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Holidays just mean all this extra work; Ready for a break? Roger Clarke gives tips on taking care of plants whi le you are away.

Plants cannot live by sun alone. Somewhere along the line even the best equipped needs the odd bit of moisture, which is where holidays become such an inconvenience in the ordered life of the gardener.

Miss out on watering in a dry sunny spell and plants are very quickly heading for the garden in the sky.

For most people the answer is a friend or neighbour doing the honours so make life easy for them by watering well before you leave and giving specific instructions if plants or containers need special treatment.

If you don't have an outdoor tap you should consider fitting one or having one fitted. If your waterer does not grow hanging baskets or have containers near the house and you do, it is always worthwhile giving a gentle reminder about watering even if it rains.

There is always a temptation to give watering a miss in wet spells particularly if it would involve doing the job from under an umbrella while wearing wellies.

But in the shelter of a house wall baskets and pots can survive monsoon conditions without suffering more than a few drops, so daily watering is a virtual must.

Having pots lining a path providing focal points around the garden or patio might look pretty but as you won't be there to see it, who cares.

So wherever possible move pots and containers together to make watering a simple task.

It also helps to move them to an area where they get some shade to cut down the drying effects of the sun.

If greenhouse watering is involved make life as simple as possible by ensuring that any water butts or containers are full.

If you have plants in pots then, unless they are delicate souls, move them out to join their container brethren on the patio to help concentrate plants to be watered.

Again, if your waterer does not have a greenhouse, be specific in any advice and instructions - including the obvious one of helping themselves to any tomatoes or flowers which are ready while you are away.

Capillary matting will help extend the periods between watering in greenhouses and keep up humidity - which deters red spider mite.

Lay polythene on a level surface, usually on top of the staging, the cover with matting. The polythene prevents the matting drying out or water escaping below.

Drape the end of the matting into a container of water - I find a cheap washing up bowl serves the purpose admirably - to act as a reservoir. Pop plants on the matting, water well and once they have got the idea they should survive several days between r eservoir fills.

Roots are usually poking through smaller pots but in larger ones, particularly where the drainage hole is covered with pebbles or gravel you may well have to introduce watering wicks.

You can buy ready made jobs, a bit like lengths of thick string, or just cut narrow strips or matting.

These are either poked through the drainage holes into the compost or pushed down into the compost at the top and draped over the side on to the matting below.

Either way their job is to draw up moisture into the pot.

Matting is also useful for house plants. It can be laid on the draining board draped into a basin of water which will keep plants going for some time, particularly if they are shaded from full sun.

If your waterer is unable to carry out the task every day or you want to be self sufficient then these days automatic watering systems are now an affordable alternative.

Probably the simplest and best value for money is the micro-irrigation system from Hozelock.

This has a supply pipe which connects on to the mains supply with smaller bore feeder pipes which connect to various drip feeders, micro sprays and misters.

Top of the range is the garden kit with an RRP of a penny short of pounds 70 although you can find it on discount - I spotted it reduced in Do-It-All.

The garden kit also contains the Hozelock electronic water timer.

In the past electronic timers, which use batteries, have been complicated affairs with a clock and various settings allowing you to set the unit to water several times a day for defined periods of time which is very nice, but a bit of overkill.

With the Hozelock unit there is a clock but you won't see it and it will only water once a day for any time up to two hours.

Insert the batteries, affix to the tap, and that is the installation complete.

Decide when you want to water and for the first time only start the automatic watering off at the time you want for the length of time you want.

If that happens to be midnight for two hours then the unit will water for two hours at midnight for the rest of time until you change the set.

There are smaller kits, also with timers, suitable for patios or greenhouses. With a bit of ingenuity the kits can be used to water an entire garden, making the job truly automatic.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 25, 1998
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