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Who will tend to the garden while you’re away?

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I still see tomatoes on the shelves in garden stores. It isn’t too late to plant, is it?

    Not at all. We had a very cool spring and gardeners have been late to get the tomatoes in. But the soil is warm now and these and other summer crops should grow rapidly in the present weather.

Vacation season is here, and before you go, take some action to preserve the health and well-being of the flowers and vegetables you planted in recent weeks. They represent an investment of time, money and energy and have the potential for great things this summer.

Before you go, consider these steps:

Appoint a guardian: This could be a neighbor, relative or friend, preferably one who also has a garden. The trade-off is that the guardian takes care of yours and then you take care of the guardian’s garden later on. Full picking rights should be given as compensation for this effort. Of course, there is no predicting how much time will be required for watering. It could rain every other day or it could get totally dry and very hot, requiring close attention with the hose.

Vegetable beds suffer mightily from neglect in summer. To keep producing and stay healthy, they require about 1 inch of water a week, either from heaven or hose. And picking is essential. Tomatoes, squash, peppers and other summer crops can rot on the plant if you leave them alone. Hopefully, their blooms will have a fresh crop ready for you soon after you return from your trip.

Clear the weeds: You should not leave the flower beds and vegetable gardens with a large amount of newly sprouted weeds. The guardian should not be expected to deal with them, and today’s 1-inch weed could be a foot high by the time you get back. Do not let weeds take advantage of all that beautifully prepared soil. At the same time, give a thought to spent flowers of marigolds and zinnias. As with vegetables, letting them go to seed shortens the life of these flowers, so nip off the old blooms while you work over the weeds.

Make plans for potted plants: This is essential because potted plants and hanging baskets outdoors dry out rapidly in hot weather. These require a check every day and probably water every day. This is not something to be slack about, and whatever produce and flowers your guardian gets are worth it to save these valuable pots and baskets. Try to group them together in a spot that’s not too hot and within easy reach of the hose.

Help out the houseplants: Many devices are in stores to keep potted houseplants watered while you are at home or away. Most work very well, drawing water from a separate reservoir as the soil dries. Lacking this, make plans to keep them watered. The guardian, of course, might do this for you. It is easiest if you group the potted plants in the shower stall, where someone can simply turn on a gentle waterfall once a week or so. This is a lot faster than going through the house with a watering can in hand. Plants accustomed to the low light of a house should not suffer in the dim shower for a short time. If you are going away for longer than two weeks, I suggest leaving them in their accustomed place and getting the guardian to water them once a week.

With the grass cut, everything weeded and watered, you are ready to go and leave your beds and plants in the helpful hands of a guardian.

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