Like many Phil-Elf-Yans, I love going'downashore' to eat wadder iceand walk the boards—but my garden does NOT enjoy my being away at theheight of summer. Weeds can get out of control, and plants often gettoasted if we get hot weather without rain.
And plants in containers are certainto suffer if you don't plan aheadand a heat wave hits.
The Master Plan—Mulch or BeMiserable!
Soak the ground for several hoursovernight if it's been dry lately,and then mulch the garden well: An inch of shredded leaves, straw ordried clippings from an herbicide-free lawn covering every piece ofbare ground will keep your plants alive if the weather is dry ANDprevent your returning to a weed farm if it rains the whole time. Donot use wood chips or shredded bark for mulch; I know they're widelyavailable and cheap, but they rob plant-feeding nitrogen from the soiland often prevent rainwater from reaching your plants. Apparently,'root mulches' are just as bad as regular wood, but cocoa shell mulchis great if you can find it—as is 'salt hay'.
And try and have a neighbor ready towater, too. This is a greatopportunity to work out a deal with a fellow gardener to keep an eye oneach other's plots during your vacations.
Don't Let Your Garden GoThirsty! Pay close attention to theextended forecast. If it looks like the garden will get lots of rainwhile you're away, don't worry (at least about the garden: "Oh, just goin the ocean anyway! Wet is wet!"). But if the call is for dry times,and especially if you can't get anybody to water while you're away, besure to freshen up those mulches and soak the garden overnight rightbefore you go away. Turn on the sprinkler when you go to bed and don'tturn it off till you're ready to leave or 10 am; whichever comes first.
Oh, and if it looks like there'sdefinitely going to be LOTS of rainwhile you're gone, pull those mulches away from the plants themselves(about six inches) and spread ironphosphate pellets around toprevent slugs from eating everythingwhile you're gone.
No matter the forecast, pick as manyedibles as you can right beforeyou go away. Pack the car the night before, so you'll have time toharvest in the morning. Otherwise, you'll lose lots of tasty treats ANDattract all kinds of pests to the garden.
Pick every tomato that's showing somecolor; just let them sit out atroom temperature and they'll ripen up perfectly while you're gone.(DON'T put them in the fridge or on a sunny windowsill!)
Pick all your zukes and cukes thathave reached 'baby size'; they'rereally tasty when small—and you KNOW those zukes would turn intobaseball bats by the time you get back! Take 'em with you and enjoy alittle bit of home-grown goodness while you're away.
And pick every visible string bean(or green bean, or snap bean—orwhatever YOU call them). They're also edible (and delicious) at anysize, and if you don't pick, the biggest of your beans will developviable seeds while you're away and the plants will stop producing—forgood. (Actually, for bad.)
WARNING: Pay Special Attention toPlants in Pots!
Containers dry out much faster thanthe ground. If the forecastis dry, try even harder to arrange for someone to come and water acoupla times while you're gone. Otherwise, move the containers to ashady spot, group them close together to conserve moisture, mulch thetops at least two inches deep, and give each container a SLOW, thoroughsoaking right before you leave.
Unfortunately, this may not be enoughto save plants in unglazed terracotta pots; the sides of these containers wick their soil's moistureright into the air. Same with hanging baskets whose liners are made ofpeat or coconut ('coir') fibers. If it doesn't rain every other daywhile you're away, the plants inside those 'pots' could well be lost!Best bet: Have a friend baby-sit such plants at their place whileyou're gone.
The Most Popular Plants Are Often theThirstiest!
Before you leave, make sure that theREALLY thirsty plants in yourlandscape, like azaleas,dogwoods and rhododendrons have a nice fresh one-to-two-inch-thicklayer of mulch—shredded leaves, straw, or pine needles—to keep moisturein the soil; DON'T use wood chips or shredded bark.
And REALLY soak their roots beforeyou go; turn the hose on justdripping at the base of each plant for several hours each—preferablythe night before you leave.
And be SURE and have a neighbor readyto water if it's going to be aREAL scorcher and/or you're going to be gone longer than aweek—especially if those plants aren't getting the afternoon shade theyprefer.
& DON'T Cut Your Lawn!
(Tell Your Wife: "But MIKE Said NotTo, Honey!")
Don't cut your lawn right beforeleaving; especially if you don'tlisten to my 'cut high' advice and scalp the poor thing. A lawn that'scut at the correct height—two and a half to three and a half inches—caneasily go a week without rain. But a lawn that's cut excruciatinglyshort could well perish completely over the same week.
And if the immediate forecast is dryand/or it hasn't rained for threedays, give that lawn a good soaking before you leave. Turn thesprinkler on when you go to bed and don't turn it off for a good fouror five hours—or even better, let it go all the way to the nextmorning. And if your sprinkler can't reach all your turf at once, breakthe chore up over several nights.
And don't bring me back no salt-watertaffy!
(But I wouldn't say no to a niceboxafudge…)
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath
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