A raincheck for your precious plants

A raincheck for your precious plants

The rainy season can be a tricky time for potted plants. Here are some solutions.

Plants grown in pots turn limp when water stagnates.

I love watching trees when I walk or drive. The localities of Bengaluru have trees that have stood for many decades. While I’m outside, I mentally make a note of all the trees and plants that I pass by. When I spot a new plant or tree, I try to find their name. I also keep a note on the changes they’ve undergone with seasons, every time I go back to the street or locality. Mahogany, teak, sausage,yellow and pink tabebuia, camel foot, african tulip, avenue tree, raintree, neem, copper pod etc., are some of the trees I commonly find in Bengaluru.

I also admire houses with colourful gardens. In the locality where I live, there is a house that has a climbing rose, which spans two floors. During one of my walks, I noticed that their compound potter-box had a new arrival, a vine with four-petaled fragrant flowers. It tugged me with a whiff of its fragrance and I fell in love with it. Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I bravely knocked on their door and found that it was called the sweet autumn clematis. The lady of the house, who answered the door, told me that she got it from her friend’s nursery.

A language of their own

Plants express their health and wealth through leaves. They smile in shades of tender pink, brown and green. They voice their despair in shades of yellow, grey and black. It is a language that gardeners learn over time.

The fragrant flowers of clematis bloom late in summer and go on until October. One has to buy it in summer to enjoy the flowers. A good practice for gardeners is to visit nurseries every season to discover new plants to grow. That weekend, when I drove to the Lalbagh nursery, I found this vine and brought it home. I repotted it and placed it in a partial shade for a few months. It basked in the early morning sun and dappled sunlight all afternoon. It bloomed gorgeously and I was giddy with its fragrance until I moved it to a spot with more sunshine in winter.

More sunshine also means more rain. The year turned and the pandemic shocked us. In all the uncertainty around me, I forgot to move it back to its original spot. The summer waned and the rainy season began. Plants on the ground do not suffer much from water stagnation, because the earth absorbs it over time. Plants grown in pots turn limp when water stagnates. One reason could be that the drainage holes in the pots are clogged. With lack of sufficient sunlight during the rainy season, water does not transpire from the leaf surface; therefore turning them yellow.

It is a screaming sign that something is not well. This is what happened to the vine too. It started to turn yellow. It had fewer buds than the previous year. I realised that it had absorbed more water than it could handle and moved it back to its original spot. I loosened the soil, unclogged the drain holes and allowed it to recover.

Here are some tips to prepare your plants for the rainy season:

Unclog drain holes if the plants are in a pot. Move sensitive plants to a shade until the rain stops.

Stake the thin-stemmed ones to withstand the fury of rain. Rake the soil regularly. It allows air to circulate in the inner layers and dry them. It also allows the water to permeate and drain quickly from the pot or seep into the ground. Be careful not to hurt the roots though.

Move the plants to a bigger pot if the roots have outgrown and are visible on the surface. Doing it during an interlude of rainy days is beneficial for the roots to regain their strength.

As rain fades and winter sets in, it is the time to grow greens and sow some seeds too. Vegetables such as carrot, radish, cauliflower and cabbage take nearly three months to harvest.

Winter is the right time to start, for the pleasant sun and the cool weather help in maximising growth. Greens like coriander, methi, mustard, spinach and amaranthus grow well in partial sunlight and cool weather. Amaranthus requires at least six hours of sunshine for a good yield. It is also the time to grow bulbs of grape hyacinth, Allium Sphaerocephalon and Ranunculus.

In my next column, I will share with you how to grow and harvest turmeric and ginger. Until then, cheers from the chinese honeysuckle.

Motley Garden is your monthly pot-pourri of observations and lessons from gardening and nature.

The author is a botanical artist from Bengaluru. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @neelavanam