Sow There!: Summer plants get by with a little help from friends, July 12, 2018

July 12, 2018 at 10:36 pm

My seemingly short and well-deserved vacations this summer caused me to cash in on friendship equity. My dad’s side of the family organized a cruise to Catalina and beyond, as well as a hop to Hogwart’s castle. When you’re gone for a week during a heat storm you need more than one reliable friend. To keep my potted plants alive, I created a watering schedule then asked several friends to commit to stopping by on a certain day.

I sent electronic reminders while I was on the road.

Long ago, my dear friend Kara was my go-to gal when I needed someone to go above and beyond. Kara’s heart is as big as the Grinch’s heart at the end of the story. I wasn’t the only person who noticed her (seemingly) endless willingness to do for others.

One day Kara said she had decided to stop being everyone’s helping hand. I agreed wholeheartedly. “Good for you. People really do take advantage of your kindness,” I said adamantly. “But you’ll still water MY plants when I go out of town, right?”

Kara was right, of course. So I’m trying not to burn out the friends I was able to ask for this recent journey out of town.

Green plants are a true testament of friendship. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

That vacation came and went. Just a week later, I had an unscheduled call to leave town for a week. This was really pushing it. I had just recruited folks, nagged via social media and said thank-yous.

I’m not willing to make major life changes, but I’m beginning to wonder if I have too many plants. I should have/could have installed a drip irrigation system years ago. Or – gulp – maybe I should pay some reliable teenager to make the rounds with a garden hose in one hand, and her cell phone in the other.

In the meantime, I’m feeling grateful that my friends were willing to do me yet another favor.

Things I learned the hard way

Simply because a plant is listed as “hardy” or “full sun,” does not mean that plants thrive when left with very little water in 100-plus degree temperatures. When you leave home, move all the plants to partial or even full shade. Having all the important plants in one place also makes it easier for your incredible.

Other potted plant tips

Water runs through a pot quickly, and a contained plant will need more water after a day in the sun. In summer, liners under the pot allow the roots to absorb additional water. Keep an eye on things, however, because standing water for long periods of time will damage roots and could lead to a nasty mosquito problem. Some folks use hydrogel crystals, which absorb water then release moisture to the soil. However, I don’t like the idea of adding polymers to perfectly good soil.

Mulch does wonders in the raised garden bed, as well as in a container. With mulch, less water evaporates and the soil is protected (a bit) from the heat of the sun.

Overall, container plants need a steady diet of fertilizer. Each time water flows through the soil, nutrients are whisked away. Adding compost is a good plan to improve the quality of the soil. Yet, I rely on Osmocote (available in bulk at Northern Star Mills), a time release fertilizer. I add a teaspoon of the granules whenever it occurs to me, usually once every 2-3 months. Do not add fertilizer to a dry pot, because you can burn the roots.

In summer, potted plants may actually need watering every day. You can use this information when you are asking friends for a much-needed favor. One reason is that as plants wither with neglect, then regain their shape, it takes a lot out of the plant. Better to get a small shot of water every day than to go through the trouble of looking half dead (until they’re really dead).

Allowing for loss

The first time I left town for an extended vacay, I was seriously bummed when I returned and found dead plants. Of course, I blamed my friend Thor who was housesitting. Surely, he did not provide the right kind of plant love I had learned over the years. However, I’ve lost more than one plant this summer despite an abundance of loving intent. I’ve also learned to tell the kind-hearted hose-haulers that it’s OK if something drops dead while I’m gone.

The final vacation garden tip is to surround yourself by really nice people and be prepared to return the favor.

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