8 holiday tips for the garden

Before leaving on holiday, spend some time in your garden to ensure it will cope with your absence while you are away.

December is a month of festivities, but it also can be a time when the garden plays second fiddle to everything else that is going on. Entertaining takes priority, and many families go on holiday at this time, leaving the garden to care for itself. Save yourself some heartache by carrying out a few small tasks before leaving.

1. Remove weeds

Weeds consume a large amount of water and nutrients if left to grow freely, so try to get rid of all weeds between plants. Mulching is an easy way to get rid of smaller weeds.

2. Mulch garden beds

Mulching prevents water loss through evaporation and keeps the soil and plant roots cool. While all-year-round mulching is now part of gardening practice in dry South Africa, doing it before you go away really helps keep the garden healthy, particularly if you do not have an automatic irrigation system.

For a mulch to be really effective during the hot midsummer months, it should be at least 10-12cm thick. Before applying the mulch, improve the water-absorbing capacity of the soil by gently breaking up the soil between the plants with a garden fork, and then water thoroughly and deeply. You can also soak the mulch in water before applying it. Always leave a 10cm space around the trunks of trees and shrubs to prevent rotting.

If you don’t have your own mulch on hand in the form of compost or partially rotted compost, you can save your cash for your holiday by using newspapers. Newspapers have the added bonus that no nitrogen is required to break them down, as with other organic mulches. Place at least 10 layers of newspapers between plants. Cover the newspaper with a thin layer of compost or sand or even some stones so that they aren’t blown away.

3. Prepare container plants

Water hanging baskets and containers deeply the day before you leave and cover with a thick layer of mulch. If possible, move all containers to shady spots while you are away. If you are away for 10 days or longer, ask a neighbour to water the plants every 10 days.

Weeds

Mulch

Containers

4. Inspect borders

Dry patches tend to occur underneath climbers and hedges. Gently loosen the soil in these areas so that every drop of water can penetrate the soil. Take care not to damage plant roots – rose bushes, in particular, have shallow feeding roots that can be easily damaged. Then water thoroughly and deeply.

Prune back by one-half plants such as petunias and chrysanthemums – the smaller plants will need less water and the lower growth will make them more wind resistant. In windy gardens ensure that bedding plants and young shrubs and trees are protected against strong, scorching winds while you are on holiday. Use shadecloth to erect mini-windbreaks in the garden.

In hot regions erect shadecloth over bedding plants that receive afternoon sun, or borders that are in full sun for a whole day. Anchor stakes firmly into the ground, so that they will not be blown over by the first strong wind.

5. Check for pests

Check all plants for signs of red spider mite or any other pest or disease. Spray where necessary, or remove the plants that are infested. Do not put these plants on the compost heap.

6. Check the irrigation system

Check to see that there are no blocked sprinklers and that everything is in perfect working order.

Petunia7. Cut back on lawn fertilisation

Avoid fertilising the lawn the fortnight before you leave on holiday as this will result in lush, green growth. Also mow the lawn higher than normal for the last grass cutting before leaving. If for instance your lawn is normally mowed at 15mm it is better to mow it 30-40mm high, particularly of you hand water the lawn. If you don’t, the summer sun can burn into the core of the lawn, damaging the runners and turning the lawn an unattractive brown.

8. Move indoor plants

Ideally you should arrange for a friend to look after your indoor plants while you are away. If this is not possible, a few simple precautions will ensure that indoor plants will remain healthy for at least two or three weeks.

Move the more water wise indoor plants away from north-east, or west-facing windows, so that they are out of direct sunlight. Put the plants where there is good but indirect sunlight. Remove all flowers and flowers buds to reduce the amount of water the plants will need.  Fill the drip trays under the plants with water just before leaving.

Plants that require frequent watering can be placed in your bath. Fill the bath with water to a depth of no more than 3cm. Place the bigger pots in the lower or plug end, and the smaller pots in the shallow or upper end of the bath.

Image on right: Petunia

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