No doubt excitement is building in your classroom as the holiday break approaches. Both students and teachers are looking forward to the chance to relax and rejuvenate away from school for a week or two. But what about your classroom plants? They’ll need to weather the time on their own without the regular tending they receive when school is in session. What can you do to make sure your vacation doesn’t turn into their funeral?
Long breaks can be a challenge for indoor plants, but with a little planning, you can keep your classroom garden growing while you’re away. Start by determining the conditions your plants will face. What will the temperature be? Will the school set the thermostat lower while students and staff are away? How much light will be available? Are your plants growing on a windowsill or under grow lights? What kinds of plants are you growing?
Lack of water is generally the biggest risk to plants that are untended for a time. So be sure to water your plants well right before a break begins. As always, make sure they are not left standing in water; promptly empty any water that drains out into saucers under the pots. If you usually water your plants once a week, this watering should suffice for a couple of weeks, even though plants may be a little stressed on your return. Established plants growing in larger pots will dry out more slowly than those in small pots. Small seedlings will have the hardest time going for a week or more without watering.
Giving plants cooler temperatures and lower light conditions generally works in your favor because these conditions slow plant growth, which in turn decreases plants’ water needs. Many common indoor plants, such as houseplants grown primarily for their foliage, are tolerant of periods of lower light conditions. Many will also do fine when conditions a little cooler than normal, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop too drastically. In general, it’s best if temperatures get no lower than about 60 degrees F for most houseplants.
If your plants are growing on a sunny windowsill, it’s a good idea to move them away from the glass somewhat. You don’t need to place them in a dark corner; just somewhere they’ll receive less intense sunlight. Clustering plants together will help to keep humidity higher around them. Consider making a tent of clear plastic either around individual plants or groups of plants to increase the humidity level and slow water loss due to evaporation, but be sure plants are not in direct sunlight or you might cook them! And don’t rest the plastic directly on the plants; erect some supports over which to drape the plastic.
If you are growing plants such as seedlings or vegetable plants that require bright light to remain healthy, keeping them under grow lights during the break will result in the healthiest plants on your return. However, you don’t want the lights to remain on 24/7. Hooking up lights to an inexpensive timer set to turn lights on for 12-16 hours, followed by 8- 12 hours off makes this cycling easy in your absence.
Finally, here’s a novel way to help your plants weather a break in good condition – offer them up for short-term “adoption.” Encourage students to take advantage of a great learning experience by taking plant “guests” home for the break. Just be sure plants are well-wrapped for their trip if the weather is cold (below 45-50 degrees F).