Stillwater News Press

Local Columnists

June 28, 2014

In the Garden 06-29-14

Prepare plants for vacations

For many gardeners vacations and summer travel pose the question “What do I do with my plants?” Lawns are often watered with automatically timed sprinklers and a neighbor may stop in to check on houseplants, but flowering beds and containers are often left to the mercy of adequate rainfall. What can one do to protect their investment - to keep from starting over in the middle of summer? Read on.

Preparation and planning overcome many would-be obstacles. Begin by choosing perennials or annuals that can take a few days of drying out. Perennials are indeed able to recover from adversity better than annual flowers.  

Encourage deep roots from the beginning of the season by applying phosphorus (bone meal) at the bottom of the planting hole. Once the plant has settled into its new home, begin decreasing watering intervals. Even without rain, most in-ground plantings in clay or sandy soils can easily go a week without suffering any adverse effects.  

Keep in mind 10 days in August sun is not the same as 10 days in June. Spend the early summer observing and preparing your plants for your time away. Apply a fresh layer of mulch before you travel remembering it can always be removed when you return.

Containers pose a greater challenge for they do not have the reserves of water held in the earth. Again, preparation makes a difference. Consider the container. Plastic pots stay wet longer than clay or foam. Everyone likes their containers full to overflowing, but the greater the ratio of foliage to soil, the greater the water requirements.

Consider adding some polymer crystals (sold under the name Soil Moist) to the soil when planting. Application of water-holding polymers to the top couple inches of soil may actually wick the water away from the bottom of the pot. The time to incorporate them is when planting the container.

Containers have the greatest risk of stressing or dying during your absence.

Move pots out of the direct sun before vacationing and give them a large saucer to hold some extra water in your absence. Hanging baskets may be nestled in a perennial bed or placed where the lawn sprinklers will wet them.  

Even so, think about hiring a neighborhood teen to check them every three days and apply water if necessary. In doing so you may plant in them a seed for beauty and responsibility.

LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct questions to her by emailing

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