MANY things can be done in a garden – or in containers. This brings to mind in many people of the huge rectangular boxes that are the playthings of shipping behemoths which are not the focus of this article.
The containers for our purpose are what most people call them as pots, jars, tins, cans, planters, buckets, tubs and boxes. Or just about anything that can carry some soil such as cut-out bottles and large bamboo tubes, which, incidentally, are becoming quite popular as planting containers.
These gadgets are much smaller and are used for planting something that is beneficial. Its function is only limited by the size of the variety of plant involved. If some landed space is available, the choice would be wider since many more varieties of plants can be planted on the ground.
But at the end of the day, the difference between a container garden and a ground-based one, if any, is insignificant, except if based on the size of the plant such as girth, height and spread.
Everything depends on the skill and creativity of the gardening enthusiast himself/herself to create spectacular sights irrespective of whether it is a landed garden or a naturescaped garden that carries with it a large assortment of containers of all conceivable shapes and sizes up in the condominium of apartment.
And doing things in the garden or juggling around with numerous containers means having to spend some time and effort, and perhaps incur some expenses too so that you can maximise on the benefits that you may reap from the inputs and whatever resources that are available.
The important thing is to be able to derive something positive from such simple activities while also benefiting from it physically and mentally.
To the uninitiated, it is usually a long, drawn-out struggle between growing something successfully using light and easy short-cut methods, and facing failure even after having gone through a long and tedious path of trying to make something grow. This is very sad indeed because if only the right know-how is available, it could mean a lot of difference to tasting sweet success or complete disillusionment.
However, there are numerous tips and techniques, which, if properly implemented, can make gardening a very much more pleasant and rewarding experience, even if it means potting around with only a few plants. Most people love tips, including tips from clients who are satisfied with services rendered such as in the hospitality industry. Others crave for tips if they are die-hard punters in Toto, 4-D, 5-D, or even 10-D if it is available in the market. However, tips are outside the scope of this story, even though they may be very tempting and juicy.
Some simple gardening tips and ideas may include making use of grass clippings, adding shine to big-leafed plants, straightening up indoor potted plants, mulching, watering potted plants, reducing ugly etiolation and straggliness in leafy herbaceous ornamentals, or repurposing some items that are meant to be thrown away.
Making use of grass clippings for mulching
Generally, the presence of grasses in the tropical zones, is ubiquitous. It forms part of the flora that envelops the earth, provides it with oxygen and food to sustain many forms of life, and helps to reduce the surface temperature to bearable levels.
In the developed urban areas, grasses sometimes can be a hassle as it needs regular trimming to prevent it from reverting to nature.
This can be seen in all gardens including those that are container-based. It is inescapable that grasses can even be found growing in pots and competing for water, nutrients and sunlight.
It is perfectly harmless if your pots are growing grasses. Otherwise, there is a need to pull them out all the time to prevent them from suffocating your lovely ornamentals.
This is why it is normal to see bags and bags of grass clippings stacked outside houses waiting for garbage collectors to remove. Imagine if there were less bags to collect, it would be less tiresome for the removal workers so that they may finish their work earlier and start the next day’s work on a well-energised and more cheerful note.
Since gardening enthusiasts are so well-endowed with plenty of grasses, why not make use of them instead of just trimming and throwing them away?
If it is a lawn from which grass clippings are going to be taken, then the job is more straightforward. Just engage an “om” or grass cutter, or even a landscape maintenance enterprise to provide the service of regularly trimming your lawn.
However, if it is going to be on a DIY basis, then the job of trimming the grass at the right time can be determined based on the time you are going to use the lawn clippings.
This is important in order not to allow the grass to mature into seeding stage which may then produce a lot of seeds. If such clippings are used, it may proceed to cause weed problems later on when they germinate over a wider area. To prevent this from happening, it would be better to do the trimming before the grasses begin to form seeds.
Similarly, grass clippings taken from pots should be free of seeds so that when you use such materials, the clippings are clean and thus seeds are not carried to places where they are not wanted.
Taking grass clippings from pots is easily done by checking on its suitability, then grabbing them with your left hand and cutting them off with a pair of secateurs. But don’t wait until they flower and produce seeds.
When using a lawn machine, begin by moving your mower in a straight line and then back and forth in numerous U-turns to cover the entire area. Once the job is done, you should immediately remove all the lawn clippings.
This is easily done by the use of a rake or garden brush which should yield a very neat and tidy job.
Another much easier way to do lawn mowing while at the same time working to remove and collect the lawn clippings is by the use of a mower that comes with a bag-like contraption into which are spun the lawn clippings during the mowing exercise.
It makes the entire job so light and enjoyable that there is even sufficient time to have a cuppa or bottle while yak-yakking with your neighbour.
