Talk to a friend in the northern hemisphere, and they can never understand why leaving the garden for a Christmas break is so difficult. That’s because their garden is well and truly on holiday itself by the time the festive season comes around, and probably buried under a layer of snow! For Kiwi gardeners, however, getting away for even a few days over summer takes some serious planning. To make it a little easier, here are a few tried and true tips to help.
While plants will put up without feeding for a time, deny them water when the heat is on, and they simply won’t survive. Help the garden stay moist by layering 4-5 centimetres of mulch on top of the soil before you leave home. Weed-free compost, pine needles or pea straw are all good options (avoid sawdust and wood shavings which sap nitrogen from the soil as they break down). This same mulch can be applied to the soil around greenhouse plants, whether they are in-ground or pot-grown, and also to the growing mix around container-grown plants on the deck. Water well before you leave home, and the mulch will lock in the moisture.
Not all plants require the same amount of moisture. Help your garden minder direct water where it’s required by grouping container-grown plants and seedlings according to their requirements. As an example, pop fuchsia, ferns and thirsty annuals in one section, and sedum, succulents and Bougainvillea in another.
Home alone indoor pot plants dry out quickly in a house where you’re not at home to water them. and where windows are not being opened on a daily basis. If you have a heat pump, it’s almost certain it will also function as an air conditioner. Use the appliance’s timer to turn on the air con for 2-3 hours during the hottest part of the day to help de-stress your pot plants. As an alternative, place your pot plants in the coolest room of the house, and shut the door so heat from the rest of your home can’t reach them.
The bath or the shower tray are both ideal spots to gather your pot plants before you leave home. It means they can be easily watered by a house minder without fear their drip trays will spill over and onto the carpet. But before you pop the plants into the bath or shower tray, line the space with an old towel or sheet so the base of the pots are less likely to stain surfaces.
The most vulnerable plants when you leave home for a break, are seedlings – the sort that have just emerged from the soil or which are less than a week old. If you know in advance you’re going to be away from the garden over summer, cut back on sowing in the 2-3 weeks before you leave home. If you do find yourself with seedlings, bury their pots in the ground. This will help keep the seed raising mix cool, and slow down evaporation.
Once edible plants are producing, much of their moisture goes into supporting fruit. Before you leave home, pick all produce that has reached an edible stage, even if it’s small. Process, take it with you, or leave it for the garden-minder as a thank you.
Leave ’em longer
Lawns with a little height don’t dry out as fast as those cut very short. This is because the longer blades of grass provide the ground beneath with some shade. In the last cut before you leave home for a summer break, set the mower a centimetre or two higher than you would usually have it. Instead of catching the cut grass and taking it to the compost, leave it where it lies to help mulch the ground beneath and lock in moisture.