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How to keep the garden watered when you’re on holiday
For many gardeners, the main concern about taking a holiday away from home is the effect it will take on their gardens. The thought of coming home to knee-high grass, wilting fruit and dried out pot plants is enough to put anyone off. But if you take a few simple precautions there’s no need to worry.
The big issue for most gardeners is how are the plants going to get enough water. If you’re lucky you might have a neighbour who can help. If not, here are some suggestions on how to keep everything wet.
Keeping your containers going
Plants in containers like hanging baskets are completely reliant on the water you give them. So before you go away try covering the soil surface with water-absorbing gel. It will swell when you give the basket a good drink, keeping the compost wet and preventing water being evaporated. Also, the crystals in the gel will soak up and hold lots of water if it rains while you are away.
The easiest way to water a collection of houseplants is to lay a piece of capillary matting on the draining board and lead it down into the sink. Leave the plugin, run a couple of inches of water into the sink and submerge one end of the matting. The water will be absorbed through and up the matting, keeping the pot plants moist through capillary action.
Moving all containers into the shade means they will need watering less. Also, grouping container plants together will increase humidity around them, which helps reduce the amount of water needed.
Where possible, you could try burying pots rim-deep into the soil so that they can absorb moisture from the ground. Alternatively, over-pot small containers into a larger one filled with moist compost.
Smaller pots also can be stood on capillary matting as described for houseplants. However, pots over 15cm in diameter will not get sufficient water this way, so you’ll need to adapt the technique a little.
Lay a sheet of polythene over a flat surface such as paving.
Raise the edges of the sheet using bricks or planks of wood to create a large shallow reservoir.
Use a screwdriver to push narrow strips (about 5cm wide) of capillary matting through the drainage holes of each container, leaving a 15cm tail out the bottom.
Support each container on bricks in the reservoir with the wicks (tails) draped down onto the polythene.
Then fill the reservoir with water.
Finally, water each container thoroughly (the pots will then draw the water they need from the reservoir via their capillary tails).
Keeping your garden going
Now that the containers are sorted, it’s time to start thinking about the rest of the garden. If you’re up-to-date with your gardening chores, most areas won’t suffer from being left to their own devices for a week or two.
However, there are a few tricks you can use to make sure the garden is looking good when you get back.
Most standard or family lawns will cope perfectly well if you’re going on holiday for up to a fortnight. Mow and trim just before you leave and be ready to do the same on your return. Don’t worry about watering a lawn – it will survive however dry it gets. Higher-quality lawns need mowing more often to keep them in good condition, so either ask a friend to do the job for you or arrange for a professional contractor to visit while you’re away.
Beds and borders
The main problem here is weeds. If allowed to flower and set seed they will be a pain for years afterwards. So make sure you clear all weeds, including seedlings just before you go. Then cover any bare soil between plants with a thick layer of loose organic mulch to prevent further weeds – it will also help the soil retain moisture.
Any vacant ground can be covered with a sheet of black polythene or old carpet to prevent weed seeds from germinating.
Plants growing in the ground will not need watering unless they have been recently planted. The roots of new trees and shrubs, in particular, will need to be kept moist until settled in. If you’ve got someone looking after the garden in your absence, make sure they’re clear about which plants to water.
If you don’t want to miss the peak display of flowering in your garden, you can delay the best show by deadheading all repeat-flowering plants, like roses, before you leave. This will mean they’re coming to a climax once more when you return.
Similarly, use a pair of shears to trim out older blooms in the beds. This will allow new buds to develop, ready to open in a few weeks time.
As long as a water feature is not being run while you’re away, there’s no need to top up the reservoir. However, during thundery, humid weather conditions, water can become depleted of oxygen – meaning fish can become stressed, gulping for air at the surface. You can prevent this from happening by asking your neighbour to spray a hosepipe into the pond (disturbing the surface will improve the levels of oxygen in the water).
Also before going on holiday, it’s a good idea to clear away any yellowing pads from Water Lilies and remove fading flowers from all pond plants to prevent them rotting in the water. What’s more, don’t forget to clear ponds of algae.
Fruit and vegetables
A lot of vegetable crops will suffer if they run short of water. If you can’t arrange for them all to be watered while you are away, make sure supplies are concentrated on those that produce pods (like peas and beans) and fruit (like tomatoes). Leafy crops, such as lettuce, are also worth keeping well watered otherwise they may run to seed.
Watering thoroughly before you go and mulching all bare soil between rows and individual plants is often sufficient if the weather is not too hot.
Some vegetables, particularly runner beans, courgettes and tomatoes need to be picked regularly to make sure the plants continue to produce new pods or fruits. This can be a sweet reward to offer the person who’s looking after your garden while you are away. However, if you have to leave it unattended, make sure you remove all ripening tomatoes and swelling pods from runner beans before you go.
To get the best harvests from your fruit crops, they need to be kept well watered while the fruit is swelling. Again a thorough watering and a thick mulch will work wonders.
Concentrate any additional water on crops trained against walls because there the soil is more prone to drying out.