By Zahra Nasir
Rain can be the gardener’s friend but also, when it is extreme, a serious enemy; therefore, with the monsoons in the offing it is prudent to start off this busy month by organising to provide your plants with the protection they may very well need.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast and, at the first sign of monsoon showers, move plants which are particularly susceptible to damage — carnations and chrysanthemums, plus, trays of seedlings, being prime examples — into a protected area such as a veranda. With large pots, get someone to help you to, carefully as you don’t want to break either plants or pots, lay them on their side to prevent water logging and once the shower has moved on and as long as there isn’t another one immediately in the offing, stand them back up again. Try not to leave them lying down for any length of time as this can distort growth.
Another way of protecting delicate plants from heavy rain is to erect plastic sheeting — this must be very strong otherwise it may break — over precious flower beds. The sheeting should be stretched to its full size, as tightly as you possibly can, and securely fastened to suitable supports made of metal or strong wood. It could very well be that the plastic will fill up with rain and sag in the middle so please make allowances for this by ensuring that it is a good few inches above the plants to be protected. An even better idea would be to erect it at an angle with the lowest corner leading into some kind of sizeable container in which rain water can be saved and used in the garden when and as required. Heavy falls of rain can also be ‘broken’ by the use of fine meshed, very strong, green netting but if the rainfall is excessive, the ground beneath and any plant pots in the vicinity can be quite literally drowned.
This month — preferably in the second half — you can make a start on sowing seeds of lots of gorgeous flowers to brighten up autumn and then winter days when temperatures are, compared to right now, very pleasant indeed!
Using a good quality, free-draining, preferably organic compost, sow the following in either seed trays or clay pots and please remember to space the seeds out as overcrowding, especially in humid conditions, will cause tender seedlings to rot. Hollyhocks of all varieties although dwarf ones are better for small gardens and pots than those which can reach a towering six feet height and sometimes even more. Gerberas, cineraria, salvias, scabosia, calendulas and lots and lots of those beautiful dahlias of which there are countless colours and varieties, with both single and double flowers. If you are sowing dahlia seed that you have collected yourself, then be prepared for some stunning surprises as these will not come true to the parent plant but will have characters all of their very own.
It is best to hang on to new dahlia tubers until after the rains have ceased if, that is, the tubers are destined to be planted directly in the ground; once the rains are over you can plant them directly where they are to grow and leave the tubers in place all year round providing that drainage is absolutely first class. If you are starting dahlia tubers off in pots then, providing the pots are protected from the rain, these can go in now. New dahlias grown from cuttings taken before the plants died back after their last flowering session should not be planted out until after the monsoon ends as these are quite delicate.
Problems with ants taking up residence in plant pots tend to escalate at this time of the year, possibly because conditions in the pots are dryer, therefore safer, than in the ground and while the ants themselves do not harm your plants at all, their tunnels and nests can adversely affect the roots of the plants thus resulting in unfortunate plant death. Keeping ants out of the garden, especially if these are the dreaded white ants, is an extremely difficult task but there are certain ways of, if not stopping them completely, of making them think twice before moving in.
Standing plant pots in saucers or trays of water is one way of preventing ants from moving into pots but there are drawbacks with this method. The soil in the pots cannot drain and it will also suck up far more water than many plant species can tolerate and killing off your plants this way is certainly not the idea. Also, it can be physically impossible to stand all of your plant pots in water, especially if they happen to be very large ones. Ants, intelligent as they unquestionably are, do not like mint — any kind of mint — so having lots of mint around, the stronger the better, growing either directly in the ground or in pots where it can be controlled to an extent — mint is rapacious and can, if left to its own devices, completely take over a garden — should help keep your plants ant-free. However, don’t forget that ants are also a gardener’s friend as they work hard at cleaning up aphids of all kinds, along with some other nasties too, from your plants. Some people mistakenly think, on seeing ants on their plants, that it is the ants which are causing damage but this is not the case.
Published on: 07/07/2013