Off on your hols? Prevent your garden from becoming a plant graveyard

It's the greatest fear for gardeners off on their hols: what will the plants look like if it's a scorcher back home?

By Emma Townshend
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:55

Putting the key in the lock, with my bags already in the taxi, my main thought on leaving for a week or two's holiday is, "I hope it rains." For most gardeners, unremittingly hot sunshine is a mixed blessing at the best of times, but when you are on holiday and unable to water regularly, it can create a plant graveyard – making steady rain can seem like a gift from heaven.

The obvious solution is to find a helpful neighbour, but not everyone has neighbours they want to trust with their front-door keys. Having once been invited in by a plant-sitting neighbour for a guided tour of someone else's new kitchen and loft extension (including some brief comments on how the bride looked in her wedding photos, displayed on the mantelpiece), I'm pretty happy to abide by my decision not to trust in neighbourly garden-care help.

So what are the options? Vegetables and greenhouses won't stand as much as a fortnight's neglect, so professional growers usually resort to impressive watering systems. Nowadays, many companies make domestic watering kits too, with sophisticated timers allowing you to dictate when you want the watering to happen, a bit like central heating. Almost all are well under £100, especially if you shop around on the internet.

You also have a choice about how the water is delivered. Your timer can turn on a sprinkler, but professionals tend to use "drippers" – spikes of black plastic connected to a tiny hose that deliver a tiny amount of water continuously. In these high-tech days you can even get "micro-sprinklers" which fit inside a greenhouse, creating highly controllable mists over the smallest of areas.

But if you don't want to invest in a big new system, the long-term strategies are simpler: first, heavily mulch your plants. Choose mulches appropriately – I don't mulch lavender plants with dense, nutrient-rich bark chippings. They are Mediterranean plants and grow best if half-starved, so gravel only, please. This also applies to rosemary, cistus and other aromatic leaves.

And second, give everything a really good water on the three nights before you go. Spend at least half an hour each night making sure everything is really wet – listen to an iPod so you don't get bored, and check each plant, especially those in pots, making sure they have saucers or trays to leave them wet for a few days. House plants should spend at least an hour in the bath soaking to prevent you coming home to global browning.

If I can't motivate myself any other way, I just try to remember that a wilting garden is a sure-fire sign to burglars that I'm away. There you go – you can now persuade your other half to water the garden before leaving for Spain on the basis that it's good for the 40-inch widescreen TV.

The drip-drip effect: How to refresh your plot

For petite patches

For those with modest needs, try Harrod Horticultural's mini watering kit, with timer. It will still cover a substantial 15 containers. £21.95, www.

The upmarket option

The Hozelock Deluxe Watering Kit includes a timer, 25m of tubing, and enough drippers to water your 20 most precious plants or pots. £78.99,

Keep it in check

Now worried about it raining? Add a Hozelock Rain Sensor, which overrides automatic watering to allay any anxieties about drowning your plants. £14.99,

The power source

Don't forget the batteries: digital timers will need fresh ones to be reliable.

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