Ask for help with vacation-proof gardening

Alabama Living Magazine
An irrigation system with a timer is one way to ensure proper watering when you’re away.

It’s gardening season. Yay! And it’s vacation season. Also, yay! But as much as we look forward to both seasons, their overlap can pose a dilemma for us gardeners.

Left unsupervised, gardens, landscapes and houseplants are at risk of withering away or running amok, and no one wants to come home from a relaxing holiday to find dead or dying plants or a vegetable garden filled with overripe, rotten produce. Thankfully there are ways to have our vacations and our gardens, too.

The most foolproof option is to engage a garden sitter. Much like house or pet sitters, garden sitters are part of a lucrative and growing service industry that’s especially popular among folks who take long-term seasonal trips (snowbirds who fly south for the winter and north for the summer, for example). 

But even short-term travelers can benefit from having boots and gloves on the ground in their absence, whether it’s an experienced landscape manager, a reliable high school or college student in need of summer work or simply a fellow gardener who’s willing to help out. (Some sitters may also be willing to pick up mail, newspapers and packages, keep an eye on the house and even pet sit as well.)

Figuring out how much to pay a sitter depends on the level of expertise and frequency of visits needed and will add to the cost of a vacation. But you can make it more affordable if you tap into local resources. For example, if you already have a landscape maintenance company on your payroll, they may be willing to do a few extra chores for a little extra pay. Or consider bartering a deal with friends and family willing to be paid with all the produce, herbs or cut flowers they can gather in your absence. Another idea is to arrange a sitter swap with your gardening pals — they’ll help you while you’re away if you’ll do the same for them. 

To streamline the process for your sitter, develop a list of chores you want completed and walk through the list and your landscape a few days before you depart to show them the lay of the landscape including where tools are kept and any special techniques you want them to use. You can also improve efficiency for them by doing things like grouping potted plants close together to make watering easier. 

If engaging a sitter isn’t possible, there are ways to leave your plants on their own recognizance. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Water outdoor plants deeply and slowly and mulch them to retain water and suppress weeds.
  • Put houseplants in cooler indoor rooms and/or place them on damp towels in a tub or sink.
  • Move outside containerized plants to cooler, shadier locations such as under an awning or covered porch.
  • Use timers on hoses and irrigation systems, though it’s a good idea to let a friend or neighbor know you’re going to be out of town in case an obvious leak occurs.
  • Pick all ripe and nearly ripe produce right before you leave. 
  • If you know well ahead of time when you’re traveling, consider staggering planting dates for annual vegetables to time their maturity around your return. 
  • Thoroughly weed and mow just before you go. 

Lots of additional tips and details about vacation-proofing your plants and landscape are available online or check with your local Cooperative Extension office, Master Gardener association or garden center experts. Then do your best to relax and rest up for the rest of the gardening season and year.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

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