Extremes of weather in gardening
Published on: Tuesday, May 26, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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A fresh, well-watered hydrangea plant.
WHILE optimum levels of temperature and water supply are essential to the well-being of plants, it is necessary also to view from the other extreme ends that both too much and too little of the factors are undoubtedly detrimental to their good growth and development.

Put in simple words, too much water or extended periods of waterlogging especially in flood prone areas or in areas with a high level of clay content, are bad for the health of plants. This is evident in low lying areas in Sabah where many terrestrial plants and trees just die standing with nothing left but stumps and naked trunks whenever water is retained for unnecessarily long periods of time.  

On the other hand, extreme heat and dryness are also of little benefit to a great number of plants. Even trees suffer when there are prolonged periods of dry weather. These factors are quite universal in nature as they affect virtually all living things, including human beings. 

It is said that a dry atmosphere may affect the suppleness and tenderness of skins thus resulting in the cracking, scaling and peeling of a once-lovely snow-white skin, whereas whenever water levels go up and stay put for long periods, it could result in more cases of weak, wobbly and rubbery knees especially for the senior and weaker folks.

It is not difficult to imagine a scene of havoc whenever the full power of nature is released on the land. As a result of conditions arising from such factors as high temperature and extreme aridity, many plants particularly the small, soft herbaceous or delicate leafy types, tend to suffer greatly, which is the same whenever water level rises to suffocate them. 

Even though the more woody and larger plants and trees, although more tolerant, are nevertheless affected too, to varying degrees. These flora may also end up dead in extreme situations, and in due course, they too get reduced to dust.

Dry spells such as the El Nino phenomenon which occurs seasonally, is one example that truly affects the well-being of plants. In just a matter of weeks, it can wipe off the turf coverage of an entire city, leaving the cityscape cleared not only of turf, but also the number of ‘Oms’ doing the grasscutting job.  

And then there is the La Nina wet spell which is also not really helpful for many flora and fauna. Although in many instances, the high water level do manage to flood out countless numbers of mice and illegal residents, it also affects many plants, including edible agricultural crops.

That water and temperature are important in gardening is without doubt very correct.  It is also true that heat and dryness, in moderate degrees, are also beneficial, especially when carefully applied at the right time. 

However, scorching heat for extended periods of time, coupled with parched conditions, are sure bets to put most plants into real trouble. Under such circumstances, it is normal to find at least a couple of scorched and dehydrated skeletons standing pitifully tucked away in an isolated corner of the garden.

This situation is a fact of life because in many gardens, only the most beautiful and attractive plants are shown for display in strategic locations. The remaining rotten plants, stumps or straggly and scrawny also-rans, are normally dumped in the

backyard or in out-of-view corners where they wait to be reused. Some substandard plants, or those that have yet to bloom or grow up, are usually put away in this manner.

These potted plants are normally more susceptible to weather changes as the amount of growing medium is much smaller. Its buffer against fluctuations in the environment is therefore very limited, and as such, the plant may not last long in the advent of adverse conditions of water and temperature. 

The only advantage is that it can be easily moved from a harsh environment to a place that is more conducive to good growth and development.

In the case of ground-grown plants, nothing much can be done about it. But then, such plants, especially the deep rooted ones, would be in a much better position to survive longer even during long periods of drought and heat, particularly if such roots are able to reach deeply and over a larger area to tap the underground sources of water and nutrients. 

Under the same conditions, potted plants would have shrivelled and dried up rather quickly, unless water, at least, and perhaps, shade, are provided regularly. This is because the small volume of soil by itself, can hardly retain enough moisture to sustain the plant for long.

Things to do on hot, rainless days

Staying at home to avoid the plant virus or the sun is one thing but that cannot help battle the war against the dry weather. This is important because there are some people who have a tendency to entrust the care of their plants to nature. 

However, if plants are regularly left to the devices of nature, then the undesirable effects may be quite significant, even to the complete knocking-out of whatever that is grown. In a better-case scenario, permanent scars of injury or damage will remain for good on the plant, such as stunting, tip die-back etc.

This means that even though the plant may be of the hardy and tough type growing on good, fertile soils, it still does not guarantee success in the cultivation whenever they are not tended to properly. In particular, under parched, hot and dry situations, plants do indeed need more tender care. This ensures that when the good times are back, growth and development should rebound without much problem. 

And when growth moves into the upswing leaving the lean times behind, a lot of things can be done without much problem such as shaping and training, display, or even for exchange with friends or neighbours if the plants have reached its peak display quality.

Therefore, it is important to make sure that the plants, particularly the potted ones, are given sufficient amounts of water on a regularly basis. 

During the drier days, it would be normal to apply water two times a day, that is, once each in the morning and evening. On prolonged rainless days, it is necessary to do this every day to ensure that the plants have enough water for their growth.  Also, during each watering session, the plant would benefit more if the water is applied slowly over two or three rounds. 

This would ensure that sufficient amounts of water is given the time to seep into the soil and thereby be retained by it for the consumption of the plant. It is easy to prove the point by taking a potted plant with dry soil and applying water quickly over it. 

After five minutes, dig into the soil surface. You are bound to meet with dry soil barely 3 cm down although the surface appears to be perfectly wet.

This is a phenomenon that occurs whenever anyone tries to cut short the task of applying water to plants. Even those plants that are grown on the ground need to be given sufficient time for the water to seep down into the soil. Rapid watering such as by pouring a bucket of water at the base of the plant may only result in runoffs exceeding 90pc.

Provision of shade

Some plants such as the leafy ornamentals, can benefit greatly by being given some shade during hot and dry periods. During such periods of stress, the foliage of such plants tend to dry a little and shrivel or curl up in an act that reduces the exposed area in which evapo-transpiration can occur.

This is a natural response in plants to a hostile downturn of environmental factors that is aimed at saving its own skin. When the external situation improves, the underