The summer holiday is booked, the car is packed and the outlook seems sunny – until you start wondering how your plants are going to survive in your absence.
Too many times gardeners return from their break to wilted annuals, shrivelled hanging baskets and lawns that look like straw, but there are ways to mitigate the casualties.
Here are some dos and don’ts to give you at least a little damage limitation…
… make new plantings just before going away
What many don’t realise is that plants need help to become established, which generally means watering, weeding and feeding, giving the root system the kick-start it needs. So don’t splash out on a bargain bucket of new plants at the garden centre just before you go away, because if they’re not watered, they will likely end up on the compost heap on your return.
… forget to call on neighbours or family to water while you’re away
Give kindly neighbours ample notice before you go away to say you’d be really grateful if they’d water your plants (particularly ones in containers) in your absence.
Keys may need to be cut and make sure you let them know exactly what will need watering and how much.
Often, if it has rained, non-gardeners will assume container plants don’t need watering, but if they are in sheltered positions close to the house they will still need a regular soaking. Clarify this with your plant-sitters and place easily-forgotten containers such as hanging baskets in a more visible position. Make it easy for neighbours to water by bunching pots close together. I usually take down my hanging baskets, placing them on top of buckets and close to other pots, so they are not forgotten.
Give your sitter a gift on your return to keep them sweet – it may be flowers, fruit or vegetables from your garden.
… leave flowers in full bloom as you go away
This is likely to sap the plants’ energy the drier they become. So don’t just deadhead the faded flowers before you leave. Better to cut off all emerging flowers, making it more likely that new buds and blooms will spring up on your return.
… use water-conserving pots and planters
There are many pots on the market with reservoirs that will hold water to help keep plant roots moist for longer. They call themselves ‘self-watering’ which actually means they have a reservoir in which water is then “wicked” into the planting container above using a material such as capillary matting or thick string, with one end placed in the compost and the other in the reservoir.
Check out Lechuza (lechuza.co.uk) and Elho (elho.com) for options.
… move pots into the shade
Although the label may say your plant prefers full sun, if it’s going without water for any length of time, you’re best off putting it in the shade while you’re away, to help prevent it from drying out.
Try to position your containers in a shady spot that’s open to the elements, so if it does rain, they will reap the benefits. Placing pots together also creates a beneficial microclimate and helps reduce evaporation.
… harvest ripened fruit and veg before you go
If crops such as French beans, runner beans, lettuces and radishes are ready, harvest them now and either blanch and freeze them or give them to friends and neighbours before you go. If you leave them, they will become tough, stringy and woody, while crops like lettuces, and herbs such as coriander, may bolt (run to seed, when they start flowering) which will again impair the flavour.
If you give kindly neighbours enough produce, they may offer to water the vegetables that aren’t yet ready and be happy to water when you go on holiday next.
… give less priority to perennials and evergreens in your borders
Don’t panic about these, as established perennials will have deeper roots that can reach moisture in the soil further down, so are less likely to suffer greatly in your absence.
Cut back perennials which have finished flowering so the area looks tidier on your return, and deadhead flowering shrubs to encourage a further flush of blooms later on.
… give the mower a rest before you go away
If you can bear the wild effect, leave your grass long which will help conserve moisture and encourage pollinating insects to your garden. If you absolutely must mow before you go, leave the clippings on the lawn to retain moisture. Don’t worry if your lawn dries out while you’re away; the autumn rains will come soon enough and green it up again.