University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
PREPPING YOUR GARDEN FOR
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Of course we’re not talking about
getting your garden ready to take a vacation, but rather to survive
take one. How long you will be away, as
well as what kinds of plants and gardens you have, will determine
need to think about more than just watering.
If you’ll only be gone for a
day or two, as on a long weekend, you may not need to do much at
all. Container plantings and pots (I always seem
to have some large plants that haven’t gotten in the ground yet)
will need the
most attention during vacations, even if short.
If you’re gone just a few days, you can just move them out of the
into a shady site, or even a cool garage.
They’ll lose much less water there.
If soil is showing in large containers, cover with an inch or two of
mulch such as pine bark or cocoa shells. Or, if not too large, you can
pots up to their rims into a bed or pile of wood chips or bark, and
If you know early in the season, when
planting, that you may be taking a vacation later, put into the potting
some water absorbing gels. These
especially are great in hanging baskets, even if you aren’t going
vacation. They absorb water, releasing
it to the mix as it dries. Keep in mind too that clay pots will dry out
quicker than plastic ones.
Another option is to plant into self-watering
containers. These are especially popular
with houseplants. They often consist of
a pot with a false bottom, to which water is added, and that wicks up
soil through a fabric of some sort. You
can even make one of these yourself. There are other devices you
buy, or make,
that basically wick water from a bucket or tube into the pot. You
find a plastic tube with holes to
screw on a large soda bottle filled with water, that you invert
push into the soil. The water will slowly drip from the holes in
the tube into the soil over a day or more.
the garden, watering well before you leave may last a week, depending
weather. Best is to start watering early
in the season, as needed, deeply and less often. This will
“train” the plants to not need
water daily, the roots going deeper and not growing just near the
surface. If you have lots of plants and gardens, too
many to all water if it doesn’t rain, just focus on the new
year, vegetables, and more special (or expensive) trees and
shrubs. Even a couple inches of organic mulch, such
as bark or pine needles, and straw in the vegetable garden, will help
moisture and slow down weeds from coming up.
Lay a lightweight white fabric, as used for frost protection, over
annuals and vegetables to help retain moisture, slow down water loss
leaves, and help keep away insect pests.
you’ll be gone for longer periods, or vacation more often, you
may want to
invest in an automatic watering system.
More expensive are ones you have professionally installed, that may
run off mini computers, similar to athletic fields and golf
courses. Rather inexpensive, on the other hand, are
soaker hoses made of recycled materials.
Water slowly seeps out of these hoses that you lay throughout the beds,
or along garden rows under mulch. You
can have a house sitter turn these on as directed or needed, or you can
on timers. The timers are relatively
inexpensive devices, found at many home and garden stores, that you put
faucet and then attach to the hose.
want to plan a few weeks out to make sure your beds are weeded,
will take up water your plants need, will create competitive stress for
and may be hard to get under control
once you’re home again. Then check
plants a couple days before leaving to make sure no pests, and treat if
addition to watering, you’ll want to make sure your lawn is mowed
leaving. This may last a week or 10
days, depending on weather. You don’t
want to mow extra low, as this will only stress the grass. Better
to have it be high when you return,
then mow once again and again lower in a few days. Beware if you
have a well-meaning friend mow
that they don’t scalp your lawn either!
you have repellents out for deer, make sure to rotate them or add new
ones. They are quick learners, and if
they learn that a noise or smell isn’t an issue, they’ll
move in to feed while
you’re away. If you have a smell
repellent, move it elsewhere and add another type. Lights and
sound especially should be rotated
every few days around the garden.
you have herbs, pinch flowers off so new growth will develop. If
they’re ready to harvest, do so and dry
while you’re away. Pick any produce from
the garden or fruits that are ripe, or that can continue to ripen once
picked. Otherwise they can get too
large, lose flavor, rot, fall off, and cause disease. Letting a
plant sitter harvest your garden
while you’re gone may be an enticing benefit for them to help
plant within a month or so before going on vacation, so you’ll be
water and tend the plantings until they become somewhat
established. Don’t fertilize annuals just before
as this will just stimulate new growth that needs more water. You
can if you’ll have a reliable plant
sitter tending them daily. Wait until cooler at the end of the season
fertilize perennials. Don’t fertilize
shrubs and trees in the north after the first part of July, as doing so
stimulate new growth that doesn’t harden properly before fall.
you’ll be gone for more than a few days,
or have lots of containers that dry out quickly,
you may need to
line up a plant sitter. Make it easy on
them, starting with a list so they don’t forget certain
plants or tasks. Walk through what needs
doing, such as how much water to add.
Group containers so they’re easier to water, even into lower and
water groups. You might even consider banding with friends or neighbors
can work together to take turns tending each others gardens while
away. Don’t forget to bring back a thank you gift
for your plant sitter!