Once the cuppa or bottle is emptied, it should be time to pack the collection of clippings into bags to be removed if they are not used, or else to be stacked up in proper layers in a compost heap if they are meant for the purpose.
Composting is one of the most common ways to reuse or reduce the amount of grass clippings and the compost can be applied on the surface or else dug into the soil.
Remember the emphasis on 3Rs – reuse, reduce and recycle. Perhaps another “R” – repurpose – should be added to become 4Rs. It simply means to recover something from the throwaway or waste materials and then reassign some other function to it. This 4R method can remove large quantities of lawn clippings while generating useful benefits without harming even an earthworm.
Another way to use grass clippings is to apply them on soil surfaces as an uncomposted mulch. This is used on the surface to retain moisture, reduce weeds and lower soil temperature.
They are also used as support material for young delicate seedlings that are too spindly to stand on their own so that they do not collapse easily. This makes away with the need for staking the tiny, soft and spindly seedlings before they are transplanted or be firm enough to stand on their own.
Retention of soil moisture
Plants need water, just as humans do. But plants don’t talk. They cannot tell its owner that they need water. So it is for the gardening enthusiast himself to be aware of the needs of his plants by looking at the signs and symptoms that indicate moisture stress.
For instance, if the surface of the soil begins to dry and cake up to form a hardpan, then it is a bad sign. If it starts to crack, it is worse.
Even in the outdoors such as on the vast expansive stretches of farmland, such drying and cracking-up of the surface soil happens especially during prolonged dry seasons. This is harmful and very damaging to whatever plants that grow there.
Moisture inadequacy can also be easily recognised by the physical response as a result of such a situation. Most leaves respond quite rapidly to moisture stress by its characteristic droop, with the various appendages following suit in due course if the stress is prolonged.
Sometimes humans droop too not so much as due to water shortage but more so as a result of dry pockets or empty bank accounts. Is there an uncanny correlation between the two?
To reduce soil moisture loss, it is a good idea to apply a layer of mulch on top of the soil at the base of the plant with a thickness of about 3-5cm if they are airy. The mulch layer also helps to reduce unnecessary root exposure when watering is done with jets of water.
Mulches are useful to conserve soil nutrients by preventing rainwater from washing them away in what is known as runoffs, erosion and leaching. This is particularly evident in cases where plants are grown on the ground which are often affected by heavy rainfall.
Apart from that, mulches that are evenly spread are beneficial in the way it keeps the soil environment cool by preventing direct exposure to the sun, and without sunlight, weed growth is much reduced. In this way, it also contributes to weed control which can actually save quite a bit of time and effort when carrying out gardening activities.
Mulches can be derived from many kinds of materials, both organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are usually made of agricultural or gardening wastes, discards or rejects which are then treated and repurposed to serve as a mulch.
To save a few bucks, the DIY way, by using dry grasses, can actually be very fruitful. Even ‘lallang’ grasses can be used for the purpose. Just go collect some ‘lallang’ before they flower and then trim them into short pieces if about 3-5cm in length. Dry them thoroughly and within a few days it should be ready to be used as a very clean mulch.
Inorganic mulches are mainly to serve for a temporary period of time only, such as during exhibitions, displays, shows, promotions and so on. The materials used may include polystyrene beads of various sizes that may be dyed or plain, pea pebbles, sieved marble or granite chips, washed pebbles, glass or limestone marbles etc. Such materials are usually removed after having serve their function.
Watering without damaging plants
Watering by shooting at the base of the plant is quite a common practice. This method is not right as it typically washes away large quantities of topsoil, thus exposing the roots to dehydration and damage. In fact, watering should ideally be done with a rose head from a watering can or else when using a length of hose, its mouth should be held and pressed in such a way as to form a spread instead of a jet when using it to apply water.
The middle-of-the-road action would be to let the water run on its own steam but directed at the intended location. In this way, the plants get sufficient water without losing its surface soil or damaging their roots.
There are many reasons for and against the use of jets of water to water your plants. It is suspected that laziness is one of the main reasons because a powerful jet of water can still reach the far end of your garden without having to walk the entire distance.
This means that by just standing in a stationary position under some cool shade, there is less need to sweat or tire out your legs and back, or get roasted under the sun but this sounds a bit like remote control type of gardening.
Whatever it is, watering each and every plant in the garden or in every pot is the most important beginning of the day unless there is a heavy shower 12-24 hours prior to that.
A strong jet of water can still do the work but it has to be done carefully so that the soil is not blasted away. Similarly, watering with a rose is fine but it is more tedious and slower. The positive side is that the soil is left intact even after many days of watering with a rose.