9 Tips To Keep Your Garden Going While On Vacation

It might seem unthinkable, but your garden can survive while you're out of town. Here are tips on planning ahead and finding help.

by Lisa Steele
PHOTO: Kevin D. Clarke/Flickr

Many of us grow vegetable gardens so we can enjoy fresh produce. But gardens need tending, especially during peak summer-vacation season. That can pose a problem.

Weeds threaten to take over my garden if I don’t get out there every few days, and if it’s exceedingly hot and doesn’t rain at least every other day, I have to water. Produce also needs to be picked before it over-ripens or birds and bunnies take a nibble. So what to do if you are going on vacation? It’s a shame to start seeds and watch them grow and flourish only to miss out on harvesting your bounty. Here are some tips on keeping your garden going when you’re on vacation so you don’t return to find your vegetable patch ruined.

1. Water Well and Mulch

Just before leaving on vacation, give your garden a really good watering and then mulch around the base of each plant to help retain moisture. Depending on how long you’re gone and how hot it is while you’re away, you might return to wilted plants, but hopefully you won’t lose any. The mulch will also help keep the weeds down.

2. Equip a Non-Traveling Family Member to Help

Rebecca Sweet of Harmony in the Garden is a landscape designer, public speaker and author who shared the following advice.

“As a public speaker, I spend a fair amount of time traveling and have devised a simple way to help my non-gardening husband keep a watchful eye on my garden,” she says. “Even though the majority of my garden is hooked up to automatic irrigation, there are always a few containers or areas of my garden that rely on hand-watering. To help catch my husband’s attention, I place a few ‘indicator’ plants in containers near the back door. Indicator plants are those that wilt much faster than others (such as hydrangea or lettuce). One look at them on a hot day and he knows it’s time to get the hose out!”

This is a great tip, especially if you have a willing helper who isn’t a confident gardener. An indicator plant makes it easy for them to know how much and how often to water.

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3. Install an Automatic Irrigation System

An automatic irrigation system, as mentioned above, is a great way to ensure your garden stays well-hydrated. Kits aren’t that expensive and are easy to install. The irrigation system won’t solve the problem of your vegetables over ripening on the vines, but it might be easier to recruit a neighbor to just come pick every few days if they don’t have to worry about watering, too.

4. Put a Timer on your Soaker Hose or Sprinkler

If an irrigation system is too high-tech for you, it’s even easier to install a timer on a soaker hose or sprinkler. Again, you’ll still have to recruit a picker, but at least your garden will be watered.

5. Find a Garden Buddy

Mike Podlesney, host of the Mike the Gardener podcasts and founder of Seeds of the Month Club has this advice:

“My neighbor looks out for my garden for me. Although I turn the water off to the main house, I leave the line open to the hose hookup outside so my neighbor can water if necessary. He comes over and checks to see if anything needs to be picked. And I’m doing the same for him this week while he’s on vacation.”

6. Make Self-Watering Jugs

Save up your milk, soda and water jugs prior to your vacation. Water your garden well just before you leave, then poke a few holes in the bottom of each jug, fill with water and place around your garden with the mouth of each jug pushed several inches into the ground. The water will drip out of the jugs slowly while you’re gone and keep the soil moist.

7. Time your Harvest

This takes a bit of planning, but if you have enough advance notice of vacation plans, you can try to time your harvest to occur before you leave. Most seed packets list the days to germination and days to harvest, so just count backwards from several days before you will be leaving (to give you time to eat, can or freeze your harvest before you go) to figure out when you need to plant. Start your seeds indoors if you need to get a jumpstart. Alternatively, time things so your vegetables won’t be ready to harvest until after you return. This will allow you more time to can or preserve your bounty once you get back home.

8. Time your Vacation

Of course, this whole issue can be avoided if you go on vacation in the winter. Why leave your beautiful home in the summer anyway when everything is blooming, it’s warm and sunny, and you have a glut of fresh produce to eat? Go away in the dead of winter instead when you need a break from the cold and snow!

9. Feed the Wild

Lastly, if none of these tips are feasible for you, then open up your garden for the week and let the rabbits, deer and other wild animals have a feast! Then plan on letting your chickens and ducks (if you raise them) into the garden when you return to clean up what’s left. At least nothing will go to waste!

Each of these tips is good on its own, but combining a few can also be effective to help your garden get through your absence. Also remember to cage or stake any plants that will need that extra support while you’re gone … and enjoy your trip!

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