Here in the UK it’s traditional to take a couple of weeks off work over the summer and head off to somewhere with better weather – or at least somewhere that you can get away from it all for a little while. It’s one of the ironies of life that this takes you away from the garden at a time when it really could use your help. If you have a gardening neighbour then you can rely on them to take care of your garden while you’re away, but if you don’t and don’t want to come home to dead plants, weeds and giant marrows then there are a few things you can do to prepare your garden for your absence.
- A few weeks before your holiday, take a relaxed stroll around the garden and the house and take a few notes about which plants might need some extra help while you’re away. Consider ordering some capillary matting, which (once you have immersed one end in a water reservoir like the kitchen sink or even the bath!) will quite happily keep plants in pots watered until the reservoir runs dry.
- Remember to stop sowing seeds, as seedlings require a lot of care and attention and are unlikely to survive for long without you. Start hardening off, potting up and planting out your existing stock of seedlings so that they have a better chance at life. You should also think about potting on anything that’s in a small container, as a larger volume of soil or potting compost will provide water and nutrients for longer.
- Outside in the garden, take the time to water well and create a natural reservoir of water in the soil. Add a surface mulch of bark chips, compost or even black plastic, to stop water evaporating and to help keep the root zone cool. Start moving containers into the shadier and sheltered areas of the garden, where they will dry out less quickly, and think about erecting temporary shades or wind breaks to protect vulnerable plants in the ground.
- Plants like beans and courgettes stop cropping once they are allowed to produce mature seeds, so harvest all of the fruits you can see – even if they’re small – before you go if no one else will be picking them. By the time you get home there will be fresh new crops ready and waiting for you. In a similar vein, consider dead-heading flowers so that you come home to fresh blooms rather than self-sown seedlings all over the garden.
- Keep on top of the weeding and make sure your pest defences are top notch and ready to withstand attacks while your back is turned. If there’s a particular pest that’s always around in your garden then have a look and see whether you can apply a biological control that will release an army of beneficial insects to fight on your behalf.
- Open cold frames and remove cloches so that plants don’t overheat. If they still need protection then consider mesh tunnels or fleece, which will keep out the worst of any bad weather while allowing air and water to penetrate.
- In the greenhouse, check that your automatic vents are working properly and make time to apply your summer shading before you go. You could fit an automatic watering system, but it still makes sense to move anything hardy enough outside where it will benefit from any rain and cooler temperatures.
- And in the last couple of days before you leave, sow seeds that take a couple of weeks to germinate – slow growers like parsley, tomatoes or peppers. Laid out in a propagator or sealed in a plastic bag they will stay moist, and they’ll be happy enough indoors and out of direct sunlight. They should germinate just before you get back, and you’ll have saved a fortnight of waiting!
Once you’ve done your best to protect your garden then you can go away with a clear conscience and not worry about what awaits you on your return. Remember that it’s rare for anything truly catastrophic to happen and when you come home you can replace any dead plants, compost any overgrown produce, sow more seeds and carry on gardening!