How to Keep Your Garden Alive While You’re on Vacation

I still remember — quite vividly — coming home to my first garden after spending 16 days exploring the majestic, rugged Rocky Mountains.

While I was gone, cabbage loopers shredded my collard greens. A forest of weeds claimed my formerly tidy crop rows. The summer sun scorched my tender pepper seedlings. Anthracnose overtook my bush beans. And a budding zucchini — that was the size of my thumb when I left — transformed into a baseball bat.

Welcome home!

I learned a lot from that disheartening experience. And as a result, my garden now not only survives — it thrives while I travel. (Transitioning to Tower Garden didn’t hurt, either.)

With summer steadily approaching, you may have already planned a vacation. But do your plans accommodate your garden?

If not, fear not! In this gardening guide for travelers, I’ll share six things you can do to improve your odds of coming home to happy plants.

The Traveler's Guide to Gardening

1. Grow a garden that waters itself.

One of the most important questions to answer when making vacation plans is: How will you water your plants while you’re away?

There are a number of ways you can achieve this. But most of them are a little complicated, involving timers, drip hoses, and so on. But the easiest (and my favorite) way is to grow a garden that doesn’t need to be watered in the first place.

I’m talking about Tower Garden, of course.

Since Tower Garden uses aeroponic technology to grow plants, it requires as little as 2% of the water traditional growing methods do. That means that — depending on the climate — you can typically go more than 10 days without adding water to the growing system.

And if you’ll be gone for longer, there’s this handy reservoir auto fill kit you can install.

2. Plant low-maintenance crops.

If you’re a frequent traveler, you should consider growing hardy plants — those that flourish with little attention.

Rosemary, parsley, lavender, and other herbs fall into this category of low-maintenance plants. Many greens, such as Swiss chard and kale, are relatively self-sufficient, too. (But you’ll want to pass on lettuce and other tender greens, as these will likely bolt in the summer heat.)

Tower Tip: Get growing guides for these and other plants »

If watering your garden while away is a challenge (and you’re not growing with Tower Garden), you should avoid growing thirsty fruiting plants like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers.

3. Prepare your garden before your trip.

The best way to prevent problems is to make sure there aren’t any when you leave. So if you’re growing a soil garden, that means you should water deeply for a few days and eradicate any weeds.

You should also prune your plants (this will help ensure continued, healthy growth while you’re gone) and look for early signs of trouble.

If you discover you have garden pests, take the appropriate steps to remedy the problem before you go. Otherwise, things may get out of hand in your absence.

4. Harvest whatever you can.

Pick all of your ripe and nearly ripe produce. (Pre-vacation feast!) This will keep your crops from reaching full maturation (thus ending their life cycles) and also help prevent disease caused by overly ripe, rotting produce.

Remember that tomatoes, strawberries, and many other fruits will continue to ripen off the vine. And be sure to harvest any zucchini, squash, or cucumbers you can find — no matter how small. (Otherwise, you’ll come home to monster produce.)

5. Consider decreasing light and nutrients.

If you want to slow your garden’s growth while you’re away — which isn’t a bad idea — avoid fertilizing before you leave (or if you’re growing with Tower Garden, use half-strength nutrients).

And if you can move your garden, relocate it to a partially-shaded area. This break from the hot sun will also reduce the amount of water your plants need.

6. Find a garden sitter.

If you’ll be away for more than a week, ask a friend or neighbor to check on your garden periodically, water plants as needed, and notify you about any problems.

Be sure to offer your helpful garden sitter a “caretaker tax” — let her know she can eat any harvest-ready produce in your absence. It’s only fair, right? (Plus, this regular harvesting will help keep your garden balanced and healthy.)

Bonus step: Enjoy your trip!

After you’ve followed the steps above, kick back, relax, and enjoy your vacation. Your garden should be in good shape when you return.

To recap, here are the six steps of vacation-proofing your garden:

  1. Grow a garden that waters itself (e.g., Tower Garden).
  2. Plant low-maintenance crops.
  3. Prepare your garden before your trip.
  4. Harvest whatever you can.
  5. Consider decreasing light and nutrients.
  6. Find a garden-sitter.

Now that you know how to keep your plants alive while you’re off exploring the world, tell me: Where do you plan to vacation this summer?

Leave a comment below — I can’t wait to hear!

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