It's vacation time. You're taking a breather from work, but all the container plants, flowerbeds and houseplants you've worked so hard to plant and keep beautiful this spring are staring you in the face. How can you take time away from the garden without disrupting all the progress your garden has made? Follow the tips below to make sure your garden thrives even without your daily TLC.
Head to your local garden centre to stock up on drip-irrigation materials, mulch and a timer or two to connect to your outdoor faucet. Vegetable gardens and flower beds are the easiest to drip irrigate. Weave lengths of drip tape or "leaky pipe" through the plants and cover the beds -- including the irrigation -- with an 8 cm (3") layer of mulch. Shredded bark, such as Scotts® Nature Scapes® Colour Enhanced Mulch, is excellent mulch for retaining moisture and keeping weeds at bay. Attach your irrigation system to a timer at the faucet. Set it to turn on in the early morning hours to reduce evaporation.
Ideally, plants need at least 2.5 cm (1") of water per week. You can calculate how much water your sprinkler, soaker hose or drip irrigation system puts out with a rain gauge or a small, straight-sided can. Lay the can under the irrigation system and time how long it takes to fill 2.5 cm (1").
Container gardens and houseplants require a bit more attention and planning to ensure you come home to the same beautiful plants you left. Your goal is to keep water loss through the leaves to a minimum by keeping the humidity high around the plants and reducing stress caused by intense sunlight and temperature. If you're going away for a just a few days, simply give plants a thorough soaking. You can group them together to retain humidity and position them in a shady location outdoors or in the bathtub.
A longer-term strategy for your container plants is to gather plants together in an empty kiddie pool placed in a shady spot in the backyard. Add 2.5-5 cm (1-2") of water to the bottom of the pool. Plants should do well for one to two weeks.
There are several clever vacation watering devices on the market that use recycled 2-liter soda bottles as water reservoirs with attached plastic or clay cones, which gradually send water to the plants' root zone. You can also simply use a plastic bottle, poking small holes in the bottom with a nail and filling it with water, then placing it on top of the soil in your containers. The water will slowly seep into the soil. Adjust the size of the bottle according to the size and water needs of individual plants. These are free or inexpensive methods and work well for individual plants. With a bit of planning and ingenuity you can enjoy your vacation knowing that the plants are happily taking care of themselves.