Prepare Your Garden for Summer Vacation

Article written by Saturday6' blogger Erin Schanen from The Impatient Gardener

Summer vacations often seem to coincide with the garden just reaching its peak. Plants are growing by leaps and bounds, flowers are filling the garden, and container plantings have finally filled in and are looking lush usually just about the time you are planning to leave for a week.

Left untended, a garden may look more like a jungle than a front yard, or plants may be wilted and stressed by the time the gardener returns.

Having a friend look in on the garden while you're away is the simplest solution, but even without someone checking on the garden (or if the person who is supposed to be helping forgets), there are a few things you can do before you leave to help ensure that you return to a healthy garden.

Put any containers that are small enough to move in a shaded or semi-shaded spot that will still catch any rain that might fall while you are away. Larger containers may benefit by being covered with shade cloth. Make sure that all containers are thoroughly watered right before you leave and asking someone to come, even if it's just once, to water them in your absence is worth the peace of mind.

Even a well-mannered vegetable garden can turn into a scene from "Little Shop of Horrors" in the course of a week during midsummer. Try to anticipate how plants will grow while you're gone and make sure they are well-affixed to trellises or tucked inside cages before you go. Pick all the vegetables possible before you go and share them with neighbors; also, invite them to take anything that needs to be picked while you're gone. Plants will continue to produce if fruits and vegetables are removed as they ripen, rather than over growing. Again, make sure the vegetable garden is well-watered before you leave.

Annuals and perennials should be thoroughly deadheaded before you leave. You may even want to deadhead flowers that still look good., but you know will fade while you're gone. This will initiate new flushes of blooms that will look great when you return, as well as keep the plant producing flowers instead of making seed. Stake any plants that may flop with a few more inches of growth and do your best to tackle as many weeds as possible. A deep, one inch watering will maintain the garden while you're gone.

Some plants benefit from a midseason trim and there's no better time to do it than right before you leave on vacation. Nepeta, chives, perennial geraniums, salvias and some sedums are prime candidates for this treatment. Cut them back, give them a good drink and within a few weeks you'll have bushy plants likely to flower again. Annuals that have become too leggy, such as petunas or calibrachoas, can be cut back to a leaf node, fertilized and watered. They will be well on their way to new blooms by the time you're home.

If you live in an area with nearby wildlife, take steps to protect your plants even if deer and rabbits aren't usually a problem. Animals may find the relative serenity of your house while you're away to be safe enough to snack where they might not when you are home. An application of a commercial deer or rabbit repellant should last while you're gone.

It's no small feat to get all these garden jobs done before you head out on a vacation, but you'll cut your gardening cleanup time in half when you come home by leaving things in good shape ahead of time.