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Originally published February 28, 2012 at 7:02 PM | Page modified February 29, 2012 at 12:50 PM

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Going on vacation? Hire a sitter for your garden

Reliable plant sitters can provide peace of mind for vacationing gardeners.

The Associated Press

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Gardeners don't have to remain housebound during the vacation season just because their edibles and flowers need tending. Find a sitter to handle the work.

Keep your must-do list simple, though. Few plant minders are willing to do windows or the laundry.

"The job depends upon what they have in their yards and how long they'll be gone," said Caryn Sommersdorf, who operates Green Garden Sitters in Orlando, Fla. "A vegetable garden may need to be checked every day. A flower garden, not so much."

Sommersdorf and partner Jennifer Richardson perform the typical seasonal gardening chores — weeding and watering, mowing and harvesting.

"We'll also bring in the mail. Turn the lights off and on to make it look like somebody's home. We'll fertilize and prune and care for our clients' pets, too," she said. "But we're not going to clean or paint the house."

Sommersdorf got into the garden-sitting business a few years ago after asking a friend to take care of her tomatoes while she was away.

"I asked her to water the plants, but she didn't think about picking them, and the plants were a mess when I came home," she said. "They had worms everywhere. Fruit flies. It took them a while to produce again."

Reliable plant sitters can provide peace of mind for vacationing gardeners, Sommersdorf said. They also can save them money.

"Florida has a lot of 'snowbirds' (winter residents) who go away for half a year and come back and all their landscaping is dead," she said. "That's quite an investment lost."

Gardeners going on vacation should create a chores checklist, and arrange for an interview and plant tour with prospective sitters well before departing. Show them where the hoses, pruners and other tools are kept and demonstrate how they work. Offer up the edibles when they ripen, and point out your favorite flowering plants to ensure they are not weeded out.

"Design a watering program. Group your container plants so they're easier to work with. Timers can be great on hoses but be sure you have someone around who can keep an eye on them for you," said Robin Haglund, president of Garden Mentors, in Seattle, who frequently is asked how to prep plants for when owners are away.

You may want to provide your own supplies, too, such as fertilizers and pest-control products if you're into organic gardening, she said.

Garden sitters also can serve as temporary managers of a property, said Jack McKinnon, who operates a business called The Garden Coach in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Some people hire maintenance services for their yards," he said. "Some of these crews come at odd hours and need to be held accountable for what they do."

For more about garden sitters, see the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science fact sheet: http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/jul99tips.htm

Dean Fosdick: deanfosdick@netscape.net

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