This article appeared in the July/August 2001 issue of Horticulture Update, edited by Dr. Douglas F. Welsh, and produced by Extension Horticulture, Texas Agricultural Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.

Pre-Vacation Planning Pays

By Ted Fisher
Cherokee County Extension Horticulturist, Rusk

Landscape preparation for a summer vacation may sound like a lot of extra work, but it is really not much more than the normal weekend routine of maintaining a healthy, well-groomed landscape. Just a little extra effort on your part before leaving can make a big difference in the health and well-being of your plants.

Here are some practical tips that should help ensure that your home landscape will not suffer the post-vacation blues. And don't forget to visit some gardens while you are away. There are many spectacular gardens to enjoy in just about any part of the country where you may be headed.

Water the home grounds well prior to leaving. Soak your lawn, gardens, and all landscape plants deeply. Our shallow soils can dry out rapidly even after heavy watering, so if you will be gone over a week, plan to have a neighbor hook up your hose and do a little supplemental watering.

Mow your lawn a day or two before you leave. Use the same cutting height that you normally do. Don't lower the mower blade for a 'closer shave'. Doing so could easily cause sun scald and damage. If you plan to be gone more than a week, it would be a good idea to arrange to have a friend or neighbor mow the lawn for you. Prune hedges and other plants likely to get gangly by the time you return. Be sure that walks and flower beds are neatly edged before your departure. A buildup of growth while you are away will be difficult to manage on your return.

Mulching helps conserve valuable moisture needed for plant growth while you are at home or away. Choose a clean mulch, free of weed seed, and one which will remain loose and well aerated. Consider grass clippings, pine bark, compost, or a variety of other organic materials. Mulching will also reduce or eliminate the weeding problem.

Spray, if necessary, for insects and diseases, to prevent a buildup of pests during your absence. Summer insects and diseases do not take a vacation, and will work overtime on your healthy plants. This goes particularly for chinch bugs. Make sure you have applied chinch bug control to your St. Augustine lawn, or you just might find it severely damaged by this little critter when you return.

Pick all ripe or nearly ripe fruit and vegetables. If you will be gone over a week, arrange for a friend to pull and use produce. Vegetables left unpicked will frequently cease to bear.

Take lawn and garden equipment by the repair shop if needed. They will have it ready by the time you return.

Arrange for a neighbor to pick up newspapers, or ask the paper delivery service to hold them until you return. Newspapers scattered over the front lawn are a dead giveaway that no one is home. Lights on a timer are a good idea, and can provide an impression that someone is home.