Monsoon mayhem

Monsoon mayhem
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First Published: Wed, Jul 29 2009. 09 16 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Jul 29 2009. 09 16 PM IST
Delhi doesn’t enjoy too many showers, so every time it rains or drizzles, we usually celebrate. It’s a rainy day holiday for the gardener. Or is it? To my horror, the day after a downpour, I found some of my new and young potted plants drooping. We had not watered them the previous evening, factoring in the rains. What we hadn’t factored in was that the tubs in the open—ornamentals that were several years old—with deep roots got a good drenching; the young ones, under the shade of a Persian lilac or Junglee Neem (Melia azedarach), got very little moisture from leaf run-off. The Clerodendron thomsoniae (Bleeding Heart) creeper we had carefully carted back from Kolkata some months ago decided to show its displeasure. One look at the dry leaves and I honestly thought it had given up on us altogether. But some verbal and liquid reassurance revived it the next morning.
The rains can be an iffy season for watering. In fact, they upset the routine you tend to follow through the year. During the rains, you have to be especially careful about who gets how much to drink. If you haven’t yet sorted plants by their thirst quotient to save water in summer, get going! Also sort them by age. My mother, visiting us from Kolkata, can’t look at our jade plants (Crassula ovata) without mourning hers. Apparently, they died this year after a spate of showers, maybe because she moved them out and their roots probably drowned. Shift all succulents and cacti away from a direct onslaught of water.
Next, move the open older ornamentals that can take direct sun and rain outdoors. You’ll have to watch their leaves for drought shock between showers, though. If you’re keeping plants under cement, trees or awning shade, keep my Bleeding Heart in mind.
Continue to mulch with mown grass and coconut husk. Mulch enriches the soil as it degrades and holds in moisture. It also acts as a shield against strong, sharp raindrops that dig out topsoil. In fact, cooked in strong summer sun and monsoon rain, mulch decomposes faster now.
A Mumbai reader wrote in with a problem that has troubled me for a while. He believes, as many of us do, that the rains are the safest time to repot your plants. But last year, he lost some. Since then, I’ve spoken to nurseries in heavy-rain areas such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Kalimpong. They agree that the problem could have been root shock or changing pots during peak monsoon time.
“Repotting during heavy rains is not advisable. You have to repot the plants just before or after the monsoon,” says Amit Pramod Walawalkar, divisional manager, Green Grower (a division of Pest Control India offering horticultural services). Very high moisture and lack of sunlight also encourages fungal growth, he notes, both in pots and the ground, especially if there’s any root damage during the shift. You need to be careful about the composition of the potting soil as well. Too sandy and water will run through; so will air, drying out the roots. When we lived in Kolkata, on the other hand, I often found the soil too clayey, stifling and drowning the roots. So mix equal quantities of soil, sand and organic manure or drying/decomposing leaves.
Whether spring or monsoon, repotted plants need to be nursed in shade, away from the onslaught of heavy, direct rainfall for a few days. I give them a week and tease them out a few inches at a time, until they are ready to take on Delhi’s heady sun.
If you notice algae on the soil in pots, it could be cause for alarm. As an emergency measure, tip the pots a little for extra water to run off from the top. A garden must be given a definite slope for water to run off.
The author is a journalist and writer of children’s books, with a passion for gardening.
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First Published: Wed, Jul 29 2009. 09 16 PM IST