Summer vacations are potentially bad news for plants.

If you’re going away for only a few days, no problem.

Your in-ground plants should be fine, and even most of your drought-vulnerable potted plants should be able to survive with a good pretrip soaking and/or a wilt-saving rescue when you return.

Going a little longer? Here are 10 ways to leave your plants this summer:

1. Group the pots. Mass your container plantings together in a shady spot that’s also out of the wind. This will keep evaporation loss to a minimum.

Then give them all a thorough soaking right before you leave.

2. Bring down the baskets. Hanging baskets are most vulnerable to drying out because they get hit by drying breezes from all angles.

If you set them on the ground – especially in the middle of your pot grouping in the shade – you’ll buy a few extra days of protection.

3. An inside tip: Consider giving your container plantings refuge inside while you’re gone. It’s typically more humid with less evaporation there, plus the lower light will slow growth and, as a result, water demands.

Just remember to place saucers underneath. Your outdoor plants should all have drainage holes in the bottom.

4. Hold the fertilizer. You might think you should treat your plants like pets and give them a good feeding before you leave, but that’s counter-productive.

A fertilizer boost will encourage growth and, therefore, water demand. Your goal is the opposite: slow things down until you return.

5. Rig up an automatic system. Most garden centers and home centers have drip-irrigation lines that let you run water to any pot or bed you’d like. A supply line from an outdoor faucet can branch off into as many skinnier side branches as you need, then emitters that ooze water get poked into the line next to the plant roots.

Connect the entire thing to a battery-operated timer, and you can automatically control the time and duration of the watering. This is easier than it sounds, and it can save you watering work even when you’re home.

6. Go low-tech and automatic. Before timers came along, vacationers in caveman times ran pieces of rope between their pots and a bucket full of water. As the soil dries, it wicks water through the rope.

7. Add water-absorbing crystals. Look in garden centers for water-absorbing polymers such as Soil Moist or Terra-Sorb. It’s best to mix these into the soil before planting, but if you still have room to work, scratch some crystals into the soil now. These suck up water and then release it when the soil around them dries. Do NOT add more than what’s recommended on the label because these crystals expand way more than you’d think. Although they’re mainly intended for use in pots and hanging baskets, polymer crystals also can be used around drought-wimpy in-ground plants.

8. Hire a plant-sitter. In the good ol’ days, neighbor kids would be happy to water your plants every day or two for a few coins. That’s still a great solution, except they might now respond better if you offer to pay their cell-phone bill.

9. Mulch. You should have a 2- to 3-inch layer of bark or wood mulch over your garden beds. It’s not too late to add it if you don’t. Soak the beds first, then mulch. You’ll be good to go for at least a week. Mulch keeps beds much moister than bare ground.

10. Don’t worry about the lawn. Even if you’re gone for weeks and your lawn goes dry and brown, it’ll be fine as soon as it rains. Lawns can easily survive four weeks without moisture even AFTER they’ve gone brown in summer. You won’t be around to see it brown anyway. So put your time and effort into water-guarding the more vulnerable potted stuff.

Soak up these facts

If you always go on a summer vacation, keep these items in mind at planting time:

The bigger your pots and baskets, the better. More soil volume means containers that won’t dry out as fast as small ones.

Go with thicker and more insulated pots, such as foam or heavy concrete.

Go with plastic over clay or terra cotta. The latter are more porous and dry out quicker than plastic or foam.

Invest in self-watering pots. These are pots with built-in reservoirs that let the roots soak up stored water as needed.

Line the insides of your hanging moss baskets with plastic. It’ll reduce evaporation. Just don’t line the bottom or you’ll impede drainage.

Add water-absorbing polymer crystals such as Soil Moist or Terra-Sorb to the potting mix at planting time.

Pick plants that are the most drought-tolerant, such as vinca, salvia and wax begonias instead of ones that wilt quickly when it gets dry, such as impatiens, lobelia and fuchsia.

George Weigel, a certified horticulturist, covers gardening for the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.


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