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Holiday drinking

30 May 2014

iStock

EACH summer, I am called on to judge the "Gardens" category in our village show. It is a humbling experience; there are many examples of good plantsmanship on display, and often the impression that the owners had been up much earlier than me that day.

I remember my surprise last June, when I stumbled on some potted tomato-plants. Their matt leaves hung like limp dishcloths from a skeletal framework. The perpetrator of neglect quickly explained that it was intentional, and encouraged flowering and fruit set.

Now it is true that a stressed plant will be eager to set seed and thereby procreate - or had he just forgotten to water the day before? Certainly, later in a tomato's life-cycle erratic watering often causes fruit to split, and varieties such as "Sungold" are particularly vulnerable. Anyway, call me a softie, but I could not do it - any more than I could leave the dog's water-bowl intentionally empty. Which is all very well until one goes away on holiday.

For holiday pot-plant care, you may know an instinctive gardener who can step in, or you may feel inclined to leave detailed instructions. In my experience, a casual "keeping an eye on things" leads to casualties. Non-gardeners just do not read the signs; so it is worth taking a few measures beforehand.

Be pro-active at the planting-up stage. Summer bedding-plants vary enormously in their ability to cope with dry spells in containers. Choose gazanias, felicias, pelargoniums, tuberous begonias, verbenas, and Livingstone daisies with ivy for foliage. Avoid petunias and lobelias. The larger the pot, the more drought-resistant it will be.

Water-retaining gel, which comes as dry granules that you mix in with the compost, really does help. Be careful to hydrate when the pot is half full of mixture, as the granules expand considerably. Cover the exposed surface of the compost with some kind of mulch, such as gravel, chipped bark, shells, or mosaic tiles.

Just before you go away, group the containers together, which helps to raise the local humidity; and give them a thorough water. Place in shallow trays of water if possible. An alternative is to bury the pots up to their necks in a garden bed; but in either case a shady spot is needed.

Neither of these methods would keep thirsty tomato plants happy for long, but the Duogrow Planter, from Greenhouse Sensation, with a large reservoir linked to the pots with capillary matting, could help you. With a large summer pot-display, it may be worth investing in an automatic watering-system on a timer. Set it up in good time to find the minimum dose needed.

If you have just a few small houseplants, there is a nifty product: Holiday Plant Savers. These are plastic pouches in which you make up a gel by mixing water and the granules supplied. Your plant sits in the gel, and can take up the water for at least two weeks. But remember: a plant can look dreadful without reaching the point of no return. On homecoming, plunge them into a bucket of water before you even put the kettle on.

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