Leaving the Garden for a Guilt-free Vacation
Even though gardeners have a strong bond with their garden, there are occasions when it is necessary to spend time away from home – visiting other people’s gardens is always a good excuse for me to travel.
Summer is one of those times when the cottage, camp, road or even the airport beckons many of us to leave. Leaving a garden is not as simple as leaving the pet goldfish in the care of a neighbor. Finding a gardening friend to take the responsibility of watering your treasured bonsai twice a day may be almost impossible. To achieve a guilt-free vacation away from your garden some preparation and planning are in order.
For outdoor plants, do a thorough garden clean-up a week before you leave. This is similar to cleaning the house just before leaving so that it will be nice and tidy upon your return. The last thing that you want to do when you return from a holiday is clean the house (or see your roses laden with spent flowers). The clean-up will also be an opportunity to note any special care instructions. The garden will not stay tidy, but removing any weeds and deadheading spent flowers before you leave will give your garden a well cared for appearance while you are away. Just before leaving the garden, water it thoroughly. Do this even if it is already moist. This might be the last water the garden receives until you return. The plants that will need the most water are shallow rooted plants such as annuals, perennials, shrubs, and newly planted trees. If the lawn has not been receiving extra irrigation, don’t worry about it if you are going away for a week or two. If no natural rain occurs during this time, the lawn will just go dormant. When irrigation or natural rain returns (if withing reason) it will come out of dormancy and “green up” again. Lawns that have had regular, consistent forms of irrigation are more likely to suffer problems if this is not continued. A timer for a sprinkler hose will offer some solution to this situation.
If an automatic irrigation system is in use for the garden and lawn, have a neighbour monitor the system during your absence. They may be able to turn it off in case of excessive natural rainfall or fixed it if the batteries run down in the timer or an irrigation head breaks.
Any mulches will conserve moisture during a vacation drought. Materials can range from purchased bark or wood chips to grass clippings or newspapers. The purpose of the mulch is to stop the sun from evaporating precious moisture. The application of mulch is money and time well spent.
If your sunny garden has containers that require frequent attention to watering, move them to a shadier location. Sun loving plants might react by stretching to the light during the vacation, but at least they have a better chance for survival. When returning them to their original sunny site, move them gradually so that they are not sun-scorched. To reduce the amount of water needed by plants in containers, repot them into a larger container if possible. The additional soil will act as a water-holding reservoir for the plant.
One idea for giving extra water to individual plants or containers is to use a 1.5 or 2 litre plastic soft drink container in the garden. Use the green coloured bottles, fill them with water and place them beside or inside your plants. To work best, they must be in close contact with the roots of your plant. Poke a hole into the soil and quickly place the open end of the bottle into the soil. Press it down so that the bottle is stable in the soil and will not fall over. This automatic watering system will last for a week if the soil is moist when installing this recycled watering device. As the soil dries, a slow trickle of water from the reservoir is released into the soil. This method is particularly good for tomatoes that get “blossom end rot” if their water is inconsistent (too wet then too dry).
Many gardeners have a stash of seedlings and newly purchased plants that have not yet made it into the garden. These plants normally require almost constant attention. To help them survive your vacation, place them (pot and all) in a shady location in the garden.
For some gardeners, knowing that someone is watching the garden offers a sense of comfort. Avid gardening friends are ideal, but it they are not available, hire a plant sitter or garden sitter. Some house sitting companies will also look after plants. Depending on the needs of your garden, it is usually safe to leave your garden for one week. If you are going away for 2 weeks or more, someone reliable should be looking in on the garden.
In addition to ensuring that plants survive your absence, security is another concern when leaving for vacation. Some suggestions include installing motion sensor lights directed out from your house and into the garden. These are particularly important for directing light at patio doors or basement windows. Prune any shrubs or plants away from windows and doors so that burglars cannot hide behind them when gaining access to your home.
The first sign that someone is not home in the summer is a pile of advertisement flyers stuck in the door (or blowing around in the garden). Have a neighbour check your door twice a week and recycle the papers in their blue box. A great idea to trick potential thieves is for someone to put out garbage and recycling (on the correct week) for you while you are away. The second sign that someone is away is a lawn that hasn’t been mowed. The drier that the weather is, the less the lawn will grow and the less noticeable this will be. Since the weather cannot be predicted accurately beyond 2 days, have someone arranged to mow your lawn if needed.
For indoor gardeners, the preparations for leaving are just as rigorous, but the risks of leaving are less than outdoor gardeners. Indoor plants have more options to keep them watered. They can be grouped together in a large roasting pan or saucer with a layer of water in the bottom. Be wary of the hazards of placing too much water in the bottom of containers and drowning your plants. To avoid this, place plants on pebbles or marbles to raise them up so that the just the bottom of the pot is submerged. A narrow piece of fabric can be made into a wick to draw water from a reservoir to the base of plants. Plants can also be placed into a large, clear plastic bag to conserve moisture. This mini-greenhouse is ideal for small to medium-sized plants.
Close (or mostly close) the curtains in rooms where plants are next to windows. This will reduce the amount of direct sunlight on the plants. Another idea is to place plants in the bathtub on top of a layer of newspaper. Once the plants are in place, water them well and leave a shallow amount of water in the tub. Close the shower curtain to keep humidity around the plants and reduce the amount of water that they will need. If your bathroom has little natural light, you might consider putting a light on a timer in the room.
One last thought to consier for a better piece of mind while away is shutting off the outdoor and indoor water. This will save you much aggravation if a pipe bursts while you are away, but it will not give garden sitters access to water.
Are the preparations to leave your plants worth the effort? There’s no doubt that they are. The opportunity to travel and view other gardens is a rewarding and inspiring experience. You might even find some interesting plants, rocks, driftwood, or sculptures to bring back for your garden.