You’re off on your summer holidays, but will the garden cope without you? Weekender offers tips to ensure that having a break doesn’t mean breaking your garden
It’s the same every year; the garden reaches its peak with borders bursting into bloom, patio plants beginning their dazzling displays, and fruits swelling in the vegetable garden – and then you go on holiday for two weeks...
Of course, if you have friendly neighbours or family nearby who can water and deadhead your plants while you’re away, then you don’t have much to worry about. Their reward can be harvesting some of your vegetables, or treating themselves to a bunch of cut flowers from your plot. If they help themselves to crops that need regular picking, like beans and courgettes, the plants should still be cropping well for when you return home too.
But if you don’t have such kindly helpers, how are your plants going to manage in your absence? Luckily, there are some measures you can take to help your plants survive for a while without you.
If you have patio plants, water them well before you go away, maybe even dunking the pot into a bigger bucket of water so it soaks the compost completely from below, then put all the pots together (this encourages humidity) in a shady spot so there’s less evaporation while you’re away.
If you have space, dig a small hole in the border soil in a shady spot and rest your hanging basket in the hole, watering it well so it is completely soaked. Some of the escaping water will moisten the soil underneath, helping keep your plants damp.
If you haven’t invested in automatic irrigation systems you can set up a temporary automatic watering system by submerging strips of capillary matting in a trug full of water and then running the end of the strips to your containers. The matting absorbs and holds water which can be drawn up by the soil in the pots. Set the system up a week before you go to ensure it’s working.
Alternatively, cover the soil surface with water-absorbing gel, watering it so that it swells and absorbs water. This provides a protective barrier to stop water evaporating from the compost and also gives the compost some moisture.
Remove all open flowers from healthy bedding plants so they produce a flush of new blooms on your return and feed them with a liquid fertiliser. Don’t be tempted to give them any extra feed. You can take the shears to some annuals, trimming off the old blooms to make way for new buds to develop.
You can also cover container plants with greenhouse shade netting to reduce water loss – but don’t do this in the front garden or it will show you’re away.
Cut the grass and trim the edges before you go and it will survive quite happily without you. If it’s long on your return, raise the mower blades for the first cut and gradually lower them over the next two or three.
Established borders should be all right without water for a week or two, as the roots of established plants will go deep into the soil for moisture. However, make sure you weed before you go. Give the area a good water and then mulch with organic matter.