Tips for looking after gardens on house sits
Not everyone has a green thumb. Some of us are more indoor than outdoor folks. But if you're interested in becoming a house sitter you need to know, before you start perusing house sitting sites, that upkeep of the garden is sometimes as important as upkeep of the main house for home owners at different times of the year.
So if you're more of an indoor than an outdoor person, what do you do?
How can you ensure the house and garden look their best, that you get positive reviews, and secure new clients for your growing house sitting business?
Luckily, we have a few tips and tricks for keeping a garden neat, so that no matter your experience, you won't get overwhelmed.
1. Talk through with owners
This goes without saying, but before you do anything to the home, yard or garden, talk to the homeowners. It's the first job of a home sitter to keep the home in the condition that the homeowners would. But, the garden may or may not be included in your list of expected duties.
If it is, they will likely have a routine they like to stick to, and possibly a full inventory of their lawn-care power tools and equipment. They'll also be able to tell you about outside help, such as tree-fellers, pest control, etc., should these be required during your stay.
The more familiar you are ahead of time, the more prepared you'll be to tackle the work. Be honest about your experience and capabilities with plant care.
2. Watering the garden
Many gardens have automatic watering systems, but you'll want to understand a little about how the system works, to make sure you know where to look if it stops working, the timer goes wrong, or it springs a permanent leak. You'll also want to check any pots or plants that need watering by hand, either with a watering can or hose-pipe.
If they have a green-house, you might need to water more regularly and early morning, or later in the day. Green-house plants dry out very quickly in the summer months.
Check too that there aren't any hose-pipe bans in place. This can happen quite regularly in the UK and Australia through dryer periods.
3. Find the right tools
Did we mention power tools? Gardening and yard work involves a lot of different tools, from the low-tech, like hoes, rakes, and spades, to ride-on lawn mowers, chainsaws, and leaf blowers.
If you've talked to the homeowners about their expectations for garden maintenance, you will at least be a little familiar with the equipment available to you.
Unless you're experienced, using a chainsaw for pruning and chopping is something you should avoid. Inexperienced users are potentially putting themselves, and others, in danger. Using a chainsaw really shouldn't be a part of your house sitting duties.
You might also want to check your options for the best handheld vacuum for leaves, to ensure you're getting something that is a good size for you.
These are all questions to ask the homeowners as you're preparing to house sit. If there are tools you're unfamiliar with, a garden center can help you learn how to operate and maintain them, and even give advice on how to prune properly, whether it's a rose bush, a shrub, or an overgrown tree. But, ideally you should get this information from the homeowners, so ask for an extended handover, where you have plenty of time to discuss and try out equipment.
If tools are locked in an outside shed, make sure the home owner doesn't forget to tell you where the key is!
4. Designate a pet-safe area
A big part of house-sitting is obviously taking care of pets. If there are dogs or cats to worry about, designating pet areas makes it easier to clean up messes, and avoid damage to lawns, flower gardens, and other undesirable spaces. Keep a regular schedule, and take dogs to the same spot every day to get them used to a routine, and ensure you start off on the right foot.
5. Don't over-mow the lawn
It sounds counter-intuitive, but cutting the lawn too often can actually make it look less neat.
Short grass casts less shadow and leaves space for weeds to grow. Keep unwanted weeds out of a garden by sticking to a bi-weekly mow, and keeping your grass cut higher.
Never mow the grass when it's wet. Not only will it cause clumping that can leave the lawn looking smothered, but it is also unsafe for you, because of the risk of slipping, and it's very bad for the mower. The last thing you want is to have to explain the clogs in the lawnmower when the homeowners get back.
6. Keep to a schedule
Different parts of the garden have different needs. Some tasks, like weeding, or clearing daily debris like sticks and leaves, may be a daily task. Others, like mowing, leaf blowing, or composting, may be weekly. Other still, like clearing a pond, or pruning back a shrub, might be seasonal.
If you know the homeowner's schedule, it's that much easier to adapt to fit your own needs. If there's no written instruction, get as much information as you can about the garden, and create your own schedule, so you're able to leave the garden exactly as you found it, no matter how long the job is.
House sitting is a big job, and it's only made bigger when you factor in the client's garden. It's easy, rewarding, and even fun to house sit where pets are involved, but looking after a garden or a yard can be a different kind of adventure. But if you're not afraid to get some dirt under your nails, it's a pretty simple job to keep the garden looking great.
Remember at all times that to follow the instructions of your home owner - you will probably be asked to carry out simple maintenance, not landscaping or making significant changes to a garden.