A dying fern? A jasmine that stubbornly refuses to bloom? Hema Vijay has tips for struggling amateur gardeners

Did you begin with passion and a grand green vision but soon found your plants dying out on you? Thatcan be pretty depressing but take heart; this is something that could happen to the best of gardeners.

And for fledgling amateur gardeners, it’s just a part of the learning. We suggest that you check if you are making any of these common gardening errors. If you are and you can correct them, then you could easily get back on the green track soon.

It is easier to understand the nuances of gardening and get tuned to plants’ needs by beginning small, rather than try to start gardening on a mega scale. There is a certain extra care and sensitivity associated with raising plants, but the rewards are well worth it.

Sunlight quotient

Choose plants according to where they are going to be placed. For instance, if you want a palm tree on your balcony, go for the cactus variety of palm that can best handle the heat. Then, indoor plants too need some exposure to sunlight and fresh air.

“If you are going to confine them to an air-conditioned room, they suffer. You can keep two sets of plants and rotate the pots from inside to the outside,” suggests Navneeth Raghavan, landscape and environmental consultant.

The symptoms are pretty clear; make sure you respond on time. Scorched leaf edges and yellow or brown patches might indicate that the plant is getting over exposure to sunlight, while drooping or faded leaves and bent stems are indicators that the plant isn’t getting enough sunlight.

Watering errors

“If you last watered your plants yesterday morning, you can’t relegate today’s watering to the evening,” says S. Radhakrishnan, avid roof gardener and founder-president, Good Governance Guards, which has been working to promote urban gardening in a big way.

Watering has to be done at the same time everyday. And it must be done in the mornings or evenings, never when the sun is high in the sky.

If the soil is hot it heats up the water and that can kill cells in the tender root tips. Moreover, watering should take note of the plant’s stage of growth. “A new sapling requires about 100ml of water a day, while a 2-3 feet high plant will require more. For example, a grown brinjal plant in a standard 10” by 10” pot would need half a litre of water everyday. Some plants like chilly require more water, while some like country beans, greens and coriander (with roots less spread out) need less water,” says Radhakrishnan.

When you water the plant, sprinkle it on the leaf surface. Plants enjoy this, just like humans enjoy a shower.

If your plant is too soft-stemmed, with leaves turning yellow despite judicious watering then “it might be due to a clogged drainage hole that doesn’t let excess water seep away. Or the soil might be too compacted and not porous enough,” says R. Srinivas, landscape consultant.

Slow growth?

If your plant is not showing good growth, maybe it is not getting enough food. You might add some organic growth booster granules to the soil around the plant. “But don’t over-fertilise, that will harm the plant,” says Srinivas.

Some plants need support. “For instance, tomato and brinjal do not give much fruit unless propped up by a stick (you may tie the stem loosely to the stick), whereas a lady’s finger plant will stand upright by itself. And, of course, creepers need a ‘pandal’,” Radhakrishnan points out.

Watch out for pests

If you notice a white powdery or other deposit on the plant, it might indicate a pest infestation. Deal with it right away or it will spread. “Wash that part repeatedly with clean water and once the plant is dry, spray the plant and the affected area in particular with 10ml of herbal pesticide concentrate in 1 litre of water,” recommends Radhakrishnan. Once in a while, as a preventive measure, a mild spray of 5ml herbal pesticide concentrate in 1 litre of water can be used.

Why no flowers?

It could be lack of sunlight. If your garden or verandah does not get enough sun, consider growing foliage plants instead. If your plant has flowered once, then you need to prune its branches, leaving a few inches at the base to stimulate the growth cycle. “Otherwise, the plant will just grow wild with foliage, leaving out flowers,” warns Raghavan.

Keywords: home gardening