Tips to care for plants while you're on vacation

Tips to care for plants while you're on vacation

by Ellen Goff

It's finally here — your summer vacation. Make sure your indoor plants and those in the garden survive your absence by observing a few simple safeguards before you leave.

Overall, it's important to preserve moisture in the soil and avoid stress by inhibiting growth. For indoor plants, this is fairly simple, because their growing conditions are relatively constant.

The day before you leave, water each plant thoroughly, so that water runs out the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Then empty the pot's saucer of excess water. Don't add plant fertilizer to the water. Move plants to an area with medium light.

If your vacation is longer than 10 days, place plants in a large, clear plastic bag (e.g., from a dry cleaner) and close it with a rubber band. This will help retain moisture in the soil and humidity around the plant foliage so it won't dry out.

Several small plants can be placed together in one bag as long as their leaves don't touch. For large plants, place a clear plastic bag over the plant and secure it around the top rim of the pot with string or duct tape. Remember to place bagged plants in medium light, never near direct sunlight.

House ferns need a little extra care to carry on without you. Place ferns in the bathtub and shower several minutes with tepid water. If there's medium light in the bathroom, leave the ferns in the tub with about an inch of standing water. For a two-week absence, shake excess water off their fronds after shower-watering, then place ferns in plastic bags as described.

Weather conditions can determine how well your planted containers and gardens fair while you're out of town. So do the best you can: Water thoroughly the morning of your departure, move your pots and container gardens into light shade if possible, and beef up the amount of mulch around each plant to between 3 and 4 inches.

Your vacation time can be a great opportunity to cut back many summer-blooming plants, including phlox, coreopsis, coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, gaura, and sweet alyssum. Trimming plants by about one-third will tidy up their appearance and help them recharge for late summer and fall flowering.

It's always better to pick ripening vegetables before a trip rather than leaving them to toughen or rot on the vine. Overripe or rotting food encourages animals and pests as well as some diseases.

For a one-week absence, pick your vegetables young and small, your tomatoes about half ripe. Give the produce away to friends or donate it to a charitable food pantry.

For a two-week vacation, you'll want a trusted relative, neighbor or co-worker to look in on the garden, especially if extreme weather conditions occur. That person can also harvest anything that may ripen while you're away.

Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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