In the Garden:
Middle South
June, 2012
Regional Report

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To make containers vacation-ready and easy to water, move them from their place in the spotlight and group them near a hose bib in an area with morning sunshine and afternoon shade.

Prepare a Vacation-Ready Garden

What kind of idiot would plan a 12-day vacation in the last weeks of July, when the relentless heat and searing sun are sure to take their toll on the garden? Well, actually, that would be me, but with good reason. I'm escorting 20 travelers on a garden tour to the border area of England and Scotland during the peak season of bloom.

I can hardly wait to undertake our adventure at Hill Top Farm, the Lake District home of Beatrix Potter, and see the landscape which prompted her to become one of the greatest conservationists of her time. And I'm equally excited about visiting the famous topiaries of Levens Hall and the rock garden at Sizergh Castle, as well as spending a whole day at Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Garden.

Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to the food, too. These days, my mouth waters at the thought of a ploughman's lunch with Stilton cheese and crusty bread, and an afternoon tea of scones spread with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Before I begin to pack, however, I'll take time to prepare the garden, as best as I can, to fend for itself in my absence.

First, I'll check and adjust the irrigation system so that sprinkler heads are reaching areas they're intended to service. Then, I'll make sure I'm watering deeply in the weeks before I depart, so roots grow down into the soil, rather than along its surface, which makes plants more susceptible to drought.

Container gardens will be grouped near a hose bib where there's a bit of morning sunshine, but shade for the remainder of the day. Placed in this ideal spot, they'll be easy to water and need less attention from my husband, Tim, who's likely to overlook them on most days.

Though plant sales that started with the arrival of summer are tempting, I won't purchase anything new at this late date. There's too little time for root establishment and not enough reason to take the risk. I'll also hold off on pruning and fertilizing until after my return, because these practices stimulate new growth and increase the need for water.

I'll weed where necessary, but avoid cultivating the soil excessively, as aeration makes garden beds dry more quickly.

Instead, I'll ensure there's plenty of mulch around new plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Though I spread a 2 to 3-inch layer of hardwood mulch earlier this year, some areas have washed away in heavy spring rains and are now too sparsely covered.

I won't make any changes in our lawn mowing schedule since Tim will remain at home. If your family travels together, however, resist the urge to cut the grass extra short, which exposes the soil to the drying effects of wind and sun.

My garden is too shady for most food crops, but if you grow vegetables and fruits, encourage neighbors to pick them while you're away. Overripe produce spoils quickly and will draw unwanted pests to the garden.

Then, like me, say a prayer, cross your fingers, and hope for the best as you toss your suitcase into the car. In the short term, travel may be hard on plants, but the ideas and enthusiasm you'll garner will be a boon for the future of your garden.


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