By Su Reid-St. John
Sure, that beach vacation you’ve been planning is going to feel like heaven to you – but it won’t to your garden. That’s because a week or two without the usual TLC can leave your plants feeling dry and wilted, not to mention vulnerable to all sorts of critters and ailments. But your time away doesn’t have to spell doom for your veggies and herbs. Just follow these tips from regional extension agent Gary Gray of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for top-notch garden care while on vacation, so you’ll return to happy, healthy plants.
Put in an irrigation system. The biggest hurdle facing your garden while you’re away is getting enough water. Overcome it by installing drip irrigation in all of your beds and pots (soaker hoses are another option, though they tend to be less efficient), then add a timer so the system will turn on and off automatically.
Add mulch. Putting mulch around all of your plants not only helps control weeds, but it’ll help retain moisture by putting a barrier between the soil and the hot air. So if you haven’t mulched already, do so before you leave. Good options include wheat straw, pine straw, finely ground pine bark (also known as soil conditioner), and leaf compost. Or, for a touch of color, lay down some Scotts Nature Scapes mulch.
Draft a garden assistant. Nothing can replace having a pair of actual eyes on the garden. Make a deal with a trustworthy friend or neighbor: They agree to care for the garden on a daily basis (watering, weeding, looking for problems, etc.), and in return they get to take home everything that’s ready to harvest. Ask them to text you photos of anything suspicious (a strange bug, a spot on a leaf), and have them over a couple of times before you leave to shadow you as you tend the garden.
Feed the plants. Give your garden an extra helping of nutrients pre-trip. Use liquid fertilizer for a quick boost, and also give a dose of granular fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro Shake ‘N Feed, if you plan to be gone more than a week. Be sure to follow the application directions on the package.
Inspect the garden. If you want to return to a healthy garden, you’ll need to make sure you leave it in good shape. Look closely at your plants, at their color and vigor. Are some of the older leaves looking a little yellow and in need of a bit of nitrogen? Are there aphids on the tomato plants that could use a spritz of insecticidal soap? Any weeds that need pulling? Whatever you find, take care of it.
Plan some post-trip garden time. As soon as possible after your return, go spend some time with your plants. Give them a good watering if they need it, then pull all the weeds that have cropped up. Most importantly, look carefully at every (yes, every) leaf on every plant for problems that might’ve sprung up – or simply become more obvious – while you were away. Pinch off any dead or questionable leaves, then deal with any insect or disease issues. Finally, hello harvest time!