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Gazette Premium Content Going on vacation? Prep garden

The Associated Press - Published: August 1, 2014

We pamper our gardens all year but then desert them to go on vacation during what's often the hottest, driest time of the year.

A little planning can soften the blow.

Ideally, a neighbor or fellow gardener could handle watering and other tasks while you're away.

But if that's not possible, here are some easy ways to keep your plants and flowers alive while you sip Mai Tais on the beach.

Watering systems

From old-fashioned to high-tech, there are a lot of ways to keep your lawn and/or garden properly hydrated while you're away.

First, check the forecast. If rain is likely during your vacation, you may not need to do a thing, although gardens typically need 1 to 2 inches of moisture a week to stay healthy, says Matt Armstead, creator of the gardening app Sprout it.

"No matter what, make sure you water your garden very deeply right before you leave," he says. "Soak it thoroughly several times in the days leading up to your departure."

If rain's not likely, or you're going to be gone for more than a few days, a timed sprinkler or drip irrigation system is a better solution.

Make your own by poking a few (tiny) holes in a milk jug and setting it in the garden near the base of your plants. Holly Jo Anderson, a 48-year-old gardener in Plymouth, Minn., goes even more low-tech, poking holes in a gallon-size plastic baggie filled with water and hanging it over her flower pots.

Soaker hoses are another good option and available at any home improvement store.

Jennifer Feller, head of a sustainable design company in Arlington, Mass., installed a drip irrigation system a couple years ago to keep her vegetable garden alive when she's gone six weeks every summer.

"Honestly, I didn't think it would work that well, but at this point I'm in love," she says. "I set it up on a timer and every morning it goes on for an hour by itself and delivers a steady drip to my plants. It doesn't waste any water to the air, like a sprinkler, and I can set it up to go wherever I want."

Easy Roller self-watering pots are also available for containers. Each holds up to 11/2 gallons of water in a reservoir at the bottom.

Or fill a 2-liter plastic soda bottle with water and insert it onto an Aqua Stick, a green plastic cone that you then stick in the soil of potted plants.

Weeding/harvesting

The week before you leave, give your garden a thorough "cleaning" to get rid of as many weeds as possible so they won't be competing for water.

Cut back any dead or diseased leaves on fruit and vegetable plants, and pick anything that's near harvestable to keep the plants growing and producing more while you're gone.

"Green beans, zucchini and cucumbers are tasty even if they're small, and they can turn into inedible monsters if left on the vine too long," Armstead says. "Even herbs like basil and rosemary will be happier if you harvest a few sprigs, especially if they're giving any sign of flowering or going to seed."

Protection

Finally, spreading a fresh layer of mulch or compost over the soil in your garden is a good way to deter weeds and conserve water, while improving your soil, says Julie Moir Messervy, a landscape architect and author based in Saxtons River, Vt.

Clustering containers in shaded areas is also a good way to keep moisture from evaporating and prevent flowers and plants from withering in direct sun.

Hanging baskets should be watered thoroughly and taken to a shady spot.

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