Vacation-proof your garden

For many of us avid gardeners the thought of a summer vacation is both a delight and a source of great anxiety. Whether we are going up to the cottage or camping in the great Canadian wilderness, we want to ensure the continued health and beauty of our gardens. By following my prescribed garden tips you will not only “vacation proof” your garden but enjoy your summer holiday even more.

Your lawn

To ensure a lush and healthy lawn upon your arrival home, make sure to deeply water your lawn on the evening before your departure. The soil should be moist to a minimum depth of 7.5 cm or 3 inches. Wait a couple of hours until your lawn has thoroughly dried, and then mow the grass to a slightly shorter length than usual. Make sure not to cut the lawn too short, or you will burn your grass. Generally speaking, never remove more than 1/3 of the grass’ length in a mowing. On the day of your departure, give your lawn a second deep watering, once again, to a depth of 7.5 cm – 10 cm or 3 to 4 inches. You should also arrange with a neighbour to water your lawn in case of a heat wave or severely dry period. Of course, you can’t predict what Mother Nature will bring, but assuming that there are brief dry periods, these precautions will insure a healthy and green lawn for up to 2 weeks.

Vegetable gardens

Your vegetable garden needs special attention prior to your departure, as it can suffer the most and quickest with neglect. On the day prior to your departure, thoroughly check your vegetable patch for pests (insects), rot and disease. All ripe and nearly ripe vegetables must be picked. Over-ripe fruit not only encourages rot and disease, it will also attract every insect on the block.

Make sure to thoroughly weed your vegetable garden and then mulch with a mixture of well-rotted compost, grass clippings and shredded twigs. This mulch mixture will not only prevent weed growth, it will retain soil moisture and naturally fertilize your plants. The final step in this process is to deeply water your vegetable patch to a depth of 7.5 cm – 10 cm or 3 to 4 inches.

Flower beds

Carefully scour your flowerbeds and remove (pinch back) every spent flower, full bloom and seedpod in sight. While you are at it, remove any weeds you come across as well. This will not only insure a bounty of blossoms upon your arrival home but also reduce the chance of disease.

Next, carefully mulch your flowerbeds with a mixture of finely shredded bark, twigs and well-rotted compost. This natural mulch will retain soil moisture, repress weed development and increase the soil’s fertility. Then make sure to give your beds a deep watering, once again to a minimum depth of 7.5 cm – 10 cm or 3 to 4 inches. These steps will insure your flowerbed’s vitality for up to 2 weeks in normal weather conditions.

For longer periods or for episodes of drought, weave a soaker hose through your flowerbeds and put them on a water release timer. Installing the system can be a weekend project or you can hire someone to come in and install a sprinkler system complete with a timer. This is particularly good if you repeatedly spend time away from your garden. Be careful not to put the watering frequency too high, as you will drown your garden if there is rain during the same period. A safe bet is to set the timer to release every 3 to 5 days for a deep watering.


Before leaving on your vacation, make sure to take all your houseplants out of direct sunlight and place them in an area of indirect light. By cutting back their supply of light you will minimize their growth and decrease the amount of water that they will require during your absence. Make sure to deeply water every plant (until water comes out of the bottom of their drainage holes). Where possible, water the plant in the bathtub or shower. This avoids the chance that water will sit in the tray below causing rot. Remember as well to remove all of its “unhealthy” greenery with a pair of clean sharp pruners. Another option would be to “board” your plants with a reliable friend, particularly one with a green thumb and similar light conditions; this is especially worthwhile for higher maintenance plants.

Hanging baskets and container plants

Outdoor container plants and baskets require a more hands-on approach for their preservation. The best solution for their care is to collect all your baskets and container plants and “board” them at your neighbour’s or a close friend’s home. This eliminates the problem of both your neighbour/friend being entirely put out, and your nagging fear that “they will forget to go over and water”. Place your plants in an area easily accessible to a water source, in a morning sun – afternoon shade location. This will prevent them from drying out in the summer heat.

Xeriscaping — a vacationer’s best friend

If you are lucky enough to have a plot of land that you haven’t planted yet, or the desire to re-design your garden to accommodate your lifestyle, then xeriscaping is the way to go. Xeriscaping is the type of gardening that encourages very little supplement of water, other than the natural snow and rain that your garden receives. In other words, it is self-sufficient.

This form of landscape does not mean lack of water, rather managing water use. It is low-maintenance landscaping that requires some homework, on your part, to find plants specific to your region and climate.

A xeriscaped garden can be both dramatic and colourful. Plants that fit into this category include: Bearded Iris, Blanket Flower, Coral Bells, Daylily, Evening Primrose, Gold Dust Alyssum, Iceland Poppy, Maiden Pinks, Moss Phlox, Peonies, Pink Pussytoes, Ribbon Grass, Variegated Goutweed, Wooly Mountain Thyme, Purple Coneflower, Rudbeckia, Wooly Yarrow, Ground Cover, Snow in Summer, Clematis, Juniper, Manitoba Grape, Moon Flower, Morning Glory, Nasturtium, Silver Mound, Stonecrop and Virginia Creeper.

Worry-free vacationing

By implementing these gardening strategies and incorporating a wider variety of Xeriscape plantings, not only will your plants, vegetables and lawn thank you, you will be able to go away and relax. You see, “Post-Garden Vacation Syndrome” can be a thing of the past.

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Photo © George Clerk