Skip to Content

How To Water Your Garden Plants While You’re Away

Ah, summertime!

The lightning bugs are hovering over the lawn in the evenings, the hot weather has us all drinking gallon upon gallon of ice-cold switchel, and everyone is planning their vacation.

Whether it’s a trip to the mountains or a stay at the shore, summertime finds us all packing up the car and getting out of town for a much-needed respite.

Are the kids in there too?

As gardeners, we’ve all got one more item to-do on our preflight checklist – figure out how to water the garden while we’re away.

While it’s one thing to head out of town for a long weekend, when your trip extends to a week or more, you need to think about how you’re going to keep your plants happy and healthy while you’re away.

Fear not; with this handy post, even the most dedicated gardener can step away for a bit and come back to a thriving garden.

Don’t Forget the Fungi

One of the best things you can do for your garden while you’re away can be taken care of right when you start your garden at the beginning of the season.


These microscopic fungi might just be the best thing to ever happen to your veggie garden.

These beneficial fungi embed themselves in the roots of your plant, increasing the root surface area several hundred-fold. This means your plants are much better suited to retaining water. The roots grow deeper and fuller, taking longer for them to dry out.

If you didn’t have a chance to inoculate your plants at the beginning of the season, don’t worry; you can inoculate your garden a day or two before you leave.

I went away for a long weekend and inoculated my plants the morning I left. When I returned home four days later, I was shocked to find not only that my plants hadn’t dried out but thriving plants that had doubled in size.

I’m a firm believer in using mycorrhizae in your garden. Aside from creating a root zone that makes your plants more draught-resistant, the added benefits of increased yield size and pest resistance make adding mycorrhizae to your annual planting routine a no-brainer.

To learn more about these helpful little fungi, check out my post – Why You Should Add Mycorrhizae To Your Soil – Stronger Roots & Healthier Plants

I’ve only used one brand of mycorrhizae so far, Big Foot Mycorrhizae Concentrate, so I can’t attest to which brand is better than the others. I’ve had excellent results both in my garden and houseplants with this particular inoculant, though.

Before You Leave, Prep First

There a few things you can do that will help your garden immensely before you head out of town. If you set up any temporary irrigation system, these extra steps will ensure the success of your efforts. And both should be done as close to the time you plan to leave as possible.

Weed Your Garden

A little prevention now will give your garden a leg up while you’re away.

I know, I know, it’s one more thing you have to do when you’re trying to get ready to head out of town. But remember, those weeds are just as thirsty as your plants are. By weeding as close to your departure as possible, you’re ensuring that your plants won’t have to compete for water while you’re away.

Soak the Entire Garden

Before you leave, spend some time deeply watering your garden. You really want to soak the ground and push the water deep down into the soil. Doing so will encourage the roots to stretch deeper too. Deep roots take longer to dry out.

You want the soil to be saturated and very dark.

If you have a soaker hose in your garden, this would be the time to go ahead and water indiscriminately. You want the ground to be almost at the point of being muddy, but not quite.

Mulch Everything

Mulching will not only prevent moisture loss, but will keep weeds in check.

Once you’ve watered your garden well and have thoroughly soaked the ground, lay down a thick layer of mulch to hold the water in the soil. Here are some great mulch options.

If mulching is already a part of your gardening routine, consider topping up your mulch with an extra layer to lock in the water.

Add worm castings or compost to the mulch. Both will help to hold in moisture while adding nutrients back into the soil.

Pick Produce

Even if some produce is under ripe, pick it anyway.

Picking ripe or nearly ripe veggies will ensure that your plants continue to produce while you’re away. If too much produce continues to mature on the vine, your plants will slow their production. Even smaller veggies like baby zucchini, peas, beans, etc., should be picked before you hit the road.

How To Water Plants While You’re Away

Timer and Irrigation

Probably the easiest and best way to take care of your garden from afar is with a timer and some form of irrigation system. Whether that’s a drip hose or a good old-fashioned lawn sprinkler, this set it and forget it method of watering ensures your garden will receive a daily dose of water.

