Thumb rule matters

Thumb rule matters

Plants thrive in some gardens and wither in others. Is the green or brown thumb the reason? Surabhi Johri says neither, and lists out the basic requirements for plants to flourish.

Garden aficionados have often been categorised under “Green Thumb” and “Brown Thumb”. You would think it is simply that some people can grow plants well while others can’t. But if you get down to the science of what plants need to grow then it becomes easier to explain the brown thumb instances. The green thumbs either by experience, knowledge or instinct make the better choices during plant selection and nurturing. Brown thumbs may treat all plants alike. But just like not all people are alike, different plants have different requirements of light and water to stay healthy, flower and flourish. Could this be why the plant that wooed you with beautiful flowers at the time of purchase does not even grow in your home?

So many willing gardeners I come across ask why the plants are not growing, why they do not flower anymore, why does the plant give only a few flowers, why do buds drop, why it looks listless etc. The answer to this “why” is that almost always the basics have gone wrong. Understanding the basic needs of a plant will improve your chances of success. Light, water and oxygen are must to grow. Among these, a critical factor that affects both the survival and flowering in any plant is the amount and duration of sunlight it receives. How can you tell if plant is light deficient?

Firstly, flowering will go down or stop, leaves will drop, new leaves will be smaller than older, variegated leaves will lose the colour, growth will get lanky or bent towards the light source and all over growth will slow down. This requirement differs between various types of plant. Some plants need direct sun rays for the whole day while others may grow happily under the shade of a tree or balcony without even a little bit of sun light falling on it. Everyone likes flowers but majority flowering plants require plenty of sunlight. Flowering and fruiting in plants need greater amount of energy than growing just leaves. When there is not enough sunlight you need to choose suitably adept plants. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work.
Light conditions

To choose the right plant, you must know what type of light conditions exist in your garden or your balcony. Trial and error can be one way, though it is going to be expensive and a waste of time. If you are in an open lot then directional knowledge of solar movement can be applied but since, in cities, most of us have a building next to us, an easier and accurate alternative is to observe the area for a day at intervals. How much light and for how long is the key question. Keep in mind, light patterns change with seasons.

For gardening purposes, light conditions are classified as Full Sun, Part Sun, Shade and Deep Shade. Full Sun means direct Sun available 6-7 hours a day. If unobstructed, south side gardens get it. A majority of the flowering plants and vegetables need Full Sun. Part Sun means 3-5 hours of sunlight. These are east, south- east, south-west, and west gardens. This will also give reasonable choices in flowering plants. Remaining light situations fall under shade. The north side, north-east and north-west are always shade gardens. Now Shade can be a Bright Shade — that does not get direct Sun but is brightly lit or it can be Deep Shade with no brightness, like under dense tree canopy or between high walls. Deep Shade would also be like corners of a house. Unless it’s Deep Shade, there does exist a wide range of plants to choose from. Choice shifts from flowers to foliage for colour and interest. Urban reality is that majority of the apartment dwellers own this kind of space.

In bigger garden spaces, there may exist a mix of light situations. Some areas may receive Full Sun while others may be partially sunny or even in shade. In gardening endeavours, spatial usage is best rewarded when choices are made in cognisance of such variations. Full Sun conditions are simpler to choose for. A huge variety of flowers and trees are available, including all fragrant flowers like all-time favourites rose, champak and jasmine. But, for Shade conditions, only a suitable plant selection will bring success. In Bangalore weather, in Bright Shade conditions you can grow geranium – small hanging flowers; big leaf begonias; impatiens; spathyphilum; balsam; plectranthus; hydrangea; clematis – the small white flower is mildly fragrant too. Foliage gives good options for colour and interest. Besides green, so many plants have leaves in a variety of colours and patterns and those are a good bet. For example, Coleus – burgundy, chartreuse; ajuga - burgundy, variegated; ivy – variegated; syngonium – red, chartreuse; caladium – white speckled and red; lhea coccinea – burgundy black; variegated ficus – white and green.

The others

Other plants that grow successfully in absence of direct Sun are some palms – areca, kentia, raphis; monstera – huge leaves with cutwork; philodendron also has huge leaves with slits; ficus – both green and variegated; calathea – burgundy and green; phothos – green and variegated; spider plant – golden and green; schefflera – golden and green; alocasia – deep burgundy, patterned; diffenbachia – variety of size; ferns; adiantum; white and green striped liriope; aspidistra; golden and green hanging vinca minor. Aspidistra is also called cast iron plant and is one plant which can take really low light conditions. Tradescantia and a dwarf cacti with broad dark green leaf are great plants for less than optimum care. For maximum impact, group plants in contrasting leaf colours. If you are not blessed with Full Sun, don’t lose heart, make this an opportunity to bring out your creativity and play with colours in the form of paint and accessory. Happy gardening!

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