Bulbs, water plants and weeds

By TheHindu on 14 Mar 2017 | read

As botanist and landscape architect B.S. Nirody, author of Flower Gardening in South India, said, “Overwatering kills more plants than underwatering.”

Part I of this article [ Habitat, May 04, 2013) outlined water-saving gardening practices and listed some plants with low water requirement. Here we describe some more plants to help your garden survive this hot dry season.

Bulbs: Plants that grow from bulbs, such as Amaryllis lilies and zephyr lilies (also called thunder lilies because they flower when there’s thunder in the air), can withstand hot dry conditions. These plants practically take care of themselves, faithfully putting out their flower spikes at their appointed time, usually around March.

Grow them in sun or light shade, in loose, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in pots. Eucharis lilies and Hosta lilies prefer shade, but also need well-drained soil; otherwise the bulbs rot away.

After they have finished flowering, feed the plants liquid manure every 10 days or so for two months to help the bulbs multiply. When the leaves begin to yellow and die, gradually reduce and finally stop watering about the end of November for about two months, then resume watering. Ideally, the bulbs should be lifted out of the soil and stored in perforated boxes in a cool, dark place. However, it’s enough to mulch them well during the rest period.

Water plants: Although this may sound like a contradiction in terms, water lilies and bog plants can help save water in the garden. Because they grow in standing water or very wet soil, they need water only when you’re setting them up; after that, only an occasional topping up will do.

Grow water lilies in mini ponds — large terracotta or plastic tubs at least 18 inches deep. Place the mini pond in full sun and fill with water. Place the water lily plant, potted up separately, in the water so that the leaves float on the surface, raising the pot on bricks, if need be.

Grow bog plants such as papyrus or Sagittaria , in eight- or ten-inch pots. Thoroughly soak the soil in the pot initially, then pour about an inch of water in a shallow dish and place the potted plant in this. Renew the water in the dish when it goes dry.

Weeds: Yes, weeds! All weeds are completely adapted to their environment, which is why they can “grow like weeds,” with no care at all. Many have ornamental flowers and could be exploited in this dry season to make an attractive addition to your garden.

For example, the large white trumpet-like flowers and spiny fruits of datura that grace rubble and garbage heaps on roadsides could as well grace your garden too. I plan to plant a whole bed of these where nothing else will grow.

Closely related to datura are the ornamental varieties of “Angel’s trumpets” or Brugmansia — peach coloured, double purple and white, salmon pink and others — that are available in nurseries now. These are also low-maintenance plants, with very showy flowers. (Caution: Both datura and Angel’s trumpets are poisonous; keep them away from children and handle them as little as possible yourself.)

Mexican poppy (Argemone) is another roadside weed with beautiful spiny bluish-green foliage and yellow cup-shaped flowers, which grows with absolutely no care. I, for one, am planning to grow it in a garden bed, keeping my garden flowering but wasting no water.

Make water-wise gardening part of an overall water-saving lifestyle, which you also teach your children (and guests!). Catch all dishwashing water in a bucket and feed to your plants. Turn off the tap when you are soaping your face, hands or body. Don’t leave the tap running while brushing your teeth. Fix all leaky pipes and taps promptly.

You need a bath every day; your car or bike doesn’t and your driveway certainly doesn’t, so refrain from hosing them down with running water at a time when there’s such an acute shortage of drinking water. Happy water saving!

Many weeds have ornamental flowers and could be exploited in this dry season to make an attractive addition to your garden