Adventures with Plant Sitters

Guest post by Ariane Khachatourians (a.k.a. midge)

Whether you are away for a quick weekend at your folks’ house, or decide to take a month-long vacation abroad, plant-sitting is one of the necessary evils of being a gardener. It is always nerve-wracking to leave your little green babies under the care of a friend or neighbour, and each time, all you can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Not only can plant-sitting be a big favour to ask, depending on the size and diversity of your plant family, but it can also be a big risk, putting years of tender loving care on the line for some time away. Unlike pets or children, unfortunately, it is simply not an option to bring your plants with you. Also, unlike pets and children, plants often are not able to send out a distress signal until it is much too late. Still, if you have plants, sooner or later, you will have no choice but to leave them in the hands of a hopefully capable caretaker. Here are a few things to consider when leaving your plants with a plant-sitter while you’re away:

Finding a qualified plant-sitter

When selecting a potential plant-sitter, it is important to ask yourself a few crucial questions, such as:

Is this person reliable? Are they perpetually late or extremely disorganized? If so, perhaps they are not the best choice. If they are generally organized and on top of things, that is a great start.

Is this person a gardener? Your potential plant-sitter does not need to be a master gardener to be able to keep your plants alive for a couple weeks, but to get an idea of their capabilities, look around their house. Do they have plants at all? Are their plants healthy or are they shriveled, dry, and infested with mites? Do they have an outdoor garden at their house? Is it healthy? Observing the condition of your potential plant-sitter’s own garden and houseplants will give you a good idea of whether they will be able to gauge the basics, such as how much and how often to water, and catch more advanced problems, such as stem rot or insect infestations.

Finally, and equally important, is this person trustworthy? It may not be a good idea to leave your home in the hands of that lady down the street who you don’t know that well, but has pretty flowers and seems nice. You are, after all, going to hand over the keys to your home, and therefore most of your earthly possessions to this person! Of course, with most people, there is nothing to worry about, but if you leave your home with someone you don’t know well and something goes wrong, you will really only have yourself to blame.

Give detailed instructions

Even a competent plant-sitter does not know what your plants are used to, and will need some guidance. Write down a list of the locations of all the plants that need tending, and how frequently they need to be watered. But don’t stop there…give an idea of how much to water each time since over-watering and under-watering can be equally damaging, especially over a longer period of time. Make sure to give details for any plants that are sensitive and require special treatment. If you want to be extra cautious, encourage your plant-sitter to contact you if anything goes wrong.

Upon return, assess the damage

No matter how good the good plant-sitter, some damage can be expected. While away for a week and a half, I left my plants in the hands of a friend who is a keen gardener with house plants and a vegetable garden of her own. I suggested she water them a couple times, once at the start of the week once at the end, and to give the outdoor ones a little extra if it got hot out. When I got back, the indoor plants had been extremely over-watered, which I could tell from the water-logged dirt and the water stain on my window sill where one had overflowed.

The outdoor plants, on the other hand had not been watered enough, and one in particular, the chocolate mint that was in a smaller pot, seemed to have been missed altogether, and was a dried-out shriveled mess. I watered it consistently for the next few days, and one stem survived, so I think it will pull through, but it took some fairly heavy damage. Note the before and after:

Finally, be gracious!

Despite a little damage here and there, I am ever grateful to those who have cared for my little green family while I’ve been away, as without a plant-sitter, they would have surely perished. Make sure you pass on the plant karma and return the favour if you are ever asked, and give a big thank you to your plant-sitter, even if the plants are a little worse for the wear. Particularly if your plant-sitter was on duty for more than a long weekend, a small gift—baked goods, a case of beer, or a souvenir from your trip—is always much appreciated and is a very nice gesture, especially if you ever want them to do you the favour again!

Midge is a prairie gal who moved out to west for university in 1998, and never left. She now avoids working on her thesis and nurtures her eccentricity through knitting, music, reading, painting, photography, cooking, trying to embrace exercise, and of course gardening. Check out her plant journal on this site.


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