Keep Your Garden Going While You’re Gone

It’s officially vacation season. The kids are out of school, you need a breather from work, and all the containers, flowerbeds, and houseplants you’ve worked so hard to plant and keep beautiful this spring are staring you in the face. How can you ensure your plants will survive a one or two week vacation? Here are some ideas that can help.

Drip Irrigation

Before you quiz the pet-sitter on his or her gardening skills, head for the local home-improvement store to stock up on drip-irrigation materials, mulch, and a timer or two to connect to the outdoor faucet. Vegetable gardens and flower beds are the easiest for drip irrigation. Weave lengths of drip tape or “leaky pipe” through the plants and cover the beds – irrigation and all – with a thick layer of mulch. Pine straw, shredded bark, or even shredded newspaper and cardboard make excellent mulch for retaining moisture and keeping weeds at bay. Attach your irrigation system to a timer at the faucet. Set it to come on in the early morning hours to reduce evaporation.

Ideally, plants should have at least one inch of water per week. You can calculate how much water your system puts out with a rain gauge or a small empty tuna or cat food can. Lay the can under the irrigation system and time how long it takes to fill.

Container Gardens

Container gardens and houseplants require a bit more attention and planning to ensure you come home to the same beautiful plants that you left before vacation. Your goal is to keep water loss through the leaves to a minimum by keeping the humidity high around the plants and reducing stress caused by intense sunlight and temperature. If you’re going away for a just a few days, all you really need is to give the plants a thorough soaking. You can group them together to retain humidity and position them in a shady location outdoors or in the bathtub.

Strategies for Long Vacations

Another good long term plant-sitting strategy is to gather plants together in a kiddie pool placed in a shady spot in the back yard. Add an inch or 2 of water to the bottom of the pool. Finish this off with a wrapper of clear plastic. Plants can live in this makeshift greenhouse for a couple of weeks.

Other Strategies

There are several clever vacation watering devices on the market that incorporate recycled 2-liter soda bottles as water reservoirs with attached plastic or clay cones that gradually send water to the plants’ root zone. These are inexpensive and work well for individual plants. With a bit of ingenuity you can enjoy your vacation knowing that the plants are happily taking care of themselves.

If you are are in a situation where there are water restrictions, consider using ollas. Ollas (pronounced oy-yas) are porous, unglazed clay pots designed to be buried in loose soil. When the pots are filled with water, the moisture slowly wicks away from the pot into the soil to reach nearby plant roots.  Proponents of this irrigation method claim that you could save more water using ollas than even a drip system.

If your soil is hard or clay, amend it with organic material and maybe a little sand. You can also put your ollas in your raised garden beds or even containers. If you want some of the ollas to show for decoration, just be sure to glaze or paint the exposed surface with a water-impermeable coating. Color and design are up to you.

Article Courtesy of: Scotts Miracle-Gro Company
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