A little forward planning before you go away means not only will your holiday go smoothly, but the garden will be just as lovely as when you left it.
Before you leave
A day or two spent in the garden before you leave will tidy things up. Stake tomatoes and dahlias, weed beds, trim the hedges lightly, remove finished flowers from annuals and water the garden with a wetting agent to ensure any rain that falls actually soaks in.
Mulch the entire garden before you leave, preferably after a good soak of rain or really deep water. Soak sugarcane mulch in water beforehand so it retains moisture in the soil. Spread it out 5-10cm thick, keeping away from the stems and trunks of every plant. This will keep the roots cool and moist and reduce evaporation from the soil.
Don’t plant anything before you head away - after the main spring planting time, any new plants can wait for autumn.
An unkempt, overgrown lawn announces to everyone on the street that you’re on holidays, so give it a good mow before you go and if you’re away for an extended period, ask a lawn mowing service to trim. Keep the mower on the highest possible setting as this will mean the lawn grows back slower. The lower the setting the more likely you are to scalp the lawn, which results in uneven and quicker growth.
Hanging baskets and pots
Hanging baskets are the first things to dry out. Place an upturned drink bottle into the basket, poke one or two holes into the plastic cap and allow it to drip water slowly into the root system of your plant. This should keep things going for one or two weeks.
Saucers really help all the pots survive your holiday - give them a big water before you leave and ensure the saucer is full of water. Just make sure you remove them when you return as most plants dislike a moist root zone.
Add swollen water crystals to plants prone to drying out. Make a hole to the root zone with a chopstick and add them to the hole.
All potted plants in your garden should be moved to the south side of your house, the cool side, or into a shady corner or under a tree. This will make it easier for a friend or neighbour to give them the extra water they will need, but also keep them from drying out from the wind and sun.
Hot summer days and a shut-up home mean the humidity inside the house while you’re away is far greater than if you were home. This means houseplants are quite happy but still likely to dry out. Placing them in the bath on some old towels is a good idea. Plug the tub and add enough water just to wet the towels. This is great for ferns, palms, orchids and lilies. This is not such a good method for succulents which like to be dry and African violets that dislike the humidity, so place them in a saucer of water instead.
In the vegie patch
Leafy greens for summer salads are prone to bolting to seed quickly over summer, which is why they need more shade than in winter. Try growing the ‘mesclun’ salad mixes in summer which don’t go to seed as quickly as hearting lettuce types. Construct a shade structure using disused baby wraps, shade cloth or even an old beach umbrella is ideal.
Protect just-germinated plants, such as carrots, with wire plant supports, muslin and pegs.
If you love your roses, prune your roses back a fortnight before you leave and you will have a lovely flush of flowers to welcome you when you get home.
If your neighbour waters your garden while you’re away, return the favour by allowing them to harvest any homegrown vegetables, fruit or herbs that need picking – it also prevents ripe fruit from dropping and laying on the ground, as this encourages fruit fly and disease.