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Gardening : Vacations Take a Toll on House Plants

<i> From the Associated Press </i>

House plants can sicken when their owners are away on vacation if some special provisions aren’t made for them.

Plants can suffer from just a few days of neglect and adverse indoor conditions. Follow these simple prescriptions from Decorating magazine on how to keep a green thumb when vacationing.

--If plant owners are leaving for only a weekend, they should water everything thoroughly before they go, and let it drain. Standing water will invite rot.

--To reduce water requirements, raise the humidity level around plants by grouping them in shallow trays lined with an inch of pebbles and a half-inch of water. Don’t let the bottoms of the pots touch the water.

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--People leaving for several days should gather plants in a bright place but out of direct sunlight. Set up grow lights and, with an automatic timer, give plants 14 hours of light each day. Setting the timer to turn lights on at night will help the house look occupied.

--Avoid feeding plants before leaving home. Fertilizing stimulates growth and requires high levels of plant energy.

--To minimize plant stress, remove any dead or dying foliage and flower buds, as well as any buds that would open.

--In winter, set the thermostat no lower than 60 degrees to prevent freezing.

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--In the summer, many tropical house plants will take care of themselves and even benefit from being placed outdoors in a shady, protected spot.

--Indoor self-watering devices can be purchased in garden supply stores, or automatic watering systems can be easily made. For best results, set a pail of water in the center of a circle of pots. For each pot, cut a length of nylon wicking or old nylon stockings; bury one end in the soil and extend the other to the bottom of the pail of water. The nylon will act as a wick, slowly transferring water from the pail to the pot.

--Plastic tents can drastically reduce the water needs of plants. Place several small pots in a dry-cleaning bag, and hold the plastic away from plant foliage with sticks or bent hangers. For a large plant, use a painter’s plastic drop cloth.

Secure the plastic around the top of the container with masking or electrician’s tape. Make a few slits for air circulation. Most plants can survive in a tent for a few weeks without additional water.


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