How to Water While You’re Away

It’s an age-old problem: how do you keep your garden alive while you head off on holiday?

Over the last few years I’ve grown a wealth of different fruits and vegetables in my garden – and all while visiting just once every week or so. In that time I’ve tested out a range of ways to keep your plants watered with minimal effort. Here’s what’s worked best for me…

Choose the Right Varieties

Roadside Wildflower (Gazania)

Some plants cope far better with irregular watering (or all-out drought) than many others. If you know you’ll be away for a few weeks in the height of summer then planning ahead can take many of the headaches away. Aim to grow flowers, fruits and vegetables which thrive (or at least survive) a period of dryness.

Great examples of less drought-sensitive flowers are gazania, livingstone daisies and many bulbs, which manage to retain water underground.

Retain Moisture

Round Squash

There’s little point in watering regularly if the water immediately evaporates away before your beloved plants can absorb it. Using some form of mulch on your beds can help to prevent this, keeping the soil moister for longer.

Whether you make use of weed control matting, or a thick layer of bark chipping, straw or even grass clippings, a good covering of the soil around your plants can make life a lot easier.

If you like something a little more “vegetative” then consider growing ground-covering plants that will spread and act just like mulch. As an example, I like to grow nasturtiums and squashes on my vegetable plot, where they ramble across the ground, protecting it from drying out.

Use a Drain

Most of us water the surface of our gardens; we use a watering can, hose or sprinkler to soak the soil from the top down. But if you can drive water deep down around the roots of your plants they’ll not only be able to absorb more, but the water won’t evaporate as quickly.

A really useful trick can be burying an empty plant pot, or piece of pipe, alongside your more thirsty plants. In such a way you can simply tip water into this container, which will then allow it to travel deep down into the soil.

Drip Feeders

Plastikflaschen als Bewässerungshilfe

My greenhouse is probably the hardest thing of all to keep watered in summer. On a hot July day I can water first thing in the morning and within hours it looks like I’ve never even been there. Here I have found that drip feeders can be of use.

Quite simply these devices contain a reservoir of water which slowly drips out throughout the day, helping to water your plants when you’re away. While they sadly won’t last for some weeks, I have found that a properly set-up drip feeder will water for two or three days. This means far less time spent watering, especially if someone else is going to help out while you’re away.

There are a range of options out there. From more luxurious high end versions, down to simpler versions.

Some of the cheapest, and most effective, look rather like a drinks bottle lid with a spike attached. Simply cut the bottom off a plastic drinks bottle and screw the drip feeder “lid” on. Turn it upside down and drive the spike into the soil by your plants.

Fill the now-open bottle with water and let this drip out over the coming hours and days. Simply top up the water level as required.

Water Trays

If you are growing plants in containers then placing a tray filled with water underneath can be highly beneficial. This reservoir can then be topped up as required, allowing the soil (and your plants) to slowly absorb all the moisture they need.

Share With a Friend

Despite all the points mentioned so far, the reality is you’ll still probably need a little help along the way. Try speaking to family, friends and neighbours, to see if anyone is willing to help out. In exchange you can either agree to do their garden while they’re away, or you can give them permission to help themselves to your produce!

Even in cases where you manage to get help the other steps outlined so far can be beneficial. You want to make their job as easy (and therefore painfree) as possible. If you get your ground cover set up, and your various water trays and drip feeders set up and tested in advance, then you might only need someone to visit twice a week just to top up the levels and check all is as it should be.

Timed Sprinklers

As a final tip, for serious gardeners willing to invest in their garden, it is possible to purchase sprinkler systems which work on a timer. Set these to turn on at a specified time in the evening and your garden will receive all the water it needs without anyone having to lift a finger.

It’s the ultimate “hands off” way to water your garden while you’re away, but will take a little investment of time and money to set up and test before you head off to the sun.

How do you keep your garden watered while you’re away? Please leave your top tips in the comments section below…

How to water your garden when you're on vacation. Don't worry about your garden plants drying up in the summer; instead these tips will keep everything lush and green in your absence.

(Images c/o Wayne S. GrazioLocal Food Initiative, Maja Dumat)