The quick and easy guide to holiday watering

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: August 9th, 2015 In: Gardening know how

Holiday watering instructions need to be clear. You can ask a friend to water your garden while you’re away.

Or you can pay someone to to water it. You don’t want to waste their time – or your water.

Of course, you can use an automated watering systems, but it’s probably too late to set those up.

Holiday watering tips

The main bed. I don’t water any of this, even though it’s been very dry recently.

1) Water the plant not the soil

Make sure your friend or gardener uses a hose or a watering can. Aim the water directly at the soil roots. Give the plant a good soaking.

Don’t use the sprinkler on a border full of flowers. It’s pointless.

If you have friends doing the watering, make sure they know which plants need water. Ask them not to use the sprinkler.

Most of your well-established flower beds will survive without being watered while you’re away. You could give them an extra-thorough watering before you leave, then add compost or mulch around the plants to stop the earth drying out. But that is a counsel of perfection.

2) There’s no need to water the lawn while you’re on holiday

Unless you’re obsessed with green stripes, there is no point in watering the lawn. It will go brown but it will bounce back.

However, if it’s a new lawn, you do need to water it daily.

I got this tip from garden designer, Charlotte Rowe. When she saw our newly-laid lawn she said: ‘Alexandra, even if it’s raining, you need to water it every day. Most summer rain isn’t enough for a new lawn.’

Holiday watering tips. New lawns need watering every day.

We laid the lawn in 2010. For the first season, we watered it every day. I even put the sprinkler on it in the rain. Now, however, we never water it.

2) Only water newly-planted plants

In their first year in your garden, shrubs and trees don’t have the root system to survive a few weeks of drought.

After the first season, plant roots can usually reach water deeper in the soil.

If a plant can’t survive the normal weather extremes of a middle-sized garden, then it’s better to plant something else.

I make an occasional exception for hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ because she does start drooping after about two weeks without rain. A whole watering can full of water around her roots usually keeps her going for the next fortnight.

Holiday watering tips: hydrangeas may need watering while you're away

I water hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle” – but all other shrubs must take their chance after the first year.

3) Restrict holiday watering to the veg, pots and annuals

Even the annuals seem to survive a week. Ask friends or gardeners to water the vegetables and the pots. That will save time.

Home-grown vegetables will need holiday watering. Give them a good soaking before you go, then add mulch or compost.

Holiday watering tips - keep your garden growing all year round!

If you don’t have an outside tap, make sure your water butt is filled before you go on holiday. Water butts empty easily!

Ask someone to water them twice a week. Make sure they only water around the roots of the plants and ask them to give them a good puddle of water each.

4) But it is very important to water your pots

I learned this one when Rosie Turner asked me to look after her hydrangeas in pots while she was on holiday. It poured with rain the whole time she was away, so I thought the pots would be fine without attention.

She rang me to say that she had returned to ‘the Gobi desert.’ She has never trusted me with her pots since.

If your waterer isn’t an expert gardener, tell them that pots must be watered twice a week whatever the weather.

The top holiday watering tip - pots need watering twice a week

Rain won’t water these pots.

5) Holiday watering for smaller pots

Holiday watering is different for smaller pots. Another friend asked me to water her pots while she was away. She had dozens of small plants in terracotta pots. I put them all in a big tub, and left them for 36 hours.

I have no idea what ‘proper gardeners’ might think about this method, but the plants loved it. Since then I’ve frequently put a small pot into a bucket of water for 24-48 hours. It has always looked happier and healthier afterwards.

Small pots dry out really quickly – you need to water daily or completely submerge the pots every few days. If you’re only away for a short weekend, leave the smaller pots in the bath.

However, do bear in mind that roots need oxygen as well as water. I have never had a plant die when it is submerged in water. But this tip comes from my own experience, not from any horticultural knowledge.

Group small pots together when you’re going away. They won’t dry out so quickly and it will be easier for your friend to water them quickly.

Better still, move them all into the shade. Pots in the sun dry out more quickly.

You can also put smaller pots on capillary matting, available here.  You soak the capillary matting before you go away and the plants take the water up. If the plants are in hot sun, the capillary matting will dry out more quickly. Capillary matting will work for 2-4 days.

Holiday watering tips: group smaller pots together. Immerse them in water for a few hours.

These ruby antirrhinums dried out completely, turning into brown twigs. I put them in a bucket of water – and forgot about them for several weeks. They seem to have enjoyed the experience although antirrhinums are probably a bit tougher than the average plant.

What about watering spikes and globes?

One way of sorting holiday watering is to use watering spikes or globes. You can buy spikes that fit onto the top of plastic water bottles. You fill the bottle with water, screw on the spike, then turn it upside down and bury it in the soil. The water slowly leaches out to the plant roots as needed.

The globes are an all-in-one solution. You fill the globe with water, turn it upside down and bury it in the soil. The one that had the best reviews on Amazon is available here.  I am an Amazon affiliate, so if you buy through these links, I may get a small fee, but it won’t affect the price you pay.

Reviews of globes and spikes are mixed. They are best used on pots. It’s important to make sure the soil in the pot is tightly packed and well watered. If it isn’t, the water drains out of the globe or bottle too quickly. It’s also important to bury the spike or tip of the globe deeply in the pot so that it reaches the roots.

Holiday watering tips for your garden

I found more good reviews of the globes, and more bad reviews of the spikes. People who followed the instructions carefully found the globes excellent. Most people commented that spikes and globes work best for shorter periods of time, such as 4-5 days. Some complained that it was difficult to find the right size bottle to fit the spikes.

What are your holiday watering tips? Let me know. And if you’ve found this post useful, do please share using the buttons below – thank you!

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