Out Of Town Garden Care: Garden Tips For Travelers

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By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Going on vacation? Good! You’ve worked hard and you deserve to get away for a few days. Vacations can recharge your batteries, providing much needed rest and a whole new outlook on life. For gardeners, however, planning a vacation always adds an extra complication – how in the world do you handle the task of watering plants while on vacation? How can you enjoy your time away if you’re concerned that your carefully planned and well-tended garden will be dead or dying by the time you return? Here are a few helpful tips for traveling gardeners.

Out of Town Garden Care

If you’re going to be gone for more than a few days, enlist somebody to provide plant care. Be sure it’s somebody you can trust, such as a friend or neighbor – preferably one who understands gardening and plant care. Better yet, work a deal to trade favors with a fellow gardener.

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Provide special instructions, such as a watering schedule and tips for plant care, including regular deadheading. Tell your friend if it’s okay to harvest vegetables or pick bouquets.

If you plan to travel a lot, it may help to incorporate a wider variety of xeriscape plantings in the garden. These low-maintenance plants are accustomed to less water and will limit your need for worry.

Garden Tips for Travelers

No one wants to come back home to a dry, unkempt garden. You can always take a chance by allowing someone else to look after your precious garden; however, if you take the extra effort to prepare your garden beforehand, you won’t have to. The following tips for traveling gardeners should help keep plants alive and well while you’re away:

Tidy up before you go. Pull weeds and clip yellowing or dead leaves. Deadhead any spent blooms. Give aphids or other pests a dose of insecticidal soap spray. Healthy plants are better able to tolerate a few days of stress.

Water everything beforehand. Give your garden a deep watering. Consider a drip irrigation watering system, especially if you’ll be gone for an extended length of time. Even if a friend or neighbor is on hand to provide plant care, a watering system will guarantee your plants are watered (and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your time away without worry). If a watering system isn’t in your budget, a soaker hose and an automatic timer is the next best thing.

Mulch around plants. A layer of organic mulch is a huge help, as mulch will keep roots cool, prevent moisture evaporation and control growth of weeds. When applying mulch, limit this to 3 inches or less, especially if you have slugs or snails.

Hold off on mowing. Soak your lawn deeply before you go and remember that healthy lawns don’t require frequent watering to survive. As tempting as it may be, don’t cut the lawn just before you leave, as longer grass can tolerate dry conditions better than a freshly mowed lawn.

Container Plant Care While on Vacation

Container plant care is a particular challenge, as containers dry out quickly. During the peak of summer, container plants may die if they aren’t watered every day. If possible, move containers and hanging plants (including houseplants) into shade while you are gone, then soak the plants thoroughly just before you leave. If you’re going to be gone for a few days, place the plants in a plastic kiddie pool with an inch or two of water in the bottom. This should keep plants moist for about a week.

Remember that mulch isn’t just for in-ground plants, as 1 to 2 inches or bark chips or other organic material on top of the potting soil will slow down moisture evaporation.

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