Your gardening questions answered: Should I get my houseplants watered while I’m away over winter?

Keeping them warm might be a bigger concern

Q: I’m going away for Christmas, but I’m a bit concerned about all my houseplants in my absence. Do you think it would be a good idea to get a friend to pop by (we’ll be gone for nearly a fortnight) to water them while I’m gone? SK, Dublin

I wouldn’t be too worried about watering your houseplants at this time of year as they’re not in active growth, so their requirements for water are far less than what they’d be during summer months. But I’m presuming that your house won’t be heated while you’re on holidays, something that could very possibly have an adverse impact on some plants at this time of year when low night-time temperatures are the norm.

I say “some”, because many species will easily take this period of cooler temperatures in their stride. For example, Monstera deliciosa, the Swiss cheese plant, is universally popular not only for its good looks, but also for its resilience and ability to tolerate periods of neglect. The aspidistra, a plant that was a ubiquitous feature of most Victorian parlours, is also famed for its ability to tolerate swings of temperature, one of the reasons why it was so popular as it could be relied upon to cope with rooms that were only intermittently heated. Cacti and species of succulents are also pretty resilient in the face of cool (but not frosty) temperatures. But other species are more sensitive. The maidenhair fern, for example, prefers a temperature no lower than about 16C, in fact the very same temperature that’s optimum for most species of houseplants

For this reason I’d suggest gathering your plants together in one room (ideally the warmest room in your house) that can be sporadically heated while you’re away. Keep them away from any windows where there are naturally more extreme fluctuations of temperature. In particular avoid using any rooms with single-glazed windows or conservatories where the temperature can hugely fluctuate over the course of a single day. For the same reason keep them away from close proximity to radiators if you do decide to keep the heating on in that room while you’re gone. The same goes for placing them on the floor of rooms where there’s underfloor heating, which could quickly dry them out.


If that’s not possible then invest in some lightweight horticultural fleece, which you’ll find for sale in most good garden centres as well as from online suppliers such as and . Drape two layers over each plant, tucking it in to protect them from cold draughts. Then lightly water your plants before you leave, just enough to leave the compost barely damp rather than sodden as you don’t want their vulnerable root systems to sit in cold, wet compost during your absence. They should be absolutely fine on your return.

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening