Paint your house green this winter

Love plants, but not sure if you can maintain them with ease? TOI tells you how to add an extra edge to your balcony garden and interiors this season.

With space being a rarity these days, it is difficult to dream of a garden space — more so, if you are staying in a small apartment. But fear not! For terrace garden — big or small — is a wonderful way to add colour to your otherwise dull life. You can just sit there, listen to music, read books or simply pull up a couch to lie down and soak in the natural beauty. Low space in metros and big cities has also compelled plant lovers to grow vegetables on their balconies. It is not only a great stress-buster, but the benefits of consuming home-grown vegetables also compensate for the time spent on pruning it. But wait… Before you start painting your house green, a few things should be taken into account, because no matter how much you care, your plants aren’t going to thrive if you are ignorant of their specific needs. CT provides the basic guidelines to beginners.

Know your plants

Before adding a plant to your potted collection, it is advisable to ask an expert at a nursery about the conditions the plant needs. “It’s usually much easier to grow plants that do well in your region, temperature and soil. For instance, don’t try to grow a flower like a rose — which requires six hours in the sun — on a porch that gets sunlight only for an hour in the morning. While it’s important to maintain a steady temperature for indoor plants, a terrace garden needs adequate sunlight. Again, if you notice your plant becoming thin and reaching out toward the light, it needs to be closer to sunshine,” informs AB Karmakar, executive/ administrator for The Globe Nursery on Lindsay Street.

Maintenance of indoor plants

– Most indoor plants do best in partial shade, which works out well since indoor areas don’t usually get direct sunlight. Keep this in mind before you decide to put a potted plant in a place where it will get hours of direct sunlight; you may end up exposing it for too long.

– One must select the right size of the pots. For indoor plants, go for pots either 4 inches or 6 inches in size. Allow enough space for the roots to grow. Make sure the pots are light and strong, so as to hold the plant for a long time.

– Place plastic saucers under the pots to avoid soil and water spillage.

– Ficus Elastica, Areca Palm, a variety of philodendron or dracaena are best suited for indoors. These plants can do without sunlight for 7-10 days with minimum requirement of water.

Water the plants carefully

“Water the plants as and when required. Many first-time gardeners or potted plant owners water plants more than necessary, believing that the more water the plant gets, the better they grow. While it holds true for certain plants, it can kill others,” suggests Dr SL Rahman, consultant at Agri-Horticultural Society of India.

Kitchen garden in pots

– If you thought a kitchen garden only works in bigger houses, you are highly mistaken. Get creative. Don’t throw away buckets, containers etc. Use them along with hanging baskets for smaller plants. You can even grow vegetables in the little balcony of your apartment.

– Do not use soil from the garden. It can be filled with weed seeds, insects, and fungal diseases. It is better and easier to buy readymade potting soil (a mixture comprising clay, bone dust, vermicompost, neem cake and mustard cake) from the local nursery. You can also go for coco peat, which are made from coconut husks and is a medium for growing plants.

– Get various seedlings from the nursery. Remove the plants from its nursery container. Never pull a plant out by its stem. If it is stuck, tap the sides of the pot to loosen it. Gently tease the ends of the roots free before planting it in the bigger pot.

– For the proper growth of vegetables in your balcony, the pot size should be between 8-10 inches.

– Make one or more drain holes in the pot. Place small chips right over them so that they don’t clog and excess water can pass through.

– Do not pile soil on top of the plant; make sure the stem is completely above the surface. Leave about an inch between the soil surface and the rim of the pot.

– All vegetable plants need constant moisture. Some plants need water on a daily basis.

Veggies for beginners

Coriander: How many times did you get sad looking at half-dried coriander leaves (dhania) in the market? Coriander is something that is used in everyday cuisine to spice it up. And that makes it a must-grow for every kitchen garden. The seed is technically a fruit containing two seeds in it. When split, it increases the germination rate since it scarifies the seed. Take a tray with potting mix filled up to half inch from the top. Then make rows by drawing a line with your index finger or a stick. Simply sow the split coriander seeds in each row. Once done, water them and wait! It starts germinating between 5-7 days.

