Caption: Water or wine bottles can be combined with commercial products to help regulate the flow of water to container gardens while away on vacation. Photo credit: photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com
by Melinda Myers
Planning a few long weekends or a vacation may have you rethinking your garden plans. Don’t let time away from home stop you from growing flowers and vegetables in containers.
Irrigation systems with timers and self-watering pots are options to make container gardening and vacation care easier. You may, however, just be looking for ways to adapt your existing container gardening care while on vacation.
Find a plant sitter and take time to provide needed plant care instructions. It can be difficult, but you may be able to convince the person stopping by to feed the cat to water your plants. Move containers to a shady spot to extend the time between watering. Make sure the hose is handy. The easier the task, the more likely it will be done, and your plants will survive. Sweeten the deal by offering to share the harvest or return the favor when they leave town.
Create your own self-watering system with a 5-gallon bucket and strips of absorbent material like cotton fabric strips or rope to serve as wicks. Place the bucket amongst your containers. Run the fabric wick from the 5-gallon bucket into the drainage holes of your containers. As the soil dries the water will move from the water-filled bucket into the container moistening the soil. Use long wicks that reach and rest on the bottom of the bucket. Add a lid with holes for the wicks to slow evaporation.
Use an individual setup to create a water reservoir for each container. Set each pot on its own enclosed water filled container. Cut holes in the lid of the water filled container and run wicks into the drainage holes of the pot.
Test whatever system you create before leaving on vacation. You want to make sure everything is in place and working.
For short trips consider using a wine bottle or two-liter soda bottle. They can be used alone or combined with commercial products to help regulate the flow. Just punch a hole in the soil and insert a water filled wine or soda bottle. With cap in place, punch 10 holes in the bottom of the plastic bottle before filling with water and setting in the soil. Evaluate and test how many bottles you need per pot and how long they can sustain your plants.
Increase the watering-holding ability of your potting mix with a product like Wild Valley Farms’ wool pellets (wildvalleyfarms.com). This organic soil additive made from wool waste holds up to 20% of its weight in water. It releases water as needed, so you do not have to water as often.
Further reduce the need to water by growing more drought tolerant plants. Zinnias, lantana, sunflowers, and succulents look beautiful and tolerate drier soil conditions.
A beautiful and productive container garden does not have to stop you from enjoying a long weekend or vacation out of town. Make plans for your container gardens as you plan your next trip.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Wild Valley Farms for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.