Get your garden summer ready

MARY OOMMEN –

Spring is in the air and summer is just around the corner. If we’re lucky, we will still have a few weeks before the heat truly sets in. This then is the perfect time to get plants ready to face the unforgiving summer sun.
We spoke to Mir Mohammed Ali Khan, from Al Mihrab nursery at Al Seeb for suggestions on choosing and taking care of plants to ensure that they stay blooming through the long hot summer months. Here are his recommendations for plants that will fill balconies and gardens with vibrant hues.

For lazy gardeners:
Adaptive plants are a great choice for newbies. They are hardy and easy to care for. Take your pick from plants like Adenium, Hibiscus, Ixora, Bougainville and Periwinkles. These flowering plants do not require any extra attention. There are numerous varieties of each available with flowers in bright beautiful colours. If you are looking for foliage, the Washingtonia and Areca Palms add refreshing splashes of green to the garden. Another great option for first-time gardeners is succulents or cacti as they require the absolute minimum amount of care.

For balcony pots:
For that burst of colour on balcony and in gardens, Mir Khan recommends flowering plants like French Marigold, Gomphrena, Gaillardia, Gazania and Zinnia. These pretty flowers are a magnet for butterflies and can withstand the heat and dry weather. Just ensure that they are planted in well-draining soil and are watered regularly.

For gardens and covering fences:
Plan your garden layout carefully, choose attractive multi-hued leafy shrubs like the Yellow-Vein Eranthemum or the Golden Pseuderanthemum for hedges. The Jewish Wanderer and Chinese Violet are great for flower beds and as a ground cover. These have brightly variegated leaves of violet and silver or yellow and dark green and make a for a beautiful splash of colour in the garden. They thrive in the sun or even in partial shade and can tolerate dry conditions, heat and humidity. Frangipani, Canna Lilly and succulents can also be used to add variety.
Climbers and vines like the Ipomoea Tricolour (Morning Glory) and Shankhapushpam are easy to propagate in pots or in the ground and quickly grow to provide a beautiful green cover for walls and fences. Their unique blue flowers add a showy touch to gardens and patios.
For an added bit of interest try to create a desert garden using locally available rocks, native plants and mini succulents. Al Mihrab Nursery has an interesting collection of rocks turned into planters and even mini desert landscapes.

For indoors:
Dieffenbachia is a great choice when looking for plants to brighten interior spaces. This hardy indoor plant has large colourful leaves with splashes of white or yellow and streaks of bright red on a green background. It is amazingly drought resistant, but regular watering and feeding are advised for the best results. Other plants for that are perfect for use indoors are Ficus, ZZ plants, Silver Pothos, Money Plants and Lady Palms.
Orchids too are great for indoor spaces. They don’t mind low light levels from tinted windows and are very easy to look after: they simply need to be kept moist. The most common, and probably the easiest to nurture, is the Moth Orchid Phalaenopsis.

Plant care:

Mir Mohammed Ali Khan offers a word of caution when tending to indoor plants. He suggested that “to ensure plants stay healthy indoors, avoid overwatering them. Provide good ventilation, some amount of filtered sunlight and temperatures that are kept regulated at a comfortable 18-22 degrees centigrade.”
Use this time when the weather is still fairly good to prepare and change the soil of pots if required or plant summer varieties. The kind of soil used for potting makes a big difference in the health of the plant. Mir Mohammed Ali Khan recommends using an equal mix of compost or peat moss and garden soil or dune sand to ensure that the soil stays crumbly. This he says, allows roots to spread and grow quickly and helps plants stay hydrated.
Take a flexible approach to your garden or terrace and move pots and planters in and out of the shade and direct sun as and when required. Remember, larger pots will retain moisture and require less watering than ¬smaller ones. Alternatively, erect shade netting over vulnerable plants to protect them from the full force of the sun over the summer period.

Mulching

Another great tip shared by Mir Mohammed Ali Khan is to mulch gardens and planters. Spread mulch over the soil to slow down water evaporation, keep the soil cool and stop weeds from getting in. Mulch can be in the form of wood chips or dry leaves. Mulch can be purchased from any of the many nurseries in Seeb and on November 18th Street. Do keep in mind though that pebbles or gravel on top of the soil may not be a good idea, as they retain heat.
Also, remember to water plants only early mornings or late evenings. Watering plants during the day when the sun is high is often counter-productive. Keep the plants away from walls and glass windows as the heat reflects off these surfaces and tend to burn the leaves.
Watch your garden plants carefully. As with almost everything in life, a little TLC will go a long way. Remove dead leaves and flowers and keep an eye out for disease or insect damage. Aphids and other pests can be treated with a mixture of a tablespoon of garlic or neem oil mixed with an equal quantity of vinegar or dishwashing liquid. Add 600 ml of water to this and spray on infected plants early in the mornings or late evenings.
Fertilize at regular intervals, using a water-soluble formula every 10 to 14 days to provide plants with the nutrients needed to grow.
Aim to have your planting done by the end of February to let root systems become established before the onset of summer. A little forethought and preparation can go a long way towards creating a beautiful green oasis right in your homes, and there’s no better time than to start than now. Your plants will thank you over summer, as taking care of your plants now will help them to survive the gruelling summer months.