When there’s not enough water for the family, it can be a little difficult to save water for your plants. As you look around the neighbourhood now, you’ll probably spot dry, dusty plants that’re low on morale. But with a little planning, imagination and forethought, you can give your house plants a happier summer.
BUY RIGHT, BUY BRIGHT
One of the first attempts at coping with water scarcity comes right at the beginning, when you’re buying the plants. Explain the severity of the water problem in your neighbourhood to the nurseryman. Cactii and succulents are the obvious choice but most nurseries have very little variety on that shelf. Succulents such as jade are already a favourite with most nurseries, but they are not indoor plants. Jade must be kept outdoors, or you’ll see it shed its leaves in protest. Then again, not all of us are enthused enough to trade in all our plants for succulents.
Ask, then, for plants such as the spiderwort family. Just a little extra water can send some of these drought-hardy plants keeling over or even uproot them.
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Also called the inch plant or Wandering Jew, Tradescantia pallida brings in colour. Tradescantia zebrina is the green, variegated version. If you’re looking for some lush green, go for Tradescantia fluminensis. Avoid thirsty plants such as the umbrella palm or bulrushes.
SHARE AND CARE
If you’re sharing space with plants, it won’t be difficult to find water to share with them. Make water harvesting a habit if it isn’t a part of your building’s features. If you have a semi-automatic washing machine, rejoice! While the first few tubs of soapy water may be just right to wipe the car and the house with, water from the last rinse, virtually soap-free, can be used for plants. All the water used to wash vegetables, rice and dal can be re-used for plants. Can’t finish that glass of water? Share it with a plant instead of pouring it down a drain.
Flower power: The lantana thrives in low-water conditions.
One of the simplest thumb rules of summer is to regroup your moveable plants according to watering needs. Next, move them into the shade. If they cannot be moved, shade them with a bright awning that will also jazz up your garden. We shifted home this winter and the indoor plants luxuriated against the south-facing wall. By March, they were frazzled and the leaf tips were burning. Watering them generously twice a day didn’t help. So we shifted them into the shade and the result showed within 24 hours—they now forgive me if I don’t water them for a day.
Also, help your plant hang on to every drop of moisture. Spread cut grass, dry leaves or wood shavings as mulch over the topsoil. Some gardeners even use a thin layer of sawdust. If you’re going away for a short couple of days, water your plants well and stand each in a saucer of water.
GET THAT FORMULA RIGHT
Soil composition makes a lot of difference to the amount of water your plant will need. Kamla Nath, India’s first landscape designer and owner of Branching Out, a plant rental and nursery, swears by vermicompost. “Make sure the soil isn’t too sandy and it can retain water,” she says. Wondering how? Try prodding the soil to feel how well it is watered.
The bad news? Water isn’t going to get any easier to get for a long time to come, if ever. The good news? While you stretch that last drop, exult in the meteorological department’s latest prediction: The monsoons are expected a week ahead of schedule. But till they arrive, do remember to put out a bowl of clean water for thirsty neighbourhood birds.
The author is a journalist and writer of children’s books, with a passion for gardening.
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