You know it’s important to water plants but sometimes we forget or don’t have time. Or, even worse, we’re not even aware that the plant needs water.
The typical fully-grown plants can go without water for a week before they start showing symptoms. This will depend on the type of plant as succulents can go for months without water, dormant plants can go for weeks, but fruit, vegetable, and flowering plants won’t last more than 4 to 7 days.
I’ve written all the information below to help you understand how many days your plants can last without water. I’ve also mentioned methods you can use to provide water to your plants even when you’re not present.
Type of plant you’re growing
The most important factor that will determine how long your plant will survive without water is the type of plant you’re growing.
If you’re growing succulents like cacti they can last for months or years without the need for watering. If the succulents are outdoors ones, they will last 2 years without watering them.
If the succulents are indoor ones, you need to water them more often and they can last a few months without watering.
Some plants are drought-tolerant which means they will survive for weeks even if you don’t water them. Usually, native plants in your region are drought-tolerant. If you live in an arid region, the native plants can survive several weeks without water.
Some plants will go dormant when they stop receiving water. They go dormant to survive droughts, but they’ll survive longer if you water them.
The plants will remain dormant for several weeks and may appear to be dead. But their roots are still alive and they will recover once you water the plant again.
The most vulnerable plants are resource-hungry ones that produce fruits, vegetables, and flowers. These plants need a good supply of water to grow well.
If such plants don’t get the required water for a couple of days they will start showing symptoms and slow down their growth. If these plants don’t get water for a week or two, they will begin to die.
Your plant size and maturity level
The size of your plant will determine how long it will last without you watering it. The smaller the plant size, the less water it needs. The larger the size, the more water it will require.
The larger plant has a lot more foliage so it will need a lot more water to create food for growth and maintenance.
The age of the plant will also determine how much water it needs. If the plant is still a seedling, it will need more frequent watering as it’s in a growing stage.
As the plant grows older and matures, it will need less frequent watering because it is better at absorbing water from the soil and managing it.
The soil in which your plant is growing
The soil you use to grow the plant determines how long it will retain moisture.
If the soil contains a lot of clay or other mineral clumps, it may not allow water to drain freely and may retain it for a long time. This can cause problems like overwatering if the water remains in the soil too long.
If the soil contains a lot of sand, the water will drain quickly because the particles are loose with many gaps. The soil does not hold on to the water and it seeps into the ground. This can cause problems like underwatering where the roots can’t absorb the required moisture before the soil dries out.
You want the soil to have the right balance of organic matter, clay, and sand to retain enough moisture but drain out the excess.
If you’re growing the plant in a container, you’ll use potting soil. This is a sterile medium that is lightweight and has a porous texture. It will drain out water much faster than garden soil.
The environment where your plant is growing
The location where your plant is affects how much water you need to give it. If the plant is indoors, it’s more protected and needs less water.
If the plant is outdoors in hot weather, it will need a lot more water. But if the weather is cool, you don’t need to water the plant as often.
Warm-season plants will need a lot more moisture because the heat will tend to dry out the soil faster. You won’t have this problem growing cool-season plants because the soil will retain the moisture a lot longer.
If the plant is growing in a container, it will need more water as the roots can’t spread out much. The plant growing outdoors can spread its roots deep into the ground in search of moisture.
Other factors will influence how much and how often you need to water the plant. This includes things like humidity and wind conditions.
Too much humidity will cause the plants to dry out faster. The same will happen if there is a cold wind blowing through the plant’s foliage.
Growth stage of the plant
If you’re growing seeds or seedlings, the plant will need a lot of water for germination, developing roots, and its first set of leaves.
Once the plant has matured, it needs less water because it can absorb moisture from the soil and use it efficiently.
The plants that are developing flowers, vegetables, and fruits require a lot of water because they need more nutrients.
Once the growing season has ended, the plant either starts to die or go dormant. It won’t need as much water as a result.
Growing space available to the plant
The plants in your garden will absorb moisture from the soil. The roots will reach deep into the soil to try and find moisture when they need it.
If you’re growing in the ground, the roots can spread a long distance into the soil in search of moisture. If you’re growing in a raised bed, they are limited to the depth you created for the bed.
