How to Protect a Winter Vegetable Garden When You Leave Home for the Holidays

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Of course it's wonderful to take a holiday vacation, but um, hey- don't forget your plants. You've poured time, money and water into growing something awesome. But not planning ahead means they will die while you're gone and if you have veggies, you've basically lost the veggie season. Here are some reminders of what to do, and what not to do to ensure your plants survive vacation.

See also: 5 Gifts for the Home Gardener

First things first. Check the weather reports. While it's a good idea to have someone look in on your plants, if you have a timed watering system you'll want to try and water between 8 am and 4 pm when frost is possible. Also, if you have basil, citrus, peppers or chiles, harvest those before you leave town this winter in case of frost. If you like to make pesto- good news, you can make it and freeze it to enjoy all year long. You can also offer free produce and pesto to anyone who might be willing to plant sit for you. It's bribery, but it works.

Once you set your drip system accordingly, show the person who is taking care of your garden how to adjust the schedule. Also, show them the shut off valve-- just in case! To help keep plants warm, watering is an important part of ensuring you avoid frost damage. Keeping your soil moist means it will hold and release more heat than dry soil. The next day, you can get the ice off your plants by spraying them with some water, so leave a spray bottle for the person checking on your garden, but you should avoid watering immediately after a frost. You want the plant to thaw out naturally.

Set up frost cloth ahead of time so your garden sitter doesn't have to bother with it. It should let in enough sun to keep things growing for a short period of time. If you use plastic, burlap or sheets, they'll need to be removed each morning. If you're only going to be gone 4-5 days, you can probably get away with one big watering before you leave town. Pay special attention to things like mint and leafy vegetables that may need more water than other veggies.

For indoor plants or small container gardens, try investing in a Plant Nanny (available at the Desert Botanical Garden's shop) or locally made Refresh Glass planters (available at many local Whole Foods) to attend to the watering needs of these plants. Both of these products recycle wine bottles into self watering systems for your plants and they work for up to 2 weeks! Also beware of the temperature in your house. If you turn your heat down while you're out of town, be careful not to let your house drop below 60 degrees or so, your indoor plants may not like a drastic temperature shift. Otherwise, let your friends who stay in town borrow your indoor plants for a bit!

Final thought, don't ignore your garden this winter if you leave town-- coming back from vacation to dead plants is just depressing.

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