If you are an avid gardener and attached to your garden with a virtual umbilical cord, leaving it for any period of time to go out of town for vacation is very hard, especially in spring/summer when the garden needs your attention almost every day. So if you are going on vacation how can you prepare your garden before you leave it?
Sometimes you do need to leave your garden for a business trip, family vacation or other travel. We recently had to travel for a conference I was attending through my job in IT and we decided to take the opportunity of being off our island to also visit family for a few days, so we were away for a full 8 days.
Finding a reliable caretaker
You should try and find someone reliable who has the time and can take care of your garden while you are away. Ideally this would be another gardener as fanatic as you. However that has it’s downside too as that gardener may be busy with their own garden. In any case reliability and knowing how to take care of your garden is the most important.
Ask family, friends, neighbours or colleagues at work. You may want to be careful about asking complete strangers including those you find online on sites such as Craigslist – after all you will be telling them that you will be away and leaving an empty house.
You may want to pay them for their time and work, although if they are a family member, friend or good neighbour they may not accept your money. In that case make sure that you purchase a nice souvenir or gift from the place you travel to. Up to you how much to spend but please don’t pick some cheap trinket that obviously didn’t cost much.
Depending on your climate and the weather reports you may be able to rely on Mother Nature to supply your plants with enough water while you are gone. For container plants that normally do not get rain you may want to prepare by moving them temporarily away from roof overhangs and large trees so that they do get rain. This is a bit more difficult if you have a greenhouse like I have and you can’t move those plants outside, especially if the daytime and nighttime temperatures are not yet high enough. And be careful about moving plants that need shade into a more sunny spot.
You just need one or two very sunny, warm days that maybe were not forecast to put some of your plants in jeopardy of drying out, especially your container plants. So relying on rain is not the most dependable method.
Ideally you should have an automatic watering system, not only for times when you are away from home but also it reduces the time you need to spend watering everything during the dry times of year. This can be an inground sprinkler system like what I have or a drip irrigation system hooked up to a water tap through a simple timer. Test the system thoroughly weeks BEFORE you go on vacation as you want it to be reliable while you are away. Make sure your caretaker knows how to turn it off during rainy weather so you cane save some water costs and avoid drowning your plants.
If you don’t have an automated system your caretaker will likely then have to water everything. Therefore they should be good at knowing when plants need water. Provide them with watering cans, hoses and spray heads and ensure they know where these are. If you have rainwater harvesting barrels, make sure they know how to get water out of them (this water is usually preferred over using tap water). I filled up my water barrel in my greenhouse to make this easier for my caretaker but also gave them the option of just using the hose instead of having to fill a watering can many times.
Use other methods of conserving your plants’ moisture such as mulching. For container plants during dry, hot weather place high capacity drip trays underneath the containers where possible – these can be filled with water and then the pots can wick up the moisture as they need it. Other ideas such as filling a 2 liter soda bottle and pricking a few holes in the lid and inserting that in the pot upside down may help. Shading plants to keep them from being exposed to direct sun could help too so long they are plants that can tolerate some shade. You probably don’t want to do this with sun-loving plants for more than a few days.
And remember to water everything well before you go – that way if the caretaker can’t make it out to your place right away your plants have some protection against drying out.
Unless you are away for several weeks (and I really would not advise this during the active growing season unless it is not avoidable), help out your caretaker by fertilizing your container plants before you leave. If you use water soluable fertilizers add them to the water when you water the pots.
You can of course show the caretaker where your fertilizer is kept but ensure that they know how much to mix with water or know the application rates for granular fertilizer. Prepare for this by writing this info down and keeping it with the fertilizer. Include measuring cups to make it foolproof. Organic fertilizers, especially the slow release kind, are preferred as they have less potential to burn your plants in case of accidental over-application.
Depending on the season and what you have planted there may be some vegetables and even fruit ripening. Encourage your caretaker to pick what ripens and either consume themselves or refrigerate or freeze it for you. Provide them with containers/bags as a courtesy. Where possible avoid leaving home during the major harvest seasons for fruit if you have fruit trees. For instance when the peaches are ripe someone needs to pick them and eat or preserve them right away otherwise they will fall down and suffer damage.
You may not want to be bothered during your vacation for any problems that occur in your garden – bad news may ruin the rest of your vacation. Or in some cases you may have no way to be contacted or be able to check your email depending on where you are traveling and what communication devices you bring with you.
However if you are able and willing to stay in communication with your caretaker, prepare and make sure they have your contact info. You may want to instruct them what form of communication to use for various levels of problems – only calling you for instance if there is a major issue that has caused significant damage (such as a water leak, a tree falling on your house, etc) and emailing you for more minor issues (the sprinkler system isn’t working, a plant is looking sick, etc) or if they need some advice that is not time sensitive.
What to do when you come back home
Depending on your trip/vacation you may be tired when you get home. Here are a few things in order of priority that you should take care of as soon as you can:
- Communicate with the caretaker and get some info from them on any problems encountered, plants that need immediate attention and a summary of the weather and general conditions while you were away (if you are a very passionate gardener you were probably keeping up with the weather news in your hometown anyways).
- Do a quick walkthrough the garden and note down anything that needs immediate attention.
- Water everything well (this will depend on how good your caretaker was with doing so and/or if there was adequate rain while you were away). Fertilize as necessary.
- Harvest what you need to assuming your caretaker left you with something to harvest! This also includes pruning back any plants that grew out of control or bolted due to heat.
- Take care of any bug or pest infestations. Do any weeding.
- Pay the caretaker if that was the arrangement or give them the souvenirs or gifts you brought back from your trip and be sure to express your gratitude for their care and attention. If there was something they did wrong or forgot to do, bring this up tactfully with them (you never know the reason why -maybe they were ill, busy or under some kind of stress or you didn’t provide them with enough instruction before your trip). If you think they did a really poor job, pick someone else next time.
Is there anything else that you do to prepare your garden for your absence? Please add a comment and share your tips.
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