If you’re growing the plants in a container, they are limited to the potting soil to get the required moisture. You need to make sure the potting soil contains the required moisture for the roots as they need it.
You also don’t want the plants growing too close to each other. It would be best if you kept a distance between the plants as per their needs. Otherwise, the plants’ roots will compete with each other for the moisture from the soil.
How can I water my plants while away for a week?
I understand you may not be able to keep track of watering your plants. Maybe you forget. Or maybe you have to travel a lot. Don’t worry. There are several methods you can use to water your plants without you being there.
Get a plant-sitter
The traditional and simplest approach is to ask someone to look after your plants when you’re gone. Then can handle the responsibility of watering and maintaining them while you’re away.
It would be best if you only did this with someone who knows how to water the plants and knows any specific needs. Some plants may require more water than others.
You need to create a watering schedule for each plant and inform the person how to go about it. You can give hints of when to water them and how much each plant needs.
The person who has agreed to water your plants should be responsible enough and they must know what they should do to ensure the plants are safe.
You could get someone from your family, friends, or neighbors to take care of your garden plants. It could also be a neighborhood kid you pay to do the work as long as they can be responsible enough.
Use a wick system
The wick system can be a decent alternative if you’re looking to water your plants when away. You take a thick cotton wick and insert it deeply into the soil of the plants.
Make sure the wick is long enough to reach deep inside the soil. You put the other end of the wick in a large bucket full of water.
This system draws the water up to wick and then into the soil through capillary action. This technique ensures you do not over-water your plants as they pull in just the required amount of moisture.
Such a wick system can provide water for several weeks depending on the size of the plants and the bucket. If you are away for longer than four weeks, it is advisable to supplement the wick system with other forms of watering.
You can set such a wick system up for your plants growing in the garden or containers without any problems.
Set up drip irrigation
If you have several plants in your outdoor or indoor garden, a drip irrigation system can help water the plants without you being present. You need to set up a timer with the system to automate when the water is supplied to the garden.
Drip irrigation will help you water the plants evenly and prevent overwatering. The water will slowly drip into the soil and provide just the required amount.
The drip irrigation system and the timer are inexpensive and easy to set up. You can buy them at a hardware store or on the internet.
You need to follow the instructions that come with the drip irrigation kit to set up the system properly. The water timer should be easy to set. You only need to set the time to when you want the drip irrigation system to turn on and off every day.
Use a self-watering container
If you’re growing plants in containers, this can be an option if you know you don’t have the time to water plants every day.
A self-watering container consists of a pot (usually terra cotta or clay), a reservoir, and a wick. The wick allows water to be pulled from the reservoir to the soil of the plant. This way, you only need to add water to the reservoir when it gets dry.
This means you don’t need to worry about the plant not getting water. The roots will get the required moisture from the soil. And the soil wicks the moisture from the reservoir.
You need to add water to the reservoir every 2-7 days depend on the type of plant and the size of the reservoir.
You can buy either a DIY or ready-made self-watering container. You can purchase such a self-watering container from Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, or a local nursery.
Before you buy a self-watering container, you want to make sure the plant you’re going to place in it can handle that particular kind of container and that the design fits your needs.
Self-watering containers are best used for smaller plants or newly transplanted seedlings since they don’t have an extensive root system.
Set up an inverted bottle system
Another cheap option you can use is to fill up 1 or 2-gallon bottles, close the top, and poke tiny holes in the cap.
You can then invert the bottle and stick it 2-4 inches into the soil near the plant. The water will slowly drip out from the holes and provide moisture to the plant’s roots.
You can place several inverted bottles filled with water near the plants and they will provide water for the few days that you will be away.
The number of days this will provide water to the plants depends on the size of the bottle and how much water the plants consume.
You can also use this inverted bottle method to set up watering for plants you’re growing in containers.
Move plants indoors
If you’re growing plants in containers, this could be an option you can try. The soil outdoors will lose moisture fast because of the hot weather.
If you move the plants indoors, they will not require as much water because the indoor air is much cooler. So if you are unable to water the soil, the plants will still manage with the existing moisture in the soil.
