10 Ways to Keep Your Outdoor Plants Watered While You’re Away
Summer vacations are about temporary escapes and good times. But if you’ve created an outdoor oasis in your yard, including container gardens, a vegetable garden, or perennial beds, you don’t want to return to find your plants suffering.
Don’t let a vacation spell gloom and doom for your plants. With some planning, it’s easy to help them thrive while you’re away.
1. Add mulch.
Water evaporates quickly from exposed soil, but a thick layer of mulch will help keep your plants’ roots wetter and cooler. Most gardening experts recommend up to three inches of mulch on garden beds. So, if your mulch is too thin, this might be a good time to add more.
But don’t pile up mulch against a plant’s crown (where the stems meet the roots), or you might encourage damaging fungal growth. Instead, leave a little breathing room at the base.
Garden mulch can be too bulky to protect potted plants, so try layers of peat moss instead. Or, try rolling up rags and positioning them around each pot’s perimeter. Then, before you leave, water the pots well, making sure the rags get soaked.
2. Provide more shade.
Another way to reduce water evaporation is by giving your sun-loving containerized plants a temporary break in the shade. Rearrange the pots so they’re out of the sun’s reach but still able to capture any rain that may fall.
In your garden, you may be able to protect any plants prone to wilting by building a temporary fence that provides a few hours of shade. Try driving tall stakes into the ground and stretching a garden tarp or a lightweight bamboo screen between the stakes. Old wood pallets set on end could accomplish the same thing for individual, vulnerable plants.
3. Trim your plants.
It’s always a good idea to neaten any well-established plants periodically. If you do this about a week before you leave, the plants won’t need as much water and will be better able to sustain themselves while you’re away.
First, remove any dead or dying sections, including spent blooms, then trim them into a neat shape.
4. Automate your watering system.
Depending on your needs and budget, this might be an excellent time to consider installing a watering system that could be placed on a timer or controlled remotely. An automated system takes planning, but you'll also enjoy the convenience while home.
Lay soaker or drip irrigation hoses on your garden or flower beds' surface soil and connect them. Then, install a timer where the hose attaches to your faucet. Today’s options include simple, mechanical timers, smart timers, and everything in between.
5. Connect a soaker hose to your rain barrel.
A decidedly low-tech option is to connect a long soaker hose to your rain barrel and lay the hose up and down the garden rows. If your rain barrel isn’t full, top it off before opening its spigot and leaving.
It will provide a natural, slow-drip source of water. And if it rains while you’re away, you can count on your rain barrel to supplement your garden with additional water collected from the roof.
6. Use drip-watering containers.
You can purchase artistic glass watering globes for your potted plants, but it’s easy to make your own with recycled wine bottles. First, fill the bottle with water, hold your thumb over the top, then turn the bottle upside down and quickly insert it into the soil.
Try converting plastic milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, or large soda bottles into drip-watering containers in your garden. First, poke holes in the bottom and position them next to your plants. (Push the mulch aside and place the container directly on the ground.) Then, before you leave, water the soil thoroughly before filling the drip containers.
If the ground is already saturated, the water in the containers won’t drip out as readily. But once the soil dries out, gravity will cause water to start trickling out.
7. Position pots in a wading pool.
Instead of a gravity-fed irrigation system, another option is to give your plants a slow drink from the bottom up. First, find an inexpensive kiddie pool and position it in the shade, preferably on a deck or paved surface instead of your lawn (so you don’t smother your grass).
Next, arrange your container plants in the pool. If any plants have trailing stems, position them along the perimeter and drape the stalks over the pool’s edge. Before leaving, fill the pool with several inches of water.
Gardeners report that this system works best if you’re only gone for three to five days. This is because you want the plant roots to stay moist but not drown.
8. Protect young trees.
New trees need up to an inch of water weekly, so if you’ve planted potted or bare-root trees in the past year, you must find ways to protect your investment while you’re away.
Searching for “tree watering bags” will provide numerous options, each providing a slow-release drip-irrigation system. In most cases, you only need to add water every week or two.
9. Water deeply before you leave.
No matter which steps you take to protect your plants, giving them a thorough soaking hours before you depart is essential so you’ll maximize the benefit of all your other efforts.
10. Find a reliable plant sitter.
Will you be gone for an extended period or don’t have time to prepare your plants before you leave? You might be able to establish an arrangement with a neighbor and exchange watering duties while you each travel. Or, this could be a perfect job for a younger neighbor eager to earn some spending money.
If your garden will be producing fruits or vegetables while you’re gone, persuade your plant sitter to help themselves! That way, they can enjoy food from your garden, your plants will be encouraged to produce more, and nothing will go to waste.