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How to Keep Your Garden Alive When You Go on Vacation

Keep your garden and potted plants looking fresh and alive when you're headed out of town for some rest and relaxation.

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Mulching is magic when it comes to gardens left on their own. Mulching doesn’t just look good, finishing off a bed and tying diverse plants together visually, it cuts down on weeds and conserves moisture. Weeds can quickly get out of hand when you’re on vacation. And conserving moisture is especially important when no one is home to water. Put down a layer of about 2 inches of mulch. Form a saucer to direct irrigation water to the root zone, but avoid piling mulch against plant stems. See our mulch guide.

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sprinkler Bill Oxford / Getty Images

Deep Watering

Just before you leave for vacation, give your garden a good, deep soaking. Don’t do it by hand —you won’t have the patience to apply as much water as needed. Use a sprinkler and set up an empty tuna fish can nearby to measure how much water has been distributed. Aim for at least 1 inch of water. Learn how to install an irrigation system.

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FH15APR_557_52_014 drip irrigation for vegetablesFamily Handyman

Drip Irrigation and Timer

Drip irrigation is a labor saver for nurseries — and it can be a lifesaver for your plants. Drip irrigation features spaghetti-like tubing distributed wherever irrigation to containers, window boxes, deck planters or even garden beds is needed. You can hook up a drip irrigation system to a timer to ensure adequate watering when you aren’t home.

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soaker hose bgwalker / Getty Images

Soaker Hose and Timer

A soaker hose works better for garden beds than containers. It is a porous hose that slowly seeps water directly around plants rather than wetting foliage and causing more evaporation. Wind it through garden beds and cover with mulch to limit evaporation even more. Slow and steady wins the race, especially when a soaker hose is attached to a timer to ensure plants receive adequate irrigation. Discover our tips for easier weeding and watering.

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Water-Absorbing Crystals

Many potting mixes already contain polymer crystals, or hydrogels (you’ll see terms like “moisture control” and “moisture max” on the packaging). These crystals hold excess water, making it available as the mix begins to dry out. You can also buy crystals and add them to standard potting mix.

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Self-Watering Containers

Self-watering containers aren’t a high-tech robotic device; they’re actually very simple. These containers have a simple reservoir that makes moisture available to plants through evaporative action as the soil begins to dry. Water your plants as usual, add extra water to the reservoir and you’re good to go. Don’t want to replace your current pot? You can convert it with this kit.

This is how to build a self-watering raised-bed planter.

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Put Containers in Shade

One of the simplest things you can do to protect plants when you go on vacation is to give them some shade. That means temporarily moving containers to a shady spot, such as behind the garage or under a tree. Even sun-loving plants can take a week of shade. And it will help keep them safe from heat stress. Learn some of our other container gardening tips.

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Sharon Pruitt / EyeEm / Getty Images

Group Containers in a Kiddie Pool

Put containers in a kiddie pool or other large water-tight item such as a shallow plastic bin. Add several inches of water so potted plants can soak up the extra water, if needed. This works for houseplants too but in that case, you use a sink or bathtub. Put down a towel to protect the surface and add a couple inches of water to the sink or tub. Do not leave plants in standing water for extended periods, as it will cause root rot.

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Slow Watering

Got a few vegetable plants to keep alive? Drill a small hole in a 5-gallon plastic pail, fill with water, place it next to the plant and let it slowly seep out to water the plant. You can also use an inverted 2-liter plastic soda pop bottle with a small hole drilled in the cap, which is left in place. For trees, consider a self-watering bag.

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Ask for Help

If you’re on good terms with your neighbors and they’re up for trading favors, ask them to help out. Make it as easy as possible — for instance, leaving the sprinkler in place and asking them to turn it on and off at a set time. If watering containers, leave out a pre-filled watering can and plastic milk jugs. Or, if you’re hiring a pet sitter, give them a few extra dollars and ask them to please water the plants.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.