Guess who did the rain dance on my balcony when the clouds burst open Friday last? The small pot of zephyranthes, almost unnoticed among the much larger leaves of monstera deliciosa and the swaying palms. By the next morning, the buds were out in abundance. This plant truly lives up to its other name: rain lily. If you haven’t yet put some down this year, the bulbs are still available at most nurseries.
The rains mean a break from the routine of watering plants. And yet, for every variegated hibiscus that sheds its leaves to protest the shock of summer and sends out fresh ones after the first rains, there are those that need your attention. Sudden rains, after a summer as long as ours has been, can push some plants into an initial shock. This is the time of year when New Delhi gets most of the average downpour of 650mm spread over 30-odd days. So, try to place your plants so that they get the advantage of rainwater and yet, don’t drown.
Take careful stock of what you have. There are bound to be plants that chafe at too much rainwater. Make sure that no water collects in plants such as jade. If you can, move them in, away from the line of a direct downpour or cover with greenhouse nets placed at a slant to help water drain off as it falls. Ditto with other succulents, including cacti. Greenhouse nets available at your friendly neighbourhood nursery come in three widths and last several years.
The widest, at 5m, is for about Rs250 a metre. The yardage that is 4m wide is priced at about Rs180 per metre, while the one that is 3m wide is Rs120 per metre. Cheaper options are also available in nurseries. If you live in a high-rise, placed vertically against the grill, the net is a reasonable windbreaker that keeps the leaves and stems from getting battered. It also acts as a rain breaker.
Use the water draining off by placing water-happy plants such as the umbrella palm, below. If you can, regroup your plants to create zones that require similar amounts of water. Make sure the soil composition in tubs and the beds in your garden does not allow water to stagnate. That’s the surest way to lose your plants to root rot, especially when the days are hot. Apart from mangrove plants such as the monstera, few greens like to stand with their roots drowning. It may be worth while to repot the plant, ensuring more porosity with leaf mould and sand.
Here’s a tip for those who place dishes below each tub to catch overruns: Change the plastic plates to terracotta, since plastic will cause water to stagnate. One of my favourite gardening quotes is, “You can always add water, but you can’t take it away.”
If you grouped plants closer in summer to save water and create a happy microclimate, this is the time of year when you can space them out a little. This encourages them to throw out larger and more abundant foliage and also helps leaves dry faster.
The rains can bring on several plant problems such as fungal infestations. Watch out for leaf spots and powdery mildew. With children and pets at home, you could spray the leaves with sodium bicarbonate (meetha or baking soda), although often, it is best to ask the nurseryman for advice and use something off the shelf since there is little time to lose.
Heavy rains can wash away a lot of precious soil, even exposing delicate roots. Mulch or a soft carpet of cut leaves, wood chips, hay and grass can protect the soil. Mulch is also a great way to keep water-happy weeds at bay. However, watch the mulch regularly to make sure it doesn’t catch fungus. Some gardeners cover the exposed soil with pebbles while others rearrange smaller tubs on larger ones to keep their wider surface area safe from direct rain.
For all of us who love our plants, the rains are perhaps the loveliest season to spend time with them. You might just change that song to, raindrops keep falling on my leaves… Enjoy every drop!
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