Let’s make it easy for ourselves – dealing with holiday watering.
So you plan a holiday, look forward to it for months and in the meantime you happily grow plants from seed or use plug plants and pot them on into tubs and pots to enjoy. So far so good! Then you have the dilemma of how to keep them looking good while you’re away. What to do with your potted plants whilst your on holiday. Typically you ask a friendly neighbour or friend to come and do some watering. However, there are two problems there; you worry it’s is too much to ask - and they worry about killing your precious plants and then over-water them! The end result is a cooling-off of friendships which both parties regret - but the damage has been done!
Here’s my top 3 suggestions to overcome your holiday watering disasters:
1. You can Install automatic irrigation .Typically this links to your outside tap and consists of a timer with a thin hose which runs between all your pots. Some systems have individual off-sets you can set up for each pot or area you want to water, while others use a seep-hose system which means the water trickles out along the entire length of the hose. You set it up to come on for a specific time of day and number of minutes and it does this automatically while you’re away. Over a small area this can be a good solution and it doesn’t take much know-how to set up. It side-steps the whole ask-the-neighbour issue as they aren’t needed to do anything. but The downside is it’s not cheap to buy these systems - and equally importantly it doesn't take into account what weather occurs so if it has rained solidly for the two weeks you are away it will continue watering and your plants will be too wet.
2. Another option is to put saucers or trays beneath under all the pots, and ask your neighbour to water into these rather than from on top. You’d leave plants in the ground to just take their chances. These are watered and thus the the plants in pots just takes up as much water as they need, and your neighbour doesn’t need to have any expertise as they just need to spot when the saucers are empty and fill them up again. This isn’t too expensive, plastic trays or saucers are only £3-5 each (unless you really have got a lot of tubs or pots!) But it can be quite a lengthy and tiring daily chore for your neighbour, especially if there’s hot sunny weather while you’re away.
3. Set up a capillary system. An idea somebody once told me was to group all your pots together onto a large tray. Then fill a bucket or bowl or water and put this next to the tray. Finally, put one end of an old towel in the water and the other into the plant tray. The towel will soak up the water and the plant will then take up as much as it needs. Your neighbour is only needed every couple of days to come and refill the bucket.
A modern equivalent is to buy capillary matting, it can be bought quite cheaply in your local DIY store. The principle is the same as the towel but it is a neater and more reliable option. The matting needs to be on an impermeable surface, so a bin liner, large tray or greenhouse staging with a rolls of plastic sheeting on top are all ideal. Unroll the matting on top of the tray or sheeting, ensuring that part of it (either one end or the middle section) runs through a deep bowl full of water. Wet the whole length of the matting and place the pots on it. Again, the plants just absorb the water they need from beneath so there is no under or over watering. The helpful neighbour then only needs to check on things every couple of days, keeping the bowl full of water, and the watering takes care of itself!
I don’t use the first idea myself because of the cost, but I know several people who do and who feel a permanent system like this really works for them. It can be especially useful for people who have limited mobility or find it difficult to bend down to water. And it means you have your pots and tubs exactly where you want them year-round. I like the third solution best and use it myself.
You can water your plants like this throughout the summer - whether I’m away on holiday or not - because it makes your own life easier. It only costs £10-£20, and I don’t have to be constantly checking whether things need watering. When I’m away on holiday, I now only need to give a simple, easily-followed instruction to the friend or neighbour - whereas previously a lengthy garden tour and detailed briefing was needed!
Do you have any other solutions which work well for you? We’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s successfully solved this annual summer headache……