August always brings the vacation problem for gardeners. How do you keep your garden alive during the hottest, driest, most productive season? Here are a few tips from Monty Don, Britain's favorite gardener, plus some of my own focused on watering. (Because it rains in England. Even in August! Not so much in California.)
1. Group pots together in the shade, and place them in a tray of water. This creates several benefits. Shade keeps water from evaporating as fast. A tray of water makes a little self-watering system. Since it's just for a couple weeks while you're gone, you don't have to worry about drowning plants that need good drainage. Grouping makes a more humid micro-climate for the plants to share, and makes it easier for a plant-sitter to find all your pots in one place.
2. Find a plant-sitter, and give them simple, clear instructions. Remember, they're doing you a favor - make it easy on them! Mark the must-water plants clearly (maybe with little flags) and invite your sitter to help themselves to any and all produce that looks ripe.
3. Set up automatic watering. Installing a drip system before a vacation is a bit much, but a soaker hose and timer are easy to get at the hardware store. If you do have a drip system, check to make sure it's working properly over the week or so before you leave.
These peppers are mulched with a thick layer of homemade garden compost, plus some extra leaves and straw.
4. Mulch. After a deep watering, cover your soil in a thick (3" minimum) layer of straw, shredded pine bark, compost, etc. This has the combined benefits of keeping moisture in and inhibiting weeds (which compete for moisture).
5. Harvest vegetables and flowers. Picking everything that is ripe (or close to ripe) encourages your plants to grow a new crop to be ready when you return, and can keep plants from going to seed while you're gone.
6. Water deeply as close to your departure as you can. As an excellent gardener explained to me: "No one waters enough by hand. To truly water deeply, put on a podcast and just stand there with the hose for much longer than you think is adequate."
7. Start some seeds! (Really!) Indoors, you can expect your Self-Watering Orta pot to last 2-3 weeks between water refills. Outdoors protected from wind, they'll last about a week. Outdoors in the wind, they'll need filling every 3-4 days. Get your seeds started, leave them somewhere with lots of light, and come home to seedlings!