water into sink.

    How to lower lights:

    Note: Ensure lights will not hitting any flowers/stems, adjust pots as necessary.

    1. To lower lights, firmly hold wire support on one end and release ratchet stopper.
    2. Slowly lower each end of lights to the halfway point (alternating).
    3. Slowly lower each end of lights to the desired point (alternating).

    How high should lights be?

    • Large setup: 9" above table on one end to black reflector, 11" on other end.
    • Small setup: 14" above white grating, level.
    • Ensure leaves are not touching or very close to bulbs.
    • The bulbs should be 2" away from the top of the tallest plants.

    Putting back air circulation fan:

    1. Put back in place, as identified in the photos.
    2. Set to lowest setting.
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    Amy, since you only have 3 plants- why don't you give them to a friend or family member to take care of during vacation? I did pretty okay while I was gone for two weeks- I gave some plants to my co worker to take care of. The rest stayed at home and I invested in one of those automatic, battery operated watering systems- it's called Green Genius. For the most part it worked okay- only lost my mints. I gotta be honest- my plants were quite far from lush and green when I returned but at least they were alive. And, it was my first time using that thing so I didn't quite know how much water would come out, etc etc. It was also in the dead middle of summer so they really wanted a lot of water. You'll be gone right during winter, so their watering need will be significantly less. One month seems like a long time for me to leave a plant in the bath tub- so I really think you should try and find a friend/family/ co worker who can possibly keep these plants for you for the month. If not, I'd go with either a nursery or an autmatic watering system (mine cost about $50 but I go away at least twice a year so it's worth it to me)- which ever works out more cost effective for you. There are also several other automatic watering devices available out there in several price ranges. Toni for example makes her own (for her citrus I think if I remember correctly). Perhaps she can brief you better about it. Just do a search of 'automatic plant waterer' or something along those lines- that's what I did. I saw several products but since I needed to water about 15 of them- some seemed too costly. Since you have only 3 plants, I think you have more options than I did.
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  • 8 years ago

    And that's it, I think! Hopefully it covers everything, I will be doing a 'watering demo/tutorial' with her shortly and see if she has any other questions. =)

  • 8 years ago

    My only comment, Kevin, is that the person must be a VERY good friend indeed. Only someone like that would bother with such tedious instructions for what you have outlaid as a time consuming task.

    When I am on vacation, there are no instructions, because there is no watering necessary.


  • 8 years ago

    Chris - She is a very good friend. I feel bad for asking her and have bought her a very nice Japanese dish set as a surprise thank you gift. She also asked me to repot her plants for her, provided she doesn't kill anything (I'll do it regardless).

    The alternative is taking a couple pots at a time and top watering them over the sink. It's easier but the saturation isn't as good and she'll have to come more often. I'll ask her about her preference.

    I wish I could go on vacation without having my plants watered, but 1/2 of my collection would do exceedingly poorly for that long without water. A lot of my plants are also budding right now and I don't want to risk losing them.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Just wondering - how long are you going to be away for? I know you have many 'sensitive' (?) - fancy plants...but this seems soooo complicated. All your plants are quite a showcase-able, so obviously your routine is good for something and I am not criticizing your efforts at all.

    I do as Christopher does...can't see why to have anyone to come & water succulents, unless one is away for a long time.

    I have lots of other plants (non succulents) that need water more often. During winter, there seem to be np with less-often watering; I lower temps and that makes difference. 2 winters in the row, all my plants were 'alone' (I wasn't living where they were located) and I visited them once every 2 weeks - nothing died of not enough water. Succulents got watered even less often. I am aware that this is just 'over-wintering' and you keep your succulents growing all year round. I let all my plants to 'sleep' helps a lot with taking care of them.

  • 8 years ago

    That's some really detailed instruction. I'd have to agree that I probably wouldn't have anyone water my plants on vacation just so I could avoid overwhelming anyone. That's very kind of her to take on such a monumental task, but at least she will have very intricate instruction. Hope you have a wonderful vacation. Are you coming to FL like everyone else? :)

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Eastern half of Canada goes to FL - the western half goes to AZ, but folks from all over go to Mexico, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic. I'll be in AZ in March, but there's still February to get through. I expect though, to see the first robin sometime next month, so there's that.

  • 8 years ago

    Rina - My vacation is not that long and I agree my instructions look pretty complicated. The quick summary is really:

    1. Take plant and dunk in bucket full of water.
    2. Let the water drain and put it back.

    The most trouble comes from my Mesembs (1/3 of my plants) which are actively growing now. They need water otherwise they'll shrivel up, but too much water could make them split/turn to mush. I watered this Fenestraria two days ago and it looks like this today:

    The other 2/3 of my plants are pretty robust and can make a week without watering, without looking terrible (but many would lose a leaf in the process). For bigger plants this is no big deal, but some of my STC Haworthia have just 8 leaves or less, so losing 1 or 2 would be a fairly big setback:

    Temperature does make a big difference and I am planning to keep the thermostat set quite low while I'm gone.

