We pamper our gardens but then desert them to go on vacation. A little planning can soften the blow.
Ideally, a neighbor or fellow gardener could handle watering and other tasks while you’re away. But if that’s not possible, here are some ways to keep your plants and flowers alive.
First, check the forecast. If rain is likely during your vacation, you might not need to do a thing, although gardens typically need 1 to 2 inches of moisture a week to stay healthy, says Matt Armstead, creator of the gardening app Sprout it.
"No matter what, make sure you water your garden very deeply right before you leave," he says. "Soak it thoroughly several times in the days leading up to your departure."
If rain’s not likely, or you’re going to be gone for several days, a timed sprinkler or drip irrigation system is a better solution.
Make your own by poking a few (tiny) holes in a milk jug and setting it in the garden near the base of your plants. Holly Jo Anderson, a 48-year-old gardener in Minnesota, pokes holes in gallon-size plastic bags filled with water and hangs them over her flowerpots.
Soaker hoses are another good option.
Jennifer Feller, head of a sustainable design company in Massachusetts, installed a drip irrigation system on a timer to keep her vegetable garden alive when she goes on her summer vacations.
"It doesn’t waste any water to the air, like a sprinkler," she says.
Easy Roller self-watering pots are also available for containers. Each holds up to 11⁄2 gallons of water.
Or fill a 2-liter plastic soda bottle with water and insert it onto an Aqua Stick, a plastic cone that you stick in the soil of potted plants.
The week before you leave, give your garden a thorough "cleaning" to get rid of as many weeds as possible so they won’t be competing for water.
Cut back any dead or diseased leaves on fruit and vegetable plants, and pick anything that’s near harvestable to keep the plants growing and producing more while you’re gone.
Finally, spreading a fresh layer of mulch or compost over the soil in your garden is a good way to deter weeds and conserve water, while improving your soil.
Also, clustering containers in shaded areas is a good way to keep moisture from evaporating and prevent flowers and plants from withering in direct sun. Hanging baskets should be watered thoroughly and taken to a shady spot.