Don’t forget about your plants when you go away for a much needed summer break.  You will probably remember to cancel the post and the milk, switch on the alarm, defrost the fridge and prime the neighbours to keep an eye out for you. Ironically while you are away your garden can also be basking in glorious hot and drying sunshine.

Of course you may have already returned to find dying house plants, brown borders and frizzled planted pots and tubs; if so you won’t want to ever make that mistake again. Unfortunately it is much more difficult these days to find a willing neighbours with time on their hands or a  ’babysitter’ for your garden, so here is a plan to put in place to help keep your precious plants safe until you return home.

For a start during the summer months try to stand as many of your houseplants outside as possible.  Plants that are happy to brave the outdoors include Ivy’s, Fatsia, Cymbidium, Orchids and Christmas Cactus.

Select a shady, sheltered position and plunge the pots up to their rims in soil. Apply a thick mulch of chipped bark or peat over the pots to keep them cool and to conserve moisture. Water them well before you leave and they should survive for a good week without rain.

If some houseplants are too delicate to go outside put them in large groups in a cool, shaded position in your house. Stand them on trays of gravel, watered to just below the level of the pot bases. The humid air should help to preserve the plants. Tropical plants can go in your bathroom. Lay a large towel or some capillary matting in your bath and make sure it is well soaked. Stand your plants on the wet towel. Then place a bucketful of water at one end, dipping the towel into the bucket. This will act as a wick and the capillary action will keep the towel moist for about a fortnight.

If you only have a few plants you could do the same in your kitchen sink, standing the plants on a towel in the sink with a bucket on the draining board. Perhaps slightly more effective are porous wicks made by cutting capillary matting into strips. Make sure that the wicks and the compost are moist and that the wick is pushed well into the compost. Remember that if your sink is in front of a window, the water will evaporate much faster and probably will not survive more than a week.

Ceramic mushrooms work on a similar principle to wicks. The top is sealed and there is a connecting tube that should be put in a large reservoir or bucket of water. As the water seeps through the porous shaft, the pressure in the sealed unit drops and fresh water is drawn from the reservoir. This works well, but you need a ceramic mushroom for each plant pot.

One of the most effective methods of self-watering is the use of water storing gel crystals. These granules swell to 400 times their own weight with the water they ‘consume’.  Roots quickly find the water and grow through the granules.  Such crystals work throughout the season absorbing and releasing water many times.  They can be used in hanging baskets, containers, houseplants or dug directly into the ground.

If you use such crystals at the beginning of the season this will help reduce the need for watering overall. However, it is never too late. Scoop out a hollow near the base of the plant most affected by lack of water and place some swell gel crystals in the hole. Cover with soil and water well.

A cheaper, but not quite as effective method is the use of a large plastic or glass drink bottle. Fill the bottle with water, make a small hole in the lid and put it back on the bottle. Dig a hole in the ground big enough to hold the bottle firmly. Invert the bottle and cover, the water should then seep out very slowly.

Another little tip, which should deter the burglars. If you have removed all of your houseplants from your windowsills to care for them elsewhere, invest in a few silk or artificial plants – many of which have flowers and buds. They are amazingly life-like and will appear to the casual passer-by as if you are at home tenderly caring for your plants.

For your outside plants you are best off investing in a drip feed system. These comprise a system of plastic pipes of various diameters that are linked together with special connectors to make T-shaped or L-shaped joints. A filter connector joins the drip-system piping to a garden hose. Drip emitters can be push-fitted into the piping at any point to provide water where it is required. These emitters allow small quantities of water to trickle slowly into the soil over long periods. Drip feed systems are extremely effective as they use up the least amount of water applying it where the plants need it the most – in the region of the root hairs.

There are many different types of automatic watering systems on the market, ranging from systems with sophisticated automatic sensors to simple flexible plastic tubing. If you know what you are trying to water, the length of time you will be away and what your budget is, you are well advised to visit a garden centre to seek advice from trained staff.

Finally, if you do arrive home to some sad, wilting plants that have missed you, try plunging the whole pot into a bucket of water and leave until the air bubbles stop rising. Assuming the plant has not completely dried out this should revive it and eliminate your guilt for having had a great holiday whilst leaving your poor plants to suffer alone at home!