Appearances can be deceptive. The steady stream of smart showers we have been enjoying this year sounds like excellent news for all those who don’t enjoy the monotony of watering their plants. And, this July has permitted many of us to take it easy, sit back and enjoy the abundance of green. But, these rains can be quite misleading, unless you monitor their progress.
Water wisely: The gaps between the showers need to be checked, especially if you have potted plants or if you have a garden that gets the blast of the afternoon sun. “Many gardeners switch off from watering in this season, till they see the leaves droop. That is a distinct sign your plant is in distress,” points out Rupal Singh, a keen New Delhi gardener. It is a hot, hot month, so do take care to make sure your plants don’t go into shock. If most of your collection is made up of potted plants, this is also the time to replenish the nutrition they get. The rains are washing away most of what you feed them, so keep fertilizing your plants, preferably with an organic mix, every fortnight. Avoid chemical fertilizers, since the run-off will just add to the amount of dangerous chemicals we empty out into our drains and, thereon, into the rivers. Says Singh, “Virtually every nursery stocks up on organic manure, so there is little reason not to go green.”
Weed diligently: Nature has this wonderful way of balancing things. And maintaining your garden, whatever the season, does require a little effort. If you believed you could do less and enjoy more of your garden during the monsoon, weeds—those pesky gatecrashers—ought to make you sit up and take note of who is grabbing all that nutrition, space and water. Hoeing them out when the soil is damp is kinder to the original plant, since the weeds can be eased out of moist soil much faster than when the soil dries. Be sure to catch the weeds early, since most of them flower and seed in alarmingly speedy cycles. Try teasing them out when they are young. You wouldn’t want their seeds to scatter! Says Anju Sharma, who is an avid balcony gardener: “My pot of oxalis dried out around March. Then, just when I thought I would take the tiny bulbs out to rest for the next few months, I found the pot covered with tiny green leaves.” Sharma was overjoyed. She believed her oxalis was back to reward her with a second crop. It took her a full two months to realize the emerald green leaves were actually a potful of weeds. “They were pretty, and it was too late to plant anything else in that tub, so I could have let them stay,” she recalls. But better sense prevailed and, fearing the weeds would take away vital nourishment from the soil in which the oxalis still rested, she teased them out. The best way to dispose them, believe most gardening experts, is to rake them into an anaerobic compost heap. Some people do fear weeds enough to burn them, but that is difficult during the rains, and it is polluting to boot.
Prepare for the pests: Talking of unwelcome guests, you will find all kinds of insects visiting your green patch this month. Watch out for wasps nesting under large leaves such as the monstera, bird of paradise and even the banana plant. Caterpillars are busy making the most of the fresh greens. However, every gardener has to battle the hugely existentialist issue of how many, if any at all, to permit within sight! You are probably tired of munching snails and slugs but, by and large, they don’t pose too serious a problem. They enjoy a green, humid garden, and may give you a bit of a start, showing up under dead leaves.
Sow another season: If you dream of enjoying home-grown winter vegetables, you could go shopping for seeds in a week. Celery, that exasperatingly slow grower, needs to be planted some time in August if you are to enjoy a long and happy crop. However, do remember that most of these vegetables don’t like their feet in water, so be careful where you place them, and keep them away from the direct onslaught of the rains.
This is also the time to plan for winter. Our itinerant nurseryman came visiting, the other day. With the croton and the hibiscus were poinsettia, the Christmas flower. Tiny plants that are much cheaper than the ones in full bloom we pick up in winter, these are a great bargain. Pick them up now for what will seem a song just a few months down the line! All those who love chrysanthemum have got going, too. The early crop of cuttings are ready. If you let go of last year’s plants, it will soon be time to go hunting for your mum seedlings for the season. By early August, several avid gardeners will be training their attention on dahlias. Some varieties of gladioli need to be planted right away. There is always something new being introduced at most nurseries in the city, so it is always promising to go visit your favourite gardening haunt to check out what they have to offer.
And enjoy this one! As for perennial house plants, this is the season they can show off their colours. It is also the time to finish transplanting, repotting and planting so that they are comfortably settled before the chill sets in. Be careful, though, to ensure that no water collects in the tubs.
As you put the scimitar away, do remember to clean and oil gardening tools before the rust gets to them. Now, that is a bit of a busy season!