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Ask a Master Gardener: Prep Your Garden Before Your Vacation

By Barbara Boone, Mobile County Master Gardener

So, finally, it is here. The kids are soon out of school and time off arranged at work. It’s time for an extended holiday weekend away or for that cross-country, family vacation, a trip without travel restrictions you and your family have long been anticipating. Your destination is identified, transportation arranged, hotel reservations made, theme park tickets purchased, and excitement reigns supreme. Then reality strikes. As a gardener who has put a lot of time and effort into your garden and landscape, the following can leave you confident that everything you have done proactively will keep your garden under control while you are away.

Before leaving your garden, do the following in order of priority:

· Water is the first item to check off. Water requirements are extremely important in maintaining plant health while away. There are several strategies to implement water retention:

1. A day before departure, soak plants in ground or in raised beds heavier than usual, especially if rainfall has been lacking recently.

2. If rain is not predicted, use shade cloth to cover plants. Shade cloth is available in several percentages of coverage; 50% shade cloth in a tan color to account for light reflection is a good choice.

3. Group plants in containers or grow bags together in a shady area. (Lack of sunlight for a short time is better than lack of moisture.)

4. Weed before departure, reducing competition for water.

5. Provide extra mulch around vegetables and flowers to retain moisture and keep the soil temperature in check.

6. Insert water spikes or glass water globes into soil or use self-watering pots, especially useful for house plants.

7. Perhaps the best strategy is to utilize soaker hoses and drip irrigation, especially

on timers for water delivery. This might be the time to install drip irrigation if not already in place. Well-placed soaker hoses on timers relieve a lot of stress on the traveling gardener.

· Pest and disease control is the next proactive activity. Monitoring for garden pests and disease is important even while at home but given an outbreak of bad insects while you are away can be devastating to plants and your mental wellbeing.

1. While weeding, make sure to deadhead flowering plants and remove what appears to be diseased plants.

2. Deal with insects immediately. (Research prior to bug removal to ensure the insects you encounter are not beneficial.)

3. Utilize insecticidal soap if appropriate. 7-10 days pest protection can be achieved with an application of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to tomatoes and squash.

4. Apply deer repellents prior to departure to avoid unwanted browsing.

· Lawn care before departure is next.

1. Mow with the blade set higher than usual which encourages green grass rather than yellow.

2. A mown lawn appears tidier and doesn’t give a clue that you are away.

· Miscellaneous proactive measures are also helpful.

1. Harvest ripe fruits and vegetables early. No one wants a baseball-sized zucchini.

2. Make sure to provide support to plants laden with fruit.

3. Check out the weather forecast prior to departure and plan accordingly.

4. Don’t forget your feathered friends. Refill feeders.

5. Remove any flowers from herbs to discourage bolting while away.

6. Download an app to your phone to monitor your landscape while away. Think wildlife camera.

· What NOT to do: Do not fertilize prior to departure. Use of a high nitrogen fertilizer could stress your plants.

Perhaps a better way to protect your gardens and lawn while away is to enlist a friend and offer the same oversight for them when they are away, or you can offer them opportunity to harvest while you are gone. Either way, rest easy. Bon voyage!

Make sure your plants get plenty of water while you are vacationing. by Barbara Boone

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