A daily sprinkle while you’re gone may be the easiest solution.

Garden hose timers are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up. I would suggest setting the timer a couple of days before you leave so you can monitor the output and adjust it as necessary. You don’t want to come home to a soggy garden because you assumed it needed to be watered longer than it did.

A simple garden hose timer.

Slow Drip Bottles and Hose

Believe it or not, you’ve got several easy DIY options when it comes to a temporary slow-release watering system.

One of the simplest methods of watering plants while you’re away is to fill a wine bottle or empty water bottle with water and then invert it into the soil. Push the neck of the bottle into the soil and give it a little twist. The water will slowly empty into the soil as it’s needed.

Use the largest bottle you can find to water plants this way.

Again, you may wish to try this out a few days ahead of your travel. This way, you will know if you need to add a couple more.

You can also attach one of these cool irrigation spikes to your bottle to control the flow of water.

Another easy method to slowly water your garden is with a one-gallon plastic container, such as an empty milk or water jug.

Fill the jug with water and cap it tightly. Poke one or two small holes in the bottom of the jug, and nestle it down in the dirt. Place the jug close to the base of the plant and in direct contact with the dirt. You may need to move away some of the mulch. The water will slowly seep into the soil.

An impromptu soaker line can be made from an empty milk jug and some thin hose or tubing.

Make a gravity-fed drip line with a piece of garden hose and a gallon jug. Attach the hose to the jug and thread the hose throughout your garden. Pierce the hose where it lays across the root zone of plants.

Or, make simple drip lines for each individual plant with a water bottle with a small hole pierced in the bottom. Secure the water bottle to a dowel pushed into the dirt next to the plant.

Or on a smaller scale, you can use individual water bottles for each plant.

Rain Barrel and Drip Hose

If you’ve got a rainwater collection set up, consider adding a drip hose to the barrel. You can use collected rain to water your garden slowly.

Container Gardening

Plants in containers need more frequent watering in general, so container gardens need a little extra care when it comes to going out of town. You’ll want to make sure you follow the prep guidelines outlined earlier when it comes to containers.

If it’s possible, move all of your containers to a shady area and group them together. Try to keep them someplace where they can still receive water if it rains.

The water bottle method is a great way to keep container gardens in good shape while you’re away.

To Diaper or Not to Diaper?

I’ve seen several sites that suggest using polymers inside baby diapers. By adding the diaper gel to the soil, it locks in moisture. However, there isn’t enough information to determine whether this is safe to do for vegetable gardens or not. So, we can’t recommend it one way or the other.

Ask a Friend or Neighbor

As wonderful as all of these watering options are, I don’t use any of them. I use the time-honored tradition of asking a friend or neighbor to check in on the garden and water it for me.

At the end of the day, your garden will make out better if an actual human can lay eyes on it, not just water. Try to make the whole process as easy as possible. Your friend is more likely to follow through if it isn’t a terribly detailed chore. Group container plants together, leave the garden hose unrolled, and the watering can handy.

If you’re going to go this route, I highly suggest telling them to help themselves to veggies while they garden-sit for you. Again, encouraging them to pick as they like will give them more incentive to check in on your garden frequently.

I also like to swing by with a small token of thanks once I return home, something like a nice bottle of wine or a gift card to a favorite local spot.

And finally, if you’re asking a friend or neighbor to garden-sit for you, make yourself available to return the favor.

When it’s time to hit the road, you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation knowing your garden is taken care of.

So get out there and make some memories. Pack up and get away from it all. Your garden will be waiting for you when you return. And who knows, you may come back and be pleasantly surprised at how much your garden has grown while you’re away.

Get the famous Rural Sprout newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Including Sunday ramblings from our editor, Tracey, as well as “What’s Up Wednesday” our roundup of what’s in season and new article updates and alerts.

We respect your email privacy

Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,