Gardening: 7 tips for keeping your garden in shape while you are on holiday
Nobody wants to come home to shrivelled up pots and plants. Hannah Stephenson reveals some simple steps to limit the damage
GOING away on holiday is always a headache for gardeners, who fear their container plants will frazzle in the heat, fruit and vegetables will wither and die and they'll return to grass which looks like a hay field.
So, what measures can you take to protect your plants while you're away? Here are seven ways to keep your garden taken care of while you're away...
1. Find a friendly neighbour: Get a friend or relative to water your plants for you while you're away, preferably a neighbour who can pop in daily and is perhaps a fellow gardener, so the favour can be reciprocated. If you are growing fruit and veg, reward them with some of your harvest, or give them some cut flowers from your garden as a thank you on your return. Alternatively, if there are any responsible teenagers on your street who are looking for pocket money jobs, they might be willing to do it for a small fee.
2. Huddle containers together: Patio containers are among the trickiest elements to sustain if you don't have someone to do your watering, as they rely totally on you for their moisture. You'll need to give them a thorough soaking before you go away (and hopefully you'll have added some slow-release water granules to your compost when planting), and then put them in saucers in the shade, huddled together, to create a microclimate and increase humidity.
If you didn't put water-retaining gel into the compost initially, then lift the compost and plant out carefully if you can, adding some of the crystals to the compost. Water-retaining crystals will also soak up water if it rains while you're away. Try not to put your pots right next to the house, where there may be an overhang, because if there is any rain you want them to be exposed to it.
Deadhead the plants thoroughly before you go, even removing the flowers which are just in bud, as this encourages further growth and hopefully you will come back to fresh blooms. Where practical, dig a hole in a shady border and place smaller pots rim deep into it, giving them and the surrounding soil a good watering, so they can absorb moisture from their surroundings.
3. Take down hanging baskets: Hanging baskets are the most vulnerable containers while you're away, as they dry out very quickly, and in the height of summer need watering twice a day. So take them down and dig a hole in a shady border to sit the basket in, giving the basket and the surrounding soil a really good soak before you go, giving all the plants in it a good trim and hopefully surrounding plants will provide some shelter from the midday sun.
4. Consider using capillary matting: With indoor plants, place a piece of capillary matting in the bottom of the kitchen sink, bath or a tray and give it a good soaking, then place smaller pot plants on it, which should soak up the moisture in their roots. You can also use capillary matting with smaller outdoor pot plants, grouping them on one end of a sheet of saturated capillary matting and dipping the other end into a bucket of water, so that plants slowly wick up the water as they need it.
5. Install an irrigation system: There are many irrigation systems on the market, some which can be controlled by an app, with high-tech sensors which assess the soil dryness and can tell when plants need watering – such as the Hozelock Cloud Controller Kit (currently from £95.81, Amazon).
If you've just a few pots, consider water globes, which can be filled and then placed upside down and their hollow spikes pushed into the soil, releasing as much water as the plant needs.
6. Freeze or call in a favour for fruit and veg: Water everything thoroughly before you go and keep your fingers crossed that fruit and veg will be in good shape when you return. Pick as much as you can a couple of days beforehand and freeze what you can't use. To be honest, this is where you really could do with kindly neighbours to help you out and offer them the harvest that they pick.
7. Don't worry about established shrubs and lawns: Your lawn may look tatty when you get home but it will recover when the autumn rain comes. Also, established trees and shrubs will be well-rooted and should be able to find water deep down. Some shrubs may become stressed, but if you give them a good soak when you get home, they will recover.