It’s hard to pull ourselves away from our gardens at the height of the growing season, but summer is also prime time for vacation and we all need to take breaks periodically to unwind and reset. Here are steps you can take to prepare your garden so you can enjoy your vacation without ever having to worry about what’s happening to your plants while you’re away.
Though the first two years of the pandemic were an exception, it’s normal for me to be on the road frequently for speaking engagements and to film my public television program “Growing a Greener World®.” Just recently, I went to England for 10 days to lead garden tours, but I could go away confident that my plants would be OK without me because I’ve learned how to put my garden on autopilot.
All it takes is a little planning and some proactive steps, and your garden will thrive while you are away. It will then be exciting to come back and see how much your garden has grown and changed.
This week’s episode is an encore of a podcast first presented a few years ago. For a comprehensive look at the vacation-prep advice contained in this episode, you can read the show notes from the original presentation.
Before proceeding any further with my tips on how to prepare the garden for your vacation, I want to take a moment to remind you that I have a new book coming out in September, and it’s available for pre-order now. The title is “The Vegetable Gardening Book: Your complete guide to growing an edible organic garden from seed to harvest,” and I’m very excited for you to read it. It’s chock full of insider tips and new-to-you information that will help you step up your gardening game and tackle challenges.
And on tap for 2023 is my new Online Gardening Academy™ premium course, Organic Vegetable Gardening. Sign up for the waitlist here.
Take Note of the Weather Forecast
The expected weather is the most important factor that will influence how you prepare your garden. Keep in mind that more plants die from overwatering than underwatering. It’s better to let your plants get a little dry than to give them more water than their roots can handle. Roots that sit in water will struggle more than roots that dry out between rain and waterings.
Of course, weather predictions are only predictions, so I strongly encourage you to watch the actual weather that is occurring at home while you are away. If the conditions are wetter or drier than you anticipated, you can adjust your watering system remotely, if possible, or call in for help.
To find current and historical water details, I use Weather Underground, which provides high and low temperatures, rainfall, and more important data to get a feel for what’s happened back home. For data that’s specific to your garden, you can get a weather monitoring system that measures the temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, etc. and transmits that data to a smartphone app. That may sound complicated and expensive, but my AcuRite Weather Station cost less than $200 and has been well worth every penny.
Enlist a Friend or Neighbor
When leaving your garden to go on vacation, there is nothing more reassuring than having a friend, relative or a neighbor with some gardening chops cover for you. And you can always return the favor the next time they go on vacation.
If you need to rely on non-gardeners, keep the tasks they need to perform as easy and self-explanatory as possible. Give instructions that are simple and to the point. Leave out hoses, sprayers and other items where they can be easily accessed to smooth the way for the garden’s temporary caretakers.
If you don’t have a reliable helper, try checking with your local county extension office or Master Gardeners group. This can become an opportunity to make a new gardening friend. If you can offer to pay someone to lend a hand, you’ll generate even more interest. Craigslist, NextDoor, Facebook groups and other online resources all provide opportunities to connect with someone interested in “yard sitting.” Just be careful not to disclose publicly when your house will be unoccupied.
Use Irrigation Technology to Your Advantage
Smart irrigation systems can put your watering on autopilot all season long, including when you go on vacation. These systems range from simple to complex and from inexpensive to a big investment.
If you have already set up drip irrigation throughout your garden beds and containers, you are most of the way there already. All you need to add are timers that will keep your irrigation schedule going like clockwork. For a bit of extra cost, you can get a WiFi-enabled timer that can be adjusted remotely to account for the weather.
You don’t need to have drip irrigation to use a timer. A timer will work with just a garden hose and sprinkler too. If your plants are in containers that can be moved, gather them up into one spot that the sprinkler will reach, and your plants will be watered on schedule. For broader coverage, use a sprinkler on a tripod. Be sure to anchor each leg of the tripod with sandbags to prevent the sprinkler from wobbling out of balance or being knocked over. Trust me — you don’t want to come home to find dry plants and a damaged lawn caused by an overturned sprinkler.
Overhead watering is not great — it wets plant foliage, which invites pathogens to take hold — but it’s better than nothing. If you go this route, timing is everything. Only run sprinklers in the early morning hours — during the dew cycle — so the soil and roots can take up the water before it evaporates. Early watering also gives foliage as much time as possible to dry out before the sun goes down.
Aim to give your plants an inch of water during the course of the week, and less if rainfall has done the work for you. You can test how much water your irrigation setup is delivering by putting out empty tuna cans. As water collects in the can, you’ll be able to identify how long it took to hit the 1-inch mark.
Employ Tech-less Ways to Water Plants
There are alternatives for keeping your plants watered that don’t require any gadgets or apps at all. Here are a few:
Water bladders, like Treegator®, work great around trees and shrubs. Just fill the bladder, place it around the base of the plant, and water will slowly seep out over several days through small holes.
Kiddie pools are perfect for bottom watering container plants. Put the pool into a shady spot and fill it with the containers and an inch or so of water. Plants will wick water up through the holes in the bottom of those containers.
A plastic jug with a few holes in the cap, filled with water and placed upside down in the soil or your garden bed or in your plant’s container, will slowly deliver moisture. A milk jug or soda bottle is perfect for this.
Houseplant Care While on Vacation
The milk jug/soda bottle option also works well indoors for houseplant care. Alternatively, you can relocate plants into your shower stall or bathtub and fill the tub with an inch or two of water. Close the door or curtain to keep humidity levels higher, and your plants should be as perky when you get home as they were when you left.
Patrol for Pests and Diseases
Small pest and disease issues that go undetected or are left ignored can balloon into big problems while you are out of town, so patrol your garden for signs of pest activity and disease before you go. Even if you don’t see any eyebrow-raisers yet, you should still take proactive steps to prevent pest infestations and disease outbreaks.
Check vegetable plant foliage for discoloration, eggs, yellowing, evidence of chewing and any other warning signs. Most importantly, check the underside of leaves — where most pest warning signs will show up first.
Remove eggs and pests or diseased growth whenever possible, and be sure to avoid throwing any diseased foliage into your compost pile, where the pathogens can persist.
Sometimes I apply copper fungicide around my tomatoes before I travel to stop fungus issues before they start. If I think powdery mildew might be on the horizon, I pre-treat with a solution of two parts water and one part milk.
Using floating row cover over plants will create a physical barrier that stops pests from laying eggs on your plants while still allowing light, air and moisture to reach the plants. However, you should remove the cover once plants are in flower so pollinators can get in and do their work.
If you spray deer and rabbit repellent periodically, apply that treatment right before you leave to avoid the potency wearing off while you’re gone.
A Few More Thoughts on Preparing the Garden for Vacation
Give all your plants a good drink right before you leave just in case something goes wrong with your irrigation setup while you are away or your plans for a temporary caretaker fall through. You should also make it a priority to add mulch to your garden beds. A layer right at the base of your plants and trees that’s spread out to their drip line will retain moisture between waterings and rainfall, which can make the difference between whether your plants survive.
Don’t forget the birds. Fill those feeders to the brim.
Vacation preparation takes time and planning, but it’s an easy trade for the peace of mind you’ll gain.
I hope you feel more confident that your garden will be OK while you go away on vacation. If you haven’t listened yet, you can hear this episode now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
Have I missed your favorite planning step? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course membership opens in 2023. Sign up for the wait list here.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, PittMoss, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally and TerraThrive. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.