It's that time of year when you just can't wait to shut down the computer and say 'I'm outta here', relax, think of nothing, and be in the moment, right? It's a tough time to leave a garden though (my personal place of respite when I am not vacationing). The garden is in full swing, it is probably in constant need of water, harvesting and regular TLC and it is a crying shame to go away and come back to find all your hard work from the spring and early summer ruined by a couple summer scorchers while you rested. I just had the experience...I know I cried when even after hiring someone to care for things (notably, not a gardener but a cat sitter) I returned to a vegetable garden that looked like a wheat field with thigh high weed grass taking over, plants that were munched by critters and everything looking a little stunted and wilted. It's no way to arrive home, so here are a few tips for getting your garden through your vacation:
If you have some cash, hire a garden babysitter (or enlist a garden savvy neighbor who you can trade favors with). The best thing to do is look up 'fine gardening' services in your area. These are real gardeners and not the 'mow and blow' services that keep lawns in check and leaves removed. 'Fine gardening' services are not cheap (expect to pay anywhere from $30 - $45 an hour in most areas (but maybe more in urban centers) but you can expect that your garden will be weeded, watered, deadheaded, and generally loved as you would in your absence. Last summer I did this and came back to a garden better than I would have had if I hadn't left. This year though, I had to spend my house sitting dollars differently and instead of splashing out the garden babysitter, I needed to hire a kitty sitter that could stay over (old pets need more attention). Here are a few of the things I wish I did in hind sight:
Water, Water, Water (I mean really soak things).
This level of watering might take some time so depending on your garden you may need to start a few days before your departure.
Start by prioritizing. Trees and shrubs first, then perennials, then containers and annuals.
Trees and shrubs are more expensive to replace, and they are the backbone of the garden. If they are newly planted, this really important but if they have been in for a more than a year, you can rest easier on this one. To prepare new trees, plan to leave the sprinkler on these plants for hours at a time directly around the root system. Generally trees and shrubs need about an inch of water per week over their entire root system and watering them for long periods will make sure the water soaks not just the top inch or two of soil but the entire root ball, top to bottom. When you are done with this, mulch the root base well and you can feel pretty good about things for about 10 days to 2 weeks.
Perennial flower beds are second priority because financially they are are second in line in terms of cost to replace. If you have a sprinkler system you might be in the clear here, but if not, plan to give every bed a nice, deeper than normal, drink. Depending on the size of your garden this could really take some time (like days), so plan ahead.
Containers gardens can be made more manageable in your absence. Start by moving them into groups and out of baking sunlight. Grouping them will help them all with water loss and will make it easier for a caretaker (remember you are likely paying by the hour) to hand water. Also, you might be able to string a single soaker hose on a timer through all of them if they are clumped. If you are really ambitious, and you have space, you can bury them. Dig a hole, and put as many pots in it as you can then mulch all around it (right up over the rim of the container) and soak the mulch. This will keep moisture in and extend your time to be away.
Again water everything really well!!
Annuals are cheap and easy to replace. The amount of cost to have someone baby them while you are away is quite likely higher than getting new ones when you get back. I planned to sacrifice mine and surprisingly, when I got back from my recent trip some of them were thriving and now I have the fun of reworking their design.
In addition to all the watering, get you garden in top shape before you leave.
Prepare your flowers by dead-heading and treating for pests and diseases.
Use Preen or an Organic Weed Inhibitor (these work by not allowing weed seeds to germinate) any place where weeds can take hold. I really wish I had done this in my vegetable garden!! Weeds can grow fast and in as little as a week, you can have a garden that is overtaken.
And finally … go enjoy yourself.