You can also try to move some of the plants into a bathroom or kitchen. Such rooms have moisture in the air from showers, humidity, and cooking. It will help your plants last longer without the need for watering.
Avoid adding fertilizer to the soil
If you know you’re going to go away for a few days, make sure you don’t add fertilizer to the soil. The excess fertilizer will cause the plants to absorb more water as it needs the moisture to circulate the nutrients to the plant.
And if the plants don’t get the required moisture, the fertilizer can burn the roots and damage the plants.
If you really have to add fertilizer, you can consider a slow-release organic fertilizer. This will not release into the soil till you give it good watering. And being organic there is less chance of such fertilizer burning the roots due to excess.
Add water-absorbing crystals to the soil
Water-absorbing crystals are materials that soak up water that you pour on them and slowly release the water back over a period of time. This is beneficial because the slow release of water is what the roots need.
Typically, the water-absorbing crystals are added when you’re preparing potting soil for your container plants. But you can use this as a solution to water your plants when you can’t water them for many days.
You can mix these crystals into the garden soil or potting soil before you’re going away for many days. Then water the soil well so the water has soaked all such crystals.
The crystals will release the water slowly and make it available for the roots in the soil. So the water will last your plants for a few days even if you don’t manage to water the plants.
Add organic mulch to the soil
One of the easiest things you can do to slow down moisture reduction in the soil is to use mulch.
Mulch is any organic material such as wood chips, straw, dried leaves, grass clippings spread out over the surface of the garden soil or potting soil.
The layer of mulch will keep the temperature in the soil regulated. It will reduce the evaporation of the moisture from the soil due to the heat.
The mulch will also hold on to the moisture and slowly release it into the soil as the roots need it.
Before you leave your plants for several days, make sure to add 1-2 inches of mulch to the soil. Make sure to give the soil good watering after you have added the mulch.
The moisture in the soil will last for several days and the plant won’t suffer from underwatering.
What happens if plants are not watered for many days?
If you failed to provide sufficient water to your plants for many days, they would show signs you can look out for.
The most common sign is the leaves will start wilting because the plant wants to concentrate its vital nutrients and limited water in the root and stem.
The leaves will also start yellowing because they are unable to receive nutrients and moisture from the soil. They will turn dry and start falling off after a few days of lack of water and nutrients.
The soil will start to dry and crack when there is not much moisture left in it. The potting soil may even compact and become hard if it contains peat moss. This is because the material turns hydrophobic if it does not receive water for several days.
If the plant is not receiving the required moisture, the roots cannot supply nutrients, moisture, and oxygen to the foliage. This will cause stunted growth of the plant.
Can plants recover from lack of water?
Whether plants can recover from lack of water depends on how much damage has been done to the plants.
If you have left the plant without water for a few days, they will probably recover. But if you’ve left them for several weeks, they might be too damaged to recover.
Plants like succulents can stay without water for several months and you don’t need to worry about them. I’m talking about your typical plants that can’t go without water for a few days or weeks.
The first thing you should do is remove any unwanted leaves and stems from the plant. This includes foliage that has turned yellow or brown. You don’t want the plant to spend its energy on such foliage. But spend its energy on recovery.
You should make sure the soil has not turned hard and cannot absorb water. If it has hardened you need to make it hydrophilic again.
If this is garden soil, you need to poke some holes into the soil. Then let a slow drip of water seep into the soil for several hours to help it regain its hydrophilic state.
If the plant is in a container and you can lift it, you need to soak the entire container in a tub of water. This will help the potting soil soak up the water and regain its hydrophilic state.
Once the soil has regained its moisture retention ability and has sufficiently dried out, you can give it good watering.
If the plant is in a container, make sure to water well till it runs out from the drainage holes at the bottom.
Observe the plant over the next few days and check for signs of recovery. Keep watering the plant when the soil turns dry.
You can stick your finger 1-2 inches into the soil to check for moisture. If the tip of your finger is dry, it’s time to give good watering to the soil.
If the plant does not show signs of recovery after a couple of weeks, it is probably too damaged and will die.