Going away for a summer holiday is the highlight of the year for many of us. But, the promise of a well-deserved break also brings with it some worry over how our plants will cope whilst we’re absent. I am going to tell you what I did when I went away.
In the hot, dry weather we’re experiencing in the southeast of England at the moment, it takes some creative measures to provide your plants with enough water whilst you’re away. In short absences during the summer, many plants will survive with a thorough watering before you go away. Tough border plants and shrubs will require no watering at all as they have roots which can reach deep down into the soil in search of water. However during particularly warm weather, even the plants in the flowerbeds will require some additional care to prevent them from becoming stressed, or dying all together. Ideally, flowers and plants grown in containers will require watering every day.
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The best thing to do is to ask a neighbour or family member to visit your garden whilst you’re not there to take care of the watering. However, sometimes this isn’t an option. Below is what I did when I went to France during July 2022 (when the UK reached it’s highest recorded temperature, ever!). I didn’t enlist anyone’s help, and I knew there wasn’t any rain forecast, so here’s what I did.
(I can confirm, everything survived!).
I watered beforehand –
No matter what, give everything in your garden a thorough watering before you go. Ideally do this the morning of your holiday, or if you’re leaving very early, do this last thing in the evening before you go to bed. Soak pots and containers at the plant base until the water rises above the soil – and repeat once it’s soaked in. Water all of your plants in beds and borders using a hose, directing the water to the base of the plants so that it soaks into the soil. It’s a good idea to check that the soil feels damp once you’ve finished. Stick your finger into it and if it doesn’t, keep watering!
I moved plants to a shady spot –
Move all potted plants into a shady area of your garden. Even the plants that prefer a sunny position. This helps them to maintain hydration and not to get scorched in the hot sun.
I grouped potted plants together –
Move all container plants into groups. This will help keep the air around them damper (increasing the relative humidity), so the leaves will lose less water through transpiration.
I stood plant pots on trays –
Stand your potted plants on drip trays and saucers, or in trugs and buckets. Fill with water – top the trays up to the top, and fill up the buckets/trugs about an inch or two. This will give them a water reserve for once the soil their roots are in has completely dried out. Don’t stand succulents, cacti or other drought loving plants in water trays as they won’t like being waterlogged, even for a short time.
A selection of my potted plants, before and after watering upon my return. I grouped them together in this shady, cool corner and stood them on trays of water.
I made DIY water drip irrigators –
Use large plastic bottles with the ends cut off to make your own drip watering system. This won’t last long, but will increase the length of time your plants receive water whilst you’re not there to give it to them.
Poke a few small holes in the lid in the bottle and bury it next to your plant, lid side down – insert it deep enough to keep it from falling over. Once it is in place, fill it with water. You can replace the cut base on top, to prevent too much debris from falling in and blocking the holder. You’ll need to check it’s draining correctly beforehand – it takes a bit of trial and error. If the holes are too big, the water will drain away very fast. If they're too small, soil may block them.
This method didn’t work incredibly well for me, but I reckon it bought my plants an extra day without me there to water them.
I watered as soon a I got home –
Water everything as soon as you get back, to hydrate them (and is some cases revive them). You’ll be amazed to see flagging plants perk-up almost instantly!
This shows some of my potted plants before and after I watered them upon my return from holiday. Just look how the Phlox perked up!
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In addition to the above, you could also try these holiday-watering methods:
- Install capillary matting under potted plants
- Add a drip irrigation system or soaker hose in your borders
- Stand houseplants in the bath on a damp towel, or on a tray of damp pebbles
Always be mindful of how much tap water you’re using. If you are using any automated systems, be sure you set a timer so that the water is not left running the entire time you absent.
Please let me know what technique you have tried to keep your garden watered whilst you’re away. Did it work? Would you try it again? Tell me in the comments below.