If you’re away for a fortnight in the summer holidays and don’t want to return to bedraggled borders, dried-out pots and a lawn which looks like straw, take action now.
BEFORE YOU GO
Weed, mow and water. Make sure beds and borders are tidy, weeded and well watered. Deadhead and cut back perennials which have finished flowering. If you have annuals in borders, deadhead them and even pick off emerging flowers to conserve the plants’ energy for when you return. They may reward you with fresh blooms which come through in your absence. Mow the lawn, leaving the clippings on it which will help conserve moisture should it be really dry when you’re away. Give containers and baskets a really good water and feed before you leave.
WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
Family, friends and neighbours: Call on kindly neighbours, friends or family who live nearby to maintain your garden in your absence. Leave clear instructions about watering and deadheading, and get them to harvest any ripening fruit and veg from your allotment or vegetable patch for their own use. That way it won’t go to seed. They could even freeze what they don’t use.
Automatic watering: There are many automatic irrigation systems on the market which can be timed to go on and off as you wish. More sophisticated models are activated depending on the dryness of the soil while others, such as Hozelock’s Cloud Controller, this year’s RHS Chelsea Garden Product of the Year, can be operated from your mobile phone.
Shade pots: If you have a collection of patio pots, give them a really good soaking just before you go away and put them all together in a sheltered, shady spot which is open to the elements (including rain). Clustering them should help conserve moisture, reduce evaporation and make it easier for friends or neighbours to water. Stand the pots in saucers or trays which act as a reservoir and hold some of the excess water as it drains.
Hanging baskets: These can need watering twice a day in the height of summer and if you don’t have a neighbour to do it, you’ll have your work cut out to keep them looking good. Take down the basket and dig a depression in the soil in a shady border that you can sink the basket in. Water and feed the basket, ensuring the soil underneath is thoroughly soaked too and give your basket plants a good trim before you go.
Other watering solutions: If you don’t have an automatic watering system or a neighbour to take care of your patio pots, create your own self-watering system by placing a bucket of water on bricks and surrounding it with your pots, which should be at a lower level than the bucket. Cut out strips of capillary matting (available from garden centres and DIY stores) to create a wick for each pot, placing one end of the matting in the bucket and training it down and inserting the other end into the compost, which should keep it moist when you’re away.
Drought-tolerant plants: There are plenty of colourful plants which will survive your two-week absence. Geraniums, cosmos, escholzia (Californian poppy), gazania, osteospermum and nicotiana should all be okay. A wider list of drought-tolerant plants is available from the Royal Horticultural Society at www.rhs.org.uk