Are you going away on vacation soon? Are you worried that your garden won’t survive? Learn simple tips and techniques to prepare your garden for vacation.
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It’s inevitable. Sometimes you need to leave your garden for a business trip, family vacation or other travel.
Often this will be in spring or summertime when the weather is nice and your children are out of school for spring break or summer holidays.
Unfortunately this is also the time when your garden needs you the most. So it is crucial to include your garden in your plans when you are preparing for vacation.
A bit of advance preparation, picking the right caretaker and being prompt with some tasks when you come back will assure the best survival of your garden.
Before you go
The most crucial part is the preparation before you go on your trip. You may want to start this process early so that you are not rushed on the last day before your vacation, scrambling to get everything in place.
Find 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. It’s up to you how much to spend, but please don’t pick up some cheap trinket that obviously didn’t cost much.
This is the most important task you will need to have done while your are away. If your plants do not get adequate water either through natural rainfall or supplemental watering, they will likely die.
Rely on Mother Nature?
Depending on your climate and the weather reports you may be able to rely on Mother Nature to supply your plants with enough water. 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. Like with us, they very likely will get sunburn.
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. This is 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 in-ground sprinkler system like what I have or a simple drip irrigation system hooked up to a water tap through a timer.
Test the system thoroughly weeks BEFORE you go on vacation as you want it to be working properly while you are away. Make sure your caretaker knows how to turn it off during rainy weather so you can save some water costs and avoid drowning your plants. Or consider adding a rain sensor to the system.
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. Prepare by providing them with watering cans, hoses and spray heads and ensure they know where these are.
If you have rainwater harvesting barrels, show them how to get water out of them as this water is usually preferred over using tap water. I usually fill up my water barrel in my greenhouse if we haven’t had any rainfall to make this easier for my caretaker to water the greenhouse plants. However I also give them the option of just using the hose located in the greenhouse, 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 are filled with water and then the pots 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 as long as 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, help out your caretaker by fertilizing your container plants before you leave. If you use water soluble fertilizers, add them to the water when you water the pots for the last time.
You can of course show the caretaker where your fertilizer is kept. 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.
Pest infestations usually take a few days to really impact a plant. However if you are away for a week or more, you definitely wouldn’t want to come back to completely eaten plants.
Make sure your caretaker knows what pests to expect in your garden (photos of pests would help if the caretaker is not familiar with the pests you might get in your garden) and how to deal with each one.
For instance provide your caretaker with some soapy water for aphids but also some photos of what a heavily infested plant looks like.
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.
If you have a pond or other water feature, there are a few things to keep in mind.
If a pump fails or a water feature leaks, make sure your caretaker knows where they can turn off the pump or unplug it.
Have fish? Be sure to provide detailed instructions on how to care for the fish. Usually it means providing them with the right amount of food. Make sure you have an adequate supply of food so your caretaker doesn’t need to buy any
While you are away
You probably don’t want to be bothered during your vacation for any minor problems that occur in your garden. Bad news may ruin the rest of your vacation. Or in some cases you have no way to be contacted due to a lack of services.
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. Perhaps they only call 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 email 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.
It is also advisable to leave them with the names and phone numbers of your plumber, electrician, arborist, insurance agent and any other professional that could help in an emergency.
When you come home
Depending on where you went on your vacation, you may be tired or jet-lagged when you get home. Rest up as much as you can but then head out into the garden to have a look.
Here are a few things in order of priority that you should take care of as soon as you can:
- Contact the caretaker and get some info from them on:
- any problems encountered
- plants that need immediate attention
- 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 on your vacation.
- Do a quick garden maintenance walk through the garden and note down anything that needs immediate attention.
- Water everything well if needed. Fertilize as necessary.
- Harvest what you need to, assuming your caretaker left you with something to harvest!
- Take care of any bug or pest infestations.
- Do any weeding.
- Pay the caretaker if that was the arrangement or give them their souvenirs or gifts. Be sure to express your gratitude for their care and attention so that you can ask them again. 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 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.
Going on vacation is necessary to recharge yourself. Leaving the garden in someone else’s hands can at first be hard to do.
However do some proper planning, pick the right caretaker and be positive that everything will survive. Then you’ll come back from vacation refreshed and enjoy discovering the changes your garden went through while you were away.
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Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC