Leaving your garden to take a summer holiday can strike fear into the hearts of anyone who has nurtured, fussed and perhaps even talked to their plants to coax them into a great show. You won’t get any judgement from me on that front. I put as much care into finding someone to care for my plants as I do into finding a dogsitter.
Established perennial gardens will handle some benign neglect while you’re gone, but container plantings are another story. If you’ve set up a drip irrigation system you’ll have fewer worries, although it might be a little bit like worrying if you’ve left the stove on in that you probably want someone to double check that all is functioning properly while you’re gone.
Most gardeners are going to need someone to pinch hit on watering duties while they are gone, especially if their vacation falls in mid- to late-summer when plants have put on a lot of growth and temperatures are soaring. Even a steady rain doesn’t do a good job watering a container packed with plants because much of the water never gets to the soil.
The trick is to make it as easy as possible for whoever you’re going to get to water by doing what you can to limit the amount of times they need to come. Start by grouping together any pots small enough to move in a partly shady location. Even full sun plants will be fine for a week or two in those conditions and they’ll require less watering. Hanging baskets, which at this time of year can require twice daily watering, can be taken down and carefully set on top an overturned pot near other plants so your watering can will hit them all quickly without having to drag a hose or a watering can all over the yard. Large containers usually need less frequent watering, so many should be fine going a few days in between watering.
Right before you leave is a good time to do a little maintenance as well. Deadhead any flowers in containers that require it, even cutting flowers that are still looking good (perhaps to leave as a little bouquet for your waterer), because they’ll surely be spent by the time you get home. You’re probably fertilizing containers once a week or more at this stage in the summer, but your plants will be fine if they miss a week while you’re gone. Rather than ask your waterer to do one more task while you’re gone, make sure to fertilize right before you leave.
It’s also a fabulous opportunity to give leggy annuals a trim. This is a great way to rejuvenate plants, but it leaves them looking a little sparse for a short time, so doing this before you leave means you’ll come home to happy plants that will soon be looking their best.
Make sure you give your waterer instructions on how to water your containers. I even went so far as to make a quick video on my phone for our plant caretaker before I left on my last trip. I also left the watering can right next to the hose so she didn’t have to hunt for it to water the containers the hose doesn’t reach. And don’t forget to pick up a little something for your waterer on your travels. If you keep them happy you won’t need to train a new waterer next year.
Keep it simple, leave some good instructions and then enjoy that vacation. Your plants will be fine without you for a bit and you’ll come home full of inspiration and ready to jump into gardening again. And you can tell your plants all about your trip while you fuss over them.
Erin Schanen gardens in the shadow of Lake Michigan in southeastern Wisconsin, zone 5a, where she grows a little bit of everything from annuals to vegetables. She’s learned to embrace the seasonal qualities of the area although retains the right to gripe about the weather like any good Midwesterner. You can find her on her blog The Impatient Gardener (www.theimpatientgardener.com).