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FEATURE –If you are planning a couple of long weekends or a vacation, you may need to rethink your gardening plans. Don’t let your home stop you from growing flowers and vegetables in containers.

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Irrigation systems with timers and self-watering pots make gardening in containers and vacation maintenance easier. However, you may just be looking for ways to customize your existing container garden maintenance while on vacation.

Find a plant sitter and take the time to provide necessary plant care instructions. It can be difficult, but you can convince the person who comes by to feed the cat to water your plants. Put the containers in a shady spot to extend the time between waterings. Make sure the hose is within easy reach. The easier the task, the more likely it will be done and your plants will survive. Sweeten the deal by offering to share the harvest or return a favor when they leave town.

Create your own self-watering system using a 5 gallon bucket and strips of absorbent material, such as strips of cotton cloth or rope, that act as wicks. Place the bucket between your containers. Insert the cloth wick from the 5 gallon bucket into the drainage holes on your containers. As the soil dries, the water moves from the bucket filled with water into the container to moisten the soil.

Use long wicks that reach the bottom of the bucket and rest on it. Add a lid with holes for the wicks to slow evaporation.

Use a custom setup to create a water reservoir for each container. Put each pot on its own container filled with water. Cut holes in the lid of the container filled with water and run wicks into the drainage holes of the pot.

Water or wine bottles can be combined with commercially available products to regulate the flow of water to the container gardens during the holiday. Location, place, and date are not specified Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com, St. George News

Test the system you have created before going on vacation. You want to make sure everything is in place and working.

Use a wine bottle or two-liter soda bottle for short trips. They can be used alone or in combination with commercially available products to regulate the flow. Just punch a hole in the bottom and insert a wine or soda bottle filled with water. With the cap on, punch 10 holes in the bottom of the plastic bottle before pouring water and placing it in the bottom. Evaluate and test how many bottles you need per pot and how long they can hold your plants.

Increase the water holding capacity of your potting soil with a product like Wild Valley Farms wool pellets, which you can find here. This organic soil additive, made from wool waste, holds up to 20% of its weight in water. It releases water when needed so you don’t have to water as often.

Further reduce water needs by growing more drought tolerant crops. Zinnias, lantana, sunflowers, and succulents look beautiful and can handle drier soil conditions.

A beautiful and productive container garden doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying a long weekend or vacation out of town. Make plans for your container gardens as you plan your next trip.

Copyright Melinda Myers, LLC, all rights reserved.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts the DVD series “How to Grow Anything” from The Great Courses and the nationally syndicated segments Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & Radio. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.