Plant care: Keep your garden green at Christmas

Travelling over the holidays? Here's how you can keep your plants healthy and happy while you're away.
Don't let your precious plant dry up and die. iStock
Don't let your precious plant dry up and die. iStock

With the festive season just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to some much-­deserved time away.

But for gardeners, the prospect of travel can conjure up excitement and anxiety in equal measure. There are new and exotic gardens to be visited, foreign species to be discovered and unfamiliar nurseries to be explored. But there’s also the fate of your own plants, waiting patiently back in the UAE, to worry about.

Leaving your plants at this time of year presents slightly less cause for concern than jetting off in the middle of July, when temperatures are soaring and watering regimes are far more demanding. Still, after months of getting your garden in tip-top condition, the last thing you want is to come home to a wasteland.

In among planning your trip, digging out your few remaining jumpers and winter coats, shopping for gifts and making sure you get your pet pooch to the kennels in time, don’t forget to carry out a detailed check of your plants and make preparations for their care while you’re away. Depending on how long you’ll be travelling for, this plan of action should consider the needs of both your outdoor and indoor plants.

If you’re getting someone to come in to help, it should obviously be somebody who you trust – particularly for your indoor plants, as they will need to have access to your home – but it should ideally also be someone with a horticultural bent, especially if your garden requires specialist care.

Either way, try to leave as little as possible to chance. Provide detailed instructions – Post-it notes and spreadsheets if necessary – and try to schedule a practice run with your volunteer before you go. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring them back a nice gift to say thank you for their valued work.

If you have an automated watering system, now is a good time to make sure everything is working properly and that there aren’t any leaks or blockages in the pipes.

Wherever possible, group your plants in accordance with their irrigation needs. Keep your thirsty specimens in one place and your drought-­resistant species elsewhere, to avoid any confusion. This way, your helpful volunteer won’t have to play any guessing games when it comes to watering time. You don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of drought-resistant plants that have become accustomed to lots of water in your absence. This will create needy, weak plants, with increased watering expectations – something that will take time to ­correct.

When it comes to houseplants, as a rule, established specimens in larger pots should be able to survive unattended for seven to 10 days, if placed in a cool room. Wherever possible, move them out of direct sunlight; by reducing their light supply, you will minimise growth, decrease the amount of water they’ll need in your absence and prevent the soil from drying out ­completely.

Also, hold off on adding any fertiliser before your departure – the aim is for your plants to grow as slowly as possible while you are away. Make sure to remove any excess foliage and flower growth, and water well before you head off. ­Remove any bottom trays/cachepots to make sure your plants aren’t sitting in water the whole time, which will cause their roots to rot – a sure-fire way to ensure that you come home to a whole lot of unhappy greenery.

Enjoy your holidays.

Selina Denman is the editor of Home&Garden and Luxury magazine.

Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM


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