March brings in mixed feelings in me. This is the time when much of the joy, expectation and excitement of the previous months fructify. You’ve enjoyed the fragrance of the freesias and the ecstatic cineraria. The lilies are pushing their way out. Will they bloom at all? Somehow, I belong to the group of gardeners who don’t have much luck with bulbs.
But March is also the time to get busy. Plants that have survived winter need to be pruned and repotted. It may not be autumn, but it’s certainly patjhar, the Indian equivalent of the old order making way for the new. So, there are browning leaves by the heap to deal with. And, before summer sets in, you should plant some summer stuff so that the young ones can take root before the blaze begins. If you’ve noticed, our plants seem to suffer less during winter months. I guess it’s because of less winter precipitation, whether as rain or frost.
But gardeners say that less winter rain can translate into a poor crop of lychee and mangoes. In cities, though, we can just hope that the hills have had their share of winter rain, even if we’ve been imagining moisture-laden clouds and the smell of rain every once in a while!
These are also busy days for hands-on gardeners. Ask them what they are doing, and most would say they are repotting and pruning. Pragnya Nair of Delhi-based nursery Plantex, says: “Most garden lovers nurse a broken heart when they have to prune their plants. Once in two years, they also repot around this time of the year. I do not like the thought of pruning, which means cutting the poor plants back.” Nair is busy repotting on her terrace after three years just because the roots had overtaken the soil. “I had the option of just top manuring, that is, remove the top soil and add manure. It suits my temperament better since there is no worry of losing the dear plants,” she says. But for some plants, it’s also the time of year to graduate to larger homes.
Some enthusiasts also re-arrange their plants in March. Repotting often changes the status quo of the collection, because several plants need larger tubs. That also means a new place for them in the hierarchy. However, if you are repotting, it’s best to move the plants early morning or late evening. For about a week after repotting, keep them away from direct sun to give the shaken roots a little time to settle in.
Plan in advance for summer and decide the areas that need artificial shade and get the matting in place. Or simply move the delicate plants that may get scorched, into half-shade. Plant more shrubs during summer, says a friend from Kolkata. New Delhi-based Meena Singh, considered an authority on cactus and succulents, advises: “This is a short period when one enjoys the fruits of labour put in from October. Clean the plants, water them and try to keep pests away.”
Adds Myna Kakar, another friend from Kolkata: “You enjoy the winter flowers that are in full bloom right now.” But she’s also planning ahead the schedule for planting summer plants. That’s the best part about plants—there’s always something to look forward to!