Ahhhh, vacations. They’re fabulous getaways from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Funny thing is, there’s even more hustle and bustle right before you go – boarding animals, stopping the mail, setting light timers…and, of course, watering the thirsty plants in your garden.

Timer box

This high-end timer is best for commercial use and for homeowners with large gardens.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Timer box

Though this midrange timer may still look rather intimidating to program, the instructions are located right inside the box door.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Knob timer

With this manual timer, just set the length of time you want your garden watered and walk away. (Just be sure the spigot’s turned on.)

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

While your houseplants might be able to get away with a thorough soaking before you head out, your flowers and veggies outside need attention – especially if it doesn’t rain. And since many of us take vacations in the hot summer when water needs are highest, you might want to consider buying an automatic timer to make sure your colorful beds don’t wither in the heat.

The type of automatic timer you need depends on the size of the area you plan to irrigate and how much you’ll depend on your timer. (Maybe you’d like to keep using it when you’re home, too.) There are multiple options and lots of features to choose from.

At the top of the line, we’ve got irrigation systems that control watering frequency of 16 or more stations on preselected days, as well as multiple times through the day, for varying durations. The “Mac Daddy” of timers can set you back $250 or more. And with enough bells and whistles for a small orchestra, this type of automatic timer is really best for municipal or estate-type landscapes, golf courses or botanical gardens. Another whistle you’ll often find on these high-end systems is an automatic shutoff triggered by a remote, wireless rain sensor – a real water-saving bonus. Probably the toughest thing about this type of system, though, is figuring out how to program it. For the gadget guru or the estate gardener, this sophisticated system may be the way to go.

For those of us with less needier landscapes, consider a midrange timer. With eight programmable zones, the $40 model we picture here may meet the needs of the average homeowner. It regulates sprinkling time and durations by days of the week or on a monthly basis. This timer can also be hardwired to a rain sensor – an important feature to look for since many drought-stricken municipalities now require rain sensors on automatic irrigation systems. (And anyways, isn’t it embarrassing to be the one watering your lawn during a downpour?)

An economy-option timer is easy to “program” and serves but one “zone.” It also requires a manual start. But for under $15, it’s a good deal. This timer attaches to any spigot to regulate a drip system, a sprinkler or a hose. It’s set by turning the dial to the desired run time, from 10 minutes to four hours. When the time’s up, the water automatically shuts off. This one may be the perfect solution if you’ve got a neighbor picking up the mail or feeding the cats while you’re away. A quick turn of the dial starts the watering system, and your neighbor doesn’t have to hang around for it to finish or worry about forgetting to turn the water off.

The important thing to remember is that even though you might be on vacation, your beautiful garden isn’t – it still has needs. And what a disappointment it would be to come home after a wonderful getaway to find all your hard work in the garden dried to a crisp. An automatic timer helps you live the lush life, serving as your personal gardener while you’re away. Now, if only there were automatic weeders…