You don’t have to come home to a garden in disarray. Here is how to keep it in shape while you’re away.
For many gardeners, the main concern about taking a holiday away from home is the effect it will have on their gardens.
The thought of coming home to knee high grass, wilting and dried out pot plants is enough to make any garden-proud person break out into a sweat.
But, Nick Stodel, MD of Stodels Garden Centre says, “if you take a few simple precautions there’s no need to worry.”
The big issue for most gardeners is around making sure plants get enough water.
Invest in a soil ‘wetter’
Reduce your water use by up to 50% with SaturAid Granular Soil Wetter – a sustained, slow release wetting agent, it makes water soak deep down to the root zone of garden beds, pots and lawns for stronger, deeper root systems and healthier plants and lawns.
It works immediately so watering, rainfall and liquid feeding are more effective, even in hard-to-wet sandy, clay or compacted soils and potting mixes.
SaturAid should be applied before summer but it’s never too to use it in your containers, pots and baskets and over the entire garden and lawn, paying special attention to dry spots. Re-apply every six months or more regularly if required. It is totally safe and non-toxic to all plant types.
Keeping your containers going
Plants in containers like hanging baskets are completely reliant on the water you give them so an irrigation system is the best; a good option is an easy to install drip from an irrigation pipe and a water computer.
Otherwise try covering the soil surface with water absorbing gel such as SaturAid which will keeping the soil wet and preventing water being evaporated. Also, 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 plug in, 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. 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.
1. Lay a sheet of polythene over a flat surface such as paving.
2. Raise the edges of the sheet using bricks or planks of wood to create a large shallow reservoir.
3. 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.
4. Support each container on bricks in the reservoir with the wicks (tails) draped down on to the polythene.
5. Then fill the reservoir with water.
6. Finally, water each container thoroughly (the pots will then draw the water they need from the reservoir via their capillary tails).
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. It might be a good idea to lower the height a little bit so it’s not too shaggy when you get back.
Be careful not to cut your lawns too low though or this will result in the bottom of the grass will get burnt.
• Water heavily after mowing. If you don’t have automatic sprinklers, try to give the lawn a good soaking before you leave to prevent browning out while you’re gone.
• Spot spray weeds. Any weeds that are there before you leave, will be bigger and uglier when you get back. Spot spraying with a selective herbicide before you leave will spare you a weed infested jungle upon returning from your trip.
• Don’t fertilize before you leave. A flush of growth is not what you want to be happening to your lawn while you’re gone besides which fertilized plants and lawns need water otherwise they might burn
• Don’t aerate, de-thatch or perform any other major cultural practices to your lawn right before leaving. The period immediately following these activities is an important time to monitor plant health and be on the look-out for stress induced decline.
Beds and borders
The main problem here is weeds. If allowed to flower and set seed they will be hard labour 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.
Mulching is a must
Mulched plants lose 25% less water than unmulched plants. If you already have a few inches of mulch on the garden bed, you probably don’t need to add more. You don’t want the mulch to be so deep that the crown of the plant is buried. In this case, just be sure that the soil beneath the mulch is wet several inches below the surface. Push your shovel through and check in several spots.
Any vacant ground can be covered with a sheet of black polythene or old carpet to prevent weed seed 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 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.