For most people, vacation stress revolves around packing and traveling. For gardeners, you’ll likely find us digging last-minute holes in the ground, deadheading flowers, or even panic-watering one hour before a flight (true story).
We’re guessing not that many gardeners are posting blissed-out photos on the beach every summer—because leaving our hard-earned gardens for a week or more is out of the question.
But listen up, fellow gardeners: You, too, deserve a vacation. Which is why we came up with this list of everything you can do to keep your garden happy while you sip tropical cocktails many miles away.
Here are seven tips to help your garden survive (and thrive) while you’re traveling this summer.
1. Throw down some extra mulch
Whether you have an irrigation system or not, it’s always a good idea to do everything you can to prevent your garden from drying out during your absence. One way to do that is by adding some extra mulch before you go.
“Prep your garden for reduced water,” says gardener Jessica Zhao, chief marketing officer of Spacewhite. “Add mulch to your garden beds to keep the moisture in the soil during hot summer days, and water more frequently leading up to your departure date. The morning of your departure, do a heavy water and wet down all the mulch in your garden.”
2. Consider adding fencing
If you live in an area rife with squirrels, giant squirrels (aka deer), rabbits, or any other garden-munching critters, now’s the time to install that fencing you’ve been talking about all summer.
“Fencing can help to make your garden more secure while you’re away,” says gardener Thomas O’Rourke, of Horticulture Magazine. “It can also offer a shaded area for plants that are likely to dry out in the heat of summer.”
If dropping the big bucks on fencing isn’t in the cards for you, consider at least leaving some pest repellent out and accessible for whoever will be tending your garden.
Which brings us to the next point…
3. Pick the right person to look after your garden
If you’re leaving for more than a week, you’ll want to have someone tending your garden—and you shouldn’t just assume your neighbors can do it. Choose someone who’s actually a gardener or someone you’re paying to do the job well.
“Don’t rely on neighbors, unless you’re envious of their garden,” says gardener Rick Hoskins, founder of Filter King. “If your neighbors don’t take care of their own garden, they won’t take care of yours. Ask someone with the skills and interest to do the job right.”
4. Create a cheat sheet for your stand-in gardener
You also shouldn’t assume that whoever you hire will remember every little nuance of your garden—because they probably won’t. Instead, create a cheat sheet to help your stand-in gardener, and consider labeling your plants or doing a walk-through together to help them understand what your plants need.
“A garden checklist is something that every organized gardener should consider,” says O’Rourke. “This is particularly useful if you’re growing annuals, vegetables, or new plants that you haven’t grown before. With the right instructions, it can be easily passed to someone who can help look after your garden while you’re away.”
5. Stow away any products you don’t want used
Keep things simple for your garden sitter by putting into storage any products you don’t want used during your absence (e.g., fertilizers, compost, pest sprays), and leaving out only the ones you do want the sitter to use. This is especially relevant for gardeners going on long trips, where more than watering might be required.
“Alongside your checklist, it helps to prepare the maintenance products you’d like your gardener to use while you’re away,” says O’Rourke. “Reference these in the corresponding task on your checklist to ensure the right fertilizers, composts, etc. are used on the correct plants.”
6. Cut back and deadhead
This might sound like a superficial exercise, but there’s actually good reason to deadhead and cut back your flowers before you head out for summer vacation.
“Deadheading cuts down on the amount of water needed, and allows your plant to use the basic amount for survival rather than flower and seed-head production,” says Clive Harris, creator of DIY Garden.
So go ahead and pick a few bouquets for your friends, and for your garden sitter as a preemptive thank you!
7. Give your garden a hearty watering
Set your plants up for success by giving them one last, long drink as close to your departure time as you can. Water each individual plant, soak your new mulch, and double check any irrigation lines or hose timers.
Then, lay down your shovel, wash the dirt off your face, and catch that plane. Vacation awaits.