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OUT IN THE GARDEN: Plant survival during vacation

By Melissa Starr

How do I keep my plants alive while I am on vacation? This is a question many people ask when they are planning to be away for a week or longer. Instead of letting your vegetable garden and flowers wither away and die, follow these simple steps and your plants will be happier when you return.

First, make sure that you irrigate your lawn and garden. If it hasn’t rained in the last couple of days, make sure you water the ground until it is moist to at least a depth of one inch. If you have irrigation timers, set them to come on at least every third day for 30 minutes or longer. If you don’t have timers, you may also ask your neighbor to come water the garden for you.

If you have container plants, group them together to make it easier for the neighbor to water them. Normally, I can count on my husband’s mom to water our garden for us, but some years ago she went on vacation with us. We set our irrigation timers to come on every third day for an hour; our garden and container plants were still happy when we came home.

Deadhead your roses and annual flowers before you leave. This will encourage them to produce blooms while you are away and look beautiful when you arrive home.

Weed and mulch in your gardens. Weeds left unattended will take over within a week or two and become a burden to you later. Mulching discourages weed growth, reduces soil temperature and helps hold water in the soil.

Check for insects and diseases. If you find any unwanted insects or diseases on your plants, spray before you leave. Insects left unchecked will multiply and have a feast in your garden, and diseases will become uncontrollable later.

Harvest any ripe or nearly ripe fruit in the garden. You can also ask a neighbor to harvest for you. It is disheartening to come home and find rotten tomatoes and peppers still clinging to the vines.

Last, don’t forget your houseplants also need tending while you are away. If you can, move your houseplants outdoors under a shade tree near an automated sprinkler. If not, put them in a group in the bathtub. Water them with two to three times the amount of water you would normally give them. You can also fill the bathtub with 1 to 2 inches of water and let the plants soak it up while you are gone (as suggested in Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac). If all else fails, ask your neighbor to come and water for you.

Enjoy your vacation, and make sure your plants enjoy it too!

Contact Jefferson County Master Gardener Melissa Starr at melynstarr@hotmail.com or call Texas A&M AgriLife Extension at 409-835-8461.