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Going away? Some tips for the garden left behind

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.
Before you travel, cut off the spent blooms of such annuals as marigolds to encourage fresh growth and new flowers.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. Is it too late to do some planting of annuals? I didn’t get to it for various reasons over the past few weeks.

    A. Yes, there are plenty of annuals and perennials in garden centers now, blooming and ready to plant. However, take care to water the plants well when you set them out in pots or beds. They will require close attention to watering while the roots become established. Water in the morning, not late in the day.

Regular rainfall in recent weeks has reduced the worry gardeners often feel when they leave their beautiful flower beds and vegetable gardens for a summer vacation. It’s one less thing to think about.

Yet, even with the promise of reasonable rainfall, other things require attention to keep everything looking good while your feet are in the surf or your mind at peace in the mountains.

Flower beds that are growing robustly can carry on without you for a week or two. But it helps, before you go, to cut the spent blooms off marigolds, petunias and zinnias. This will encourage fresh growth and prevent decline of the plants caused by annual plants going to seed.

Other flowers, notably begonias and impatiens, can pretty much carry on without this deadheading. Begonias will stand up should it not rain, but a bed of impatiens may require watering, especially if there is no mulch to reduce the rate of evaporation. A light application of fertilizer will give them the boots to produce new flowers and foliage to enjoy as summer progresses.

Pots and hanging baskets will require attention by a friend or neighbor. In hot weather they dry out fast and require water daily. That is where to lean on your friends and neighbors.

The vegetable garden requires a thorough going-over before you go. Pick all ripe tomatoes, squashes and other fruits. If things are merely advancing toward ripeness, ask your garden-watcher to pick them when ripe. Leaving them on the plant after ripening will lead to decline and reduce productivity.

As long as rainfall occurs regularly – and that seems to be the pattern this summer – you won’t have to worry about watering the vegetable garden. But should it not rain for a week, your friend or neighbor can help. Offer picking rights to the garden while you are away and offer to repay the favor when they go away.

House plants can stand it in a cool house for a week to 10 days without attention. Do not leave them standing in saucers of water because that will encourage rot. If the pots aren’t too big to carry, move them all to a shady spot outdoors where they can be watered by rainfall or your garden buddy.

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