    I find that some succulents have a huge variance in their water needs throughout the year. For part of the year they can go months without anything and other times they need water every couple days. Definitely agreed that plants undergoing dormancy or semi-dormancy require a lot less work/water!

    Mara - Yeah.... I mostly wanted to have all the answers there in case my friend had any questions. Unfortunately, I don't have any friends that are knowledgeable about plants whatsoever.

    It's all my fault for for choosing a care-intensive mix, plants, and light setup! =/

    Nicholas - Sounds like pretty much everybody is opting to do the same. Probably one of the most basic skills but surprisingly difficult to delegate. Not going to FL!

  • 8 years ago

    What do you all do about seeds and seedlings that need daily/bi-daily watering? I never tried sittings my pots in water - does that work to stretch that to a week?

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago


    That's what I meant by you having some 'sensitive' plants - I am sure that mesembs needs some baby-sitting. And I believe that they are used to your lighting and fertilizing routine.

    I would not leave seedlings sitting in water, I would try wicking - you can start before leaving to see how it works - JMO.


    ewwmayo thanked rina_Ontario,Canada 5a
  • 8 years ago

    Kevin, I know you have some fancy Haworthia, but my not so fancy one basically thrives on neglect. I don't see how it could be growing any better than it is.


  • 8 years ago

    Jeff - That is looking pretty fantastic and at least a little fancy to me!

    My cymbiformis / retusa / mirabilis / truncata would all survive easily and are very easily cared for.

    Just the tissue cultured ones are all quite small and took several months to root alone. It was quite stressful watering them myself for a long time.

    I have been trying to extend my watering interval a week and many of my succulents have coloured up even further. This is my Alworthia 'Black Gem', turned nearly black as it's namesake:

    Rina - I'll see what I can do about wicking. Last time I was on vacation I left my seedlings with my father (in a different city) and half of them died!!

  • 8 years ago

    Just an update - Had my friend over today and walked through watering. Her biggest thoughts were:

    1. It will take a while because I have so many plants (not because it's complicated).
    2. She really hopes she doesn't kill/break anything.
    3. She was happy all the steps are laid out on paper, rather leaving it open in case she didn't know what to do.
    4. Colour-coding system was pretty good/very clear.

    Things I didn't think of telling her in advance, which she asked:

    1. Which pots may tend to float/tip a little (pumice or perlite mixes).
    2. What was expensive/valuable so she can be more careful with them.

    Still not sure what to do about my seedlings...

  • 8 years ago

    Kevin, I'm preparing for a 2 week break tonight too. Managed to get a friend to do us a huge favor to water my plants. I did a walk through with him last night, he whip out his phone recorded what I said on what to do for which plants.

    Instead of giving him specific care instructions on which to water, I now have 70% of my plants in community watering trays. I figured it would make things so much easier for him to just water via the tray a week later.

    The plants that are in dormancy now are kept separately and labelled, so he wouldn't need to do anything to them.

    I'm prepared for my plants to look rough but least to a point they don't wither from thirst and adequate hydration that they don't drown.

    I tested my method of watering since a few weeks ago, the longest stretch my plants can go is a week and a half before some started to look beyond salvageable. It upsets me that I had lost some of my favorite plants through dry rot, or root desiccation - strange enough it's all plants in the 1-1-1 gritty mix with bark. My other plants in the inorganic GM held quite well, though I know I push them quite a little on the dry side.

    As my seedlings, it's the same thing, they sit in a seedling tray. When water level is low, instruction is to water immediately. Additional instructions to spritz the seedlings whenever he gets the chance.

    I'm really impressed with your dedication, but I don't think I can get so organized to your level. It will probably also drive my friend insane to deal with such complexity.

    We'll see how the plants will do in 2 weeks! Enjoy your vaca!

    ewwmayo thanked bernardyjh
  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    This is why I have an irrigation system.

  • 8 years ago

    Finally back from vacation! Was a very enjoyable trip and all my plants at home survived! Had lunch with my friend today and we got to catch up on how things went.

    Time: It took my friend about 3 hours to water my plants. She didn't mind the time, mostly a little stressed in case she killed something valuable.

    She really enjoyed working with the plants though and found some of them really interesting/unique.