Potatoes:

Plant potatoes during late February and March. When the green shoots begin to appear above the soil, cover them with more compost. You only need remember to water them. After 10 to 20 weeks, dig around in the soil to collect your home-grown potatoes!

Peas:

It’s a trouble-free crop that enjoys cooler weather. Sow them in the pots between March and June. Erect some sticks or posts for support. You’ll be amazed at how good fresh peas taste and the more that you pick them, the more they produce!

Tomato:

With a little water and a lot of sun, tomato plants are quick to grow. Roots of a tomato plant grow deeper into the soil. So, choose a bush variety like ‘Cherry Cascade’ that can be planted in hanging baskets and window boxes. Just cut a tomato into four pieces and bury it about 1/2 an inch into the soil. Wait for 3-4 weeks for the seeds to start sprouting.

Cucumber:

These grow best when the soil is warm. Cucumber plants tend to sprawl all over. Provide your plants with ample space to stretch their roots. Again, since these are climbers, you must get a proper support. Go for smaller varieties if there’s less space.

Green chilli:

These are good companion plants for tomatoes and coriander. Just take two or three dried red chillies. Slit them open and sprinkle the seeds in a pot filled with soil and a little manure, available in the nurseries. Ensure the seeds don’t go too deep. Cover it with little soil and water it. It takes about a week or so for the seeds to sprout. If the pot is not large enough, you can replant the sprouts into a bigger pot. You may need to tie up the chili plant to a pole to let it grow and avoid bending.

Winter blossom

– According to Nirupom Sen, secretary-cum-CEO, Agri-Horticultural Society of India, if you have a garden without flowers, you have got to do something about it. So, before deciding where to plant your flowers, you should know when the best time to grow flowers is. “During winter, the best flowers to grow in Indian climate are Petunia, Cockscomb, Antirrhinum, Cineraria, Zinnia, Calendula, Chrysanthemum, Marigold and Dahlia,” he says.

– Flower plants need up to 5 inches deep soil. So take an earthen pot of 6-8 inches in height. Dig a hole in the potted soil. Bury the seed about 2 inches deep. Flowers do not need to be smothered with the soil. Do not bury them too deep. After 6 weeks, you will see the seeds sprout into saplings.

– The after-care is very essential. Sprinkle water as and when required.

Terrace talk

– As the main element of a terrace garden comprises watering of plants and keeping the soil wet, it is important that the best quality water-proofing material is selected.

– One has to bear in mind that the area selected to build a terrace garden should have a slight slope, so that it can drain water easily and has the capacity to bear the load.

– It is always advisable to pick plants which don’t grow big in size.

– You can install a separate tank to store water or have a mechanical watering arrangement. But most often, people love to water their garden themselves and see the plants grow.

Preparing the potting mixture & sowing seeds

‘These days, one can easily get exotic and hybrid seeds of capsicum, chilly, cabbage, broccoli, coriander, tomatoes, brinjal, basil and parsley. The potting mixture should have 20% of leaf mould, 40% sand and 40% soil. You can add mustard cake and cow dung cake as fertilizers. After the seeds are sown, one should cover the soil with a layer of fine sand. Sand makes the soil porous and helps the roots grow. Avoid direct sunlight’

— Dr SL Rahman

Keeping insects away

‘Use neem-based organic pesticides. Or you can take 100 gram of chillies, 4-5 cloves of garlic and a few bulbs of turmeric, paste it and mix it in 1 litre of water. Pour the liquid in a container and simmer it till it is reduced to half. Refrigerate it and use it

whenever necessary. All you need to do is take out about 20 ml or the concentrated paste, mix it in a litre of water and sprinkle it on the plants. However, if insects or diseases do strike your plants, go for the safest botanical or microbial pesticides’

— Dr SL Rahman

– For the proper growth of vegetables/ flowers, the pot size should be between 8-10 inches. Make one or more drain holes in the pot

– Place small chips right over them so that they don’t clog and excess water can pass through

– Do not pile soil on top of the plant

– Get various seedlings from the nursery

– Carefully remove the plants from its nursery container. Make sure the stem is completely above the surface

Source : Online Khobor