2011-08-04 / Features

The Potting Shed

Tips For The Busy Or The Traveling Gardener
By Carole McCray


McCray McCray Those who love gardening may find themselves lured away from necessary garden chores. And those gardeners who take a summer vacation need to know that their garden will be home working hard. To keep your garden looking good while you take a break, here are some tips for keeping your garden going and freeing up your time to enjoy the summer.

To help busy gardeners cut to the chase, here’s a quick list of proactive measures that payoff by minimizing work or maximizing results over the long run.

Feed, Then Don’t – Just as too much water can damage a garden, so can too much fertilizer. As the days grow warmer, especially if conditions are dry, fertilizer is not as useful. Feed only in the summer if it is cool and moist. Especially with woody perennials such as roses, stop fertilizing in late summer and fall.

Stop Weeds Before They Start –To win the war on weeds, focus on their seeds. Pull existing weeds before they go to seed, and stop the millions of dormant seed seeds lurking in garden soil from sprouting. If you did not mulch in the spring, consider mulching now or in the fall. Mulch denies weed seeds the light they need to germinate. It also helps soil retain moisture and keeps soil temperatures even. For maximum weed prevention, apply a garden weed preventer such as Preen atop mulch to further target weed seeds in soil or mulch. Spring is the best time to apply a weed preventer, but it’s never too late to start. Apply weed preventers after weeding.


To keep the garden looking lovely, you can apply a second application of a weed preventer atop mulch mid season. To keep the garden looking lovely, you can apply a second application of a weed preventer atop mulch mid season. No Lifebuoys for Bad Bugs – When bad bugs like Japanese beetles and others first appear and are few, it’s easy to pick them off by hand and squish them, effective but icky, or knock them into a jar of soapy water where they can’t swim or fly away and works great and morbidly satisfying. Try to eliminate as many as possible before they decimate your plants or worse, lay eggs that will multiply. If the infestation worsens, consider spraying plants with an insecticidal soap.

While you take time for a vacation from your garden and are traveling, these tips will help you return to your garden, still well maintained and not looking neglected while you were away.

Give It a Good Soak – Before heading out, give flower and vegetable gardens a last good long soak. Depending on how long you are gone and the local weather, more watering may not be necessary. Established annuals can usually last for 10 days without supplemental water. Most perennials can make it through two weeks, and trees and shrubs can go about a month. Healthy lawns can survive four to six weeks without water.

Protect Container Plantings – Container plants usually need more water than in- ground plantings. For prized plants, you might ask a friend for help. To make it easier for them to water, place containers in a group arrangement in a protected area with indirect sun, but access to rainfall. This makes it easier for watering, not to miss a pot and less work for your friend.

Do Pinch Back Now – Check containers for leggy plants that would benefit from a good hard pinch back to refresh their late season growth and appearance. Pinch them now, and your plants can rebound from that freshly shorn ‘bad haircut look’ while you’re not around.

Apply a Pre-emergent Garden Weed Preventer – Midsummer is a good time to apply a pre-emergent garden weed preventer such as Preen. If you had applied it in the spring, a second application atop mulch or soil will stop weed seeds in the soil and mulch from sprouting while you are away and well into the fall. Mulch and Preen prevent new weeds from happening; they don’t kill existing weeds.

Don’t Feed Before You Leave – Don’t fertilize plants before leaving. Slower growth is what you want while you are away and into the fall.

Harvest Produce – Harvest as much produce as possible before you leave. If you can’t take it with you or have too much, donate it to a food pantry or share with friends or family. If you are going to be gone for more than two weeks, consider having someone visit the vegetable garden to harvest any produce.

Following these helpful tips for traveling gardeners or gardeners who become side- tracked from gardening chores will ensure an easy to maintain garden and not so overwhelming gardening tasks once you return home from a vacation or take time away from your garden.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Gaden Writers Association Award for her article on native seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net.

Photo courtesy of The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

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