Weed beds. Weeds compete with garden plants for water and nutrients. And in warm summer weather, weeds seem to multiply when you turn your back. About a week before you depart, set aside time for pulling weeds in high-priority areas, such as edible and perennial flower beds.
Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch on beds and in pots to completely cover the soil, keeping the mulch away from the crown of the plant (where the stalk meets the soil).
If your sprinklers run in the middle of the night (great for cutting evaporation loss), it can be worth turning them on once during the day before you leave to check that the valves are pointed on your beds rather than on hardscape or the street. Adjust as needed. You can also use this time to scout locations where you could potentially move potted plants not on automatic irrigation so that they’ll benefit from the spray.
Hook up a soaker hose. Sure, it’s better to set up soaker hoses or drip irrigation before planting time, but that doesn’t preclude you from doing it now. Many garden centers and home improvement stores sell soaker hose and drip irrigation kits, or you can work directly with an irrigation specialist. Consider adding a simple irrigation timer to your hose bib and soaker hose so that you can control how much water your beds will receive when you’re gone.
It can be helpful to leave a watering schedule and anything needed for the job, such as hoses and watering cans, in plain sight. If you have an edible garden, encourage your garden helper to harvest and enjoy any bounty while you’re gone.
Cluster containers. If you have many small containers scattered across a yard, consider consolidating them into a few groups to make watering more efficient for a neighbor and to prevent a stray pot from being overlooked. Consider moving containers out of direct sun to cut down on how much water they’ll need. Place a watering can filled with water nearby to make it easier for your helper.
Move pots to a place where they’ll get sprinkler water. If you don’t have someone tending to your garden while you’re gone, see if you can move containers to somewhere in the garden where they’ll receive water from your automatic irrigation system. Bare spots in beds are a good bet; avoid resting potted plants directly on the lawn.
Other self-watering strategies, such as planting in ollas (unglazed terra-cotta vessels) buried in the soil or placing plants in a self-watering container, generally have to be implemented at the time of planting. If you travel frequently, you might consider these for next time you plant.
Protect tender plants at risk of burning. Plants can get sunburned, and are more susceptible if they are dehydrated. If you have any at-risk container plants in your garden, move them to partially shaded areas. For tender plants in the ground, consider tacking up a temporary shade structure using bamboo stakes and shade cloth.
Harvest. Pick everything that’s ripe or near ripe before you leave, to prevent food waste and to keep your garden producing when you’re gone. If you can’t take the produce with you, gift it to neighbors or donate it to a shelter. For zucchini and other summer squashes, harvest any baby-size ones — they’ll be delicious eaten at this size and otherwise would be giant baseball bats by the time you return. Tomatoes can be picked when they just show color, and will continue to ripen off the vine. Cut some flowers for a bouquet to take with you on a car trip or as a thank-you to a neighbor who’s helping to look after the garden. Pinch back herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro and mint that are showing signs of flowering.
This content was originally published here.