A broken washing machine was up-cycled when Nandini Gopinath, who owns Phokkisham, an organic store in Nungambakkam, decided to plant a mango sapling inside its barrel.
This is the new addition to her one-year-old terrace garden.
Such innovations show how invested some home gardeners are in their terrace gardens. So, there is a snowflake’s chance in hell that such home gardeners would allow the summer heat to scorch and destroy their plants.
Watch and water
“It is not necessary to water the plants every day; nor is it required to drench the soil in water. One must check the moisture in the soil and how much of water the plant can retain, before adding more water in the mix,” says Parimala Krishnaswamy, a home gardener from Mylapore.
Ideas in a bottle
To ensure sufficient water levels are maintained, gardeners can make use of old pet bottles.
“A pet bottle with a hole in the cap will ensure only a small stream of water is released at a time,” says Parimala.
“As I have only potted plants at home, I overturn uncapped bottles, filled with water, and immerse them in the soil, which ensures that water is gradually released in small quantities,” says Uthra K., a gardener in Mylapore. Having taken up gardening only six months ago, she has about 20 pots in her home garden, which contain flowering and vegetable-bearing plants.
“People with bigger gardens and plants that grow from the ground can place bottles with many holes near these plants, to ensure constant moisture. They can also install a drip irrigation system, which allows for water to drip directly to the roots,” she adds.
Ramkumar, a resident of Mandaveli, uses coconut fibres which are buried along with the sapling to retain moisture in the plants. “After planting the saplings in the pot, pieces of dried coconut fibre can be placed around it.
This can be covered with moist mud on top. These coconut fibres are mostly discarded by vendors and can be collected from them. As these have excellent water retention capacity, the plants don’t have to be watered many times,” says Ramkumar whose terrace garden consists of flowering plants, bonsai and terrariums.
At a time when there is acute water shortage, people can reuse the water that goes into washing rice and vegetables, for watering their plants.
“Soapy water that is discarded after washing clothes can be sprinkled on the outside of the earthen pots to keep them cool,” says Nandini.
Soapy water has another use in the garden, according to Sumitra Shrikant, a long-time home gardener and owner of Aapti Gardening Solutions in Abhiramapuram.
“The water collected after washing vessels and clothes can be poured directly to the plants as they help in controlling pests, which are rampant during summer,” she says.
War against fungus
While extreme heat can cause vegetable- and fruit-bearing plants to be infected with fungus, an organic concoction of neem oil and water can effectively curb such infestation, says Nandini.
“In plants like tomatoes, a white fungus-like growth can be seen during summer due to increased humidity in the air. I mix 5 ml of neem oil in 2 litres of water with ice cubes and sprinkle it liberally on such fungus. This is effective in keeping the ants at bay,” said Nandini.
Sunscreen for plants
Commonly known as Kadalai Punnaku, groundnut oil cakes mixed in water serve as the perfect sunscreen for potted plants when applied liberally on them, say experienced terrace gardeners who have managed to protect even the most sensitive flowering plants by this method.
“This powder-like substance, which is commonly used as cow fodder, can be soaked in three litres of water for a maximum of three to four hours to attain jelly-like consistency,” says Nandini.
Keeping pests away
Using soapy nut powder along with neem and groundnut oil cakes can help in pest control as well as aid in water retention, according to Sumitra.
When this powder in mixed with the oils and applied, it separates the oil from the groundwater, and sustains both for a longer period.
As for flowering plants, a method called mulching which consists of compost made from half-decayed and wilted flowers can be used to cover the surface of the soil to optimally protect the roots, says Ramkumar.
“Mulch made from dried leaves is also good for both flowering and vegetable plants, and should be placed close to the roots,” adds Sumitra.
A simple relocation of your potted plants can make a huge difference in their growth, says Anoop Kumar, a resident of Anna Nagar who has two decades of experience in terrace gardening.
According to Anoop, humidity and vapour pressure are two deciding factors in how well plants fare during summer.
“During summer, it is advisable to keep all the pots huddled up together in one cool spot. By doing so, moisture between plants can be balanced at all times. Also, it is essential to keep leafy vegetables like spinach under maximum shade.
But other flowering plants can be exposed to more than 50 percent of sunlight as the buds require that much to flower,” he adds.
It is also important to educate oneself on the plants that thrive during summer and the ones that are likely to wilt.
“From the onset of summer till mid-June, it is simply too hot in Chennai for most plants to survive. During this period, I often suggest new gardeners begin with flowering plants, as they respond a little better to the heat, and not grow introduce fruit- and vegetable-bearing plants. One can however go in lady’s finger, as it can be planted through the year,” says Sumitra, adding, “Gardeners can also use this period to get their soil ready for the next season.”