    Gift: She enjoyed the surprise gift that I left out for her. She still needs to let me know which plants she wants to be repotted. =)

    I was really hoping my 'Morgan's Beauty' would flower for my friend while I was gone. The pink petals are just starting to peek out of the buds.

    Instructions: The detailed instructions I left were handy and the in-person demo was the most helpful.

    Temperature: I had set the thermostat to 12C to help extend the watering cycle and save money since we were away. I forgot that it would be freezing for my friend when she came to water my plants! She said that when she turned on the lights they helped warm things up.

    Plant Health: Everything at home did very well! I wished a few more plants started blooming for her, but there was definitely some growth and changes while I was away.

    Lots of new growth on my Aloinopsis rosulata, it did very well while I was gone.

    Watering Improvements: The biggest delays were having just two drainage trays and having to fill the watering trays with a can. Today I bought a new faucet with an extendable hose and set out a third drainage tray (both of which sped up my own work tremendously).

    Seedlings: Ended up leaving them with a coworker at my work. It was a bit of a mixed result... two pots got tipped over and all the baby plants fell out. Maybe a couple from those pots may survive, but I'm not optimistic.

    The other pots did okay. I think my coworker was too worried about their windowsill was too bright (even though I had measured the levels) and ended up putting my seedlings under a CFL desk lamp. They got etoliated, but I think I can get them back into shape.

    Next time, I may try to make a mini grow light setup for seedlings so I don't have to rely on uncontrolled natural light. That, or just time it so nobody has to take care of finicky/picky seedlings.

    My Titanopsis calcarea is still alive! 3 months and counting!

    Summary: Overall, things went very well. Thanks everybody for your feedback and I think for future vacations I have a good plan of what to do.

    Next time I'll just have to make sure my wifi is working for guests and leave out my portable bluetooth speaker for tunes. =)

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Great update, Kevin. Great friend to look after your plants!

    She must be quite relieved that nothing died - and perhaps you too :)

    Your 'finicky' plants look great. and that Morgan's Beauty really is a beauty.

    ewwmayo thanked rina_Ontario,Canada 5a
  • 8 years ago

    Thanks Rina!

    She was VERY relieved everything was alright. I'm relieved too because I would feel terrible if anything had gone wrong!

  • 8 years ago

    Looking great Kevin! I wished my Morgan Beauty could have grown as beautiful as yours. I will be removing the cutting from the pure turface nursery tray and pot it up to its own pot.

    If I remember correctly you pot yours in more grit right?

    The rest of my plants seemed well after my vaca, the seedlings aren't coping as well with the cold temp. Will update again when I have time to inspect them next weekend.

  • 8 years ago

    Bernard - I did pot mine up in more grit. As you know, these are easily over watered. Really anxious for my plant to bloom!

    Glad to hear that the rest of your plants did well. Hope your seedlings make it! I'll try to post an update on your seedling thread.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Wontonamara..."I sleep through life and expect my plants to accept me as I am." You made me fall right out of my seat!

    I once color coded my plants for my son and even placed the amount of water; a little, 1/4

    cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup, etc. on each label:

    Red = water 2x week

    Blue = water 1x week

    Green = water 1x month

    When I got home, the ones that needed water twice weekly showed obvious signs of having wilted, with crispy browned edges and there were succulent leaves all around the floor, especially from my jade plant. I guess my son showed me.

    Why do I feel like Irma Bombeck saying that?

    Ewwmayo, happy to hear you enjoyed your vacation and everything worked out!

    ewwmayo thanked Maria Elena (Caribbean - USDA Zone 13a)
  • 8 years ago

    Wantonamara said: I shlep through life...:)

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    ;-) ...and here I was trying to graciously cover up a typo that never existed! I was either sleeping or shlepping at that point.

    Thanks, Rina!

  • 8 years ago

    Shlepping: the skilled art of moving things to and for pleasure or profit

  • 8 years ago

    LL - was hoping you won't be upset - could have been typo or auto-correct :)

  • 8 years ago

    LatinLady - Hopefully your son wasn't rewarded too handsomely for his 'efforts'. =)

    All be assured that I do have many plants that I am not as diligent about. They don't change or grow very much and I am quite happy about that!

  • 8 years ago

    Oh, no, Rina... not upset at all. Just a little humor to lighten all the very serious horticultural geek speak. Very tongue in cheek, it's all in good fun.

    Ewwmayo...I put that boy through Princeton...definitely got him back!

  • 8 years ago

    Am I the only Jew on here, or just the only person to notice, but it's spelled SCHLEP, w/ a C in there, just so you know.


  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Lena, that's awesome...and coming from a fellow New Yorker...priceless. I really thought it was supposed to be "sleep" and had the audacity to try to graciously correct it! Too funny.

    Oy vay!