If you’re feeling hot, you have company. Most of your plants aren’t any more comfortable than you are with the mercury shooting beyond 40 degrees. Frazzled from above and underfed by water-strapped owners, some plants are beginning to show the shock of drought.
Watch out for those that are shedding too many leaves: if it is unseasonal, it could be your plant’s way of conserving scant resources and calling out to you to share a little more water. My variegated hibiscus has thrown its hands and branches up in exasperation. The leaves are yellowing and falling off, even in the shade.
Summer shock can last beyond summer. If growth has been stunted now, chances are that the effects will show way beyond. Plants often take months to recover and then, if you live in north India, they’re subjected to the shock of a very cold winter. Studies show that if the leaf is exposed to too high a temperature, vital functions such as respiration, photosynthesis and even enzyme movement is harmed. Too much sun can change the thickness and colour of leaves. UV-B, which causes skin cancer and cataract, also affects plants. Unfortunately, with no sun screen protection in the market yet for them, plants can do with some help from us.
• If your plants look lacklustre and the leaves are wilting, it could be because of too little water. For further proof, look at the leaf tips: are they browning? Check the soil. Does it remind you of a baked cake, separating clearly from the rim of the tub? Your plant is crying out for more water.
• If you can, regroup your plants to create zones that require similar amounts of water. This creates a micro climate and helps them shield each other from direct sunlight. It also brings down the temperature. I have successfully planted wild, tall grass, picked up from the roadside, next to petunia planted in winter. The grass gives the height and drama, and protects the lower leaves from the blazing sun. Professional gardeners chafe at this, but these petunia plants, supposed to be annuals, have been with us for two winters and two summers now, and even if the flowers are smaller, they are still in bloom!
• Arrange plants to share water. Place plants that need less water, such as bougainvillaea and agave, together. Those that need more water, such as the umbrella plant and seasonal flowers, can stand near each other. Smaller tubs can sit on larger ones or perch between two pots. Extra water drains off to the larger container.
• Are the new leaves turning yellow and not growing to full size? It could be because the plant, perhaps a fern, suited for cooler and more moist places, needs some moisture. Spritz the leaves with cool water twice a day.
• Arrange baskets and hanging pots vertically in three or four tiers, and begin watering top downwards, reducing water quantity as you go down. Jade and ferns arranged in tiers are a green cascade! Any extra water will drip down.
• Your plant requires just so much light. If it looks stunted, it could be because you have pulled it too far indoors to keep it from the sun, or exposed it to too much light. Remember, too much heat means more chlorophyll breaks down in each leaf. This can leave them weak and bleached.
• When the sun beats down relentlessly, I think of my friend’s mother in Jamshedpur. Every morning, she would scurry along her garden, covering vulnerable plants with a newspaper cone. The hat would come off in the evening. Effective sunshade, that!
• Although it’s tempting to go shopping for plants through the year, I would advise you to wait and watch. The last few summers have been difficult for plants, and you’d perhaps be best advised to look after your current crop because those plants have weathered one or more summers.