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Fire The House Sitter!
by John Harmon
October 27, 2002

With the end of October clearly in sight and even though it pains me to mention it, you know Christmas is coming. It's a wonderful time of the year and many folks will be traveling to visit friends and family. Don't worry about getting a house sitter to look after your plants while you're gone. Besides the shattered friendship when your soon-to-be ex-friend kills all your plants you will have healthier and happier plants if you understand watering and automatic waterers. If you plan on going away for any length or time this winter here's some information on watering houseplants while you're away.

One of the ways a house sitter can damage your houseplants is over or under watering. For a good understanding of how to tell when your plants have enough water pick up a copy of "Measuring the Water Status of Plants and Soils." This book is by John S. Boyer and Paul Jackson. It comes in a paperback of 178 pages published by Academic Press, ISBN: 0121222608.

Another handy book if you have a bunch of plants is "Drip System Watering: For Bigger and Better Plants" by Jack Kramer. This one is a hardcover edition published by W.W. Norton & Company. The ASIN number is: 0393012999. Both books should be a welcome addition to any gardener's library.

One very simple automatic plant waterer one is the Aqua Tower. It's a simple foam plug that you stick in the soil and it releases water from the 40-ounce reservoir through the plug as the plant needs it. The danger with this one is over watering but it generally works fairly well. It's for sale online for just $12.95 US plus shipping. They are available from

I have suggested the lamp wick method for watering plants in the past and it works just fine. You stick one end of a piece of lamp wick into a container of water and the other end down into the soil in a potted plant. The plant simply sucks up what it needs.

An improvement on the lamp wick is the Water Worm. This thing looks like a fat bungee cord and comes in "a variety of designer patterns and colors". You just stick one end in a container of water and the other end in the soil just like the lamp wick. It's made by the Polymath Company, 5221 SW Jacobsen Rd., Seattle, WA 98116-4352. You can call them at (206) 935-4844 or e-mail them at You can order from their website at They cost $4.50 US each, two for $8.50 US, or three for $12.00 US. Any more than three are $3.50 US each. They offer discounts for quantity orders.

The best automatic houseplant waterer I've seen is listed in the Lee Valley Early Christmas Gift Catalog that is just showing up in mailboxes. They describe it as "Using no power source, this high-quality, European-made plant waterer will automatically keep a potted plant's soil at the optimum moisture level. To use, just fill the ceramic cone with tap water, put the cap on and push the cone into the soil. Then place the supply hose in a nearby container of water. It will now draw water into the pot as the plant needs it. As the water in the clay cone is drawn into the dry soil, it creates a vacuum that pulls more water in through the supply hose." It's a little more high tech than the lamp wick or the worm but a bit more expensive than either one at $7.95 for a set of two. Check it out at one of their stores in person or online at It's item number XC475.

With a good understanding of how much water your plants need and some sort of automatic system it's easy to fire the house sitter and still come home to healthy and happy plants. Of course your TV, VCR and stereo might be missing but your plants will be fine!

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail

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