You’ve invested blood, sweat and tears into your garden, so it’s perfectly natural to worry about leaving your plants while you enjoy a break from the day-to-day routine.
We asked garden designer, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays, for her professional advice on how to keep things looking their best for when you return. Here are six practical suggestions to help prepare your garden before you go on holiday:
1. General care
I’m looking forward to some time away to relax with my family this summer, but at the back of my mind I can feel a niggling anxiety – how will my plants cope while I’m away? Will the lettuces bolt and the sweet peas set seed? How will the dahlias survive if there’s a heatwave? Last year we returned to find that wasps had devoured almost every greengage. Unfortunately, the whole crop was ruined.
To keep things tidy while you’re away, take care of a few general tasks before you leave. Weed borders and paths, and cut the grass in any areas that you’re not growing long for wildlife. Make sure that any top-heavy plants are staked to avoid high winds causing damage to stems while you’re gone.
Group all your containers together in a shady spot and provide automatic watering via an irrigation system. Failing that, sit the containers in trays of water.
Take down any hanging baskets and place them with your other containers in the shade. Terracotta pots dry out more quickly than plastic ones, so make sure they’re well watered before you leave.
Ensure that your greenhouse plants have adequate shade and that the windows, vents and doors are open during the day. With a small greenhouse like mine, I leave the doors and windows open when we go away in the summer to avoid my plants overheating.
Water all your plants well and stand the pots on capillary matting so they can take up water slowly from the base reservoir. Plants can also be watered with an upside-down drink bottle with a drip end attached, or from a self-watering globe, or a mighty dripper.
4. Fruit and vegetables
Pick as much as you can before you go – our last job will be to harvest, eat and freeze our ‘Opal’ plums if they ripen in time. Ask a friend or neighbour to visit every few days to harvest crops so the plants will continue to be productive.
By thoroughly watering and mulching the beds before you leave, you can make sure that the soil stays moist for as long as possible. Protect your crops with specialist netting to avoid damage from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies.
Summer-flowering plants like dahlias, sweetpeas, osteospermum and zinnias might be covered in blooms now, but these will have faded by the time you return and the plants will be starting to set seed. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, remove open and spent flowers before you leave and feed plants to encourage a flush of new blooms upon your return.
Don’t bring back plant material back from your holidays, for the long-term health of your own garden and all plants across the UK. Diseases like Xylella have the potential to cause devastation to a huge range of cultivated and wild plants, so return with photos and memories, not with the plants themselves.
Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Beth Chatto Environmental Award, 2019). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She blogs at www.dogwooddays.net, and Guardian Country Diarist based in North Hertfordshire.
She works for BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and her writing has featured in anthologies, journals and magazines including The English Garden, The Garden (RHS Magazine), BBC Wildlife Magazine and the John Clare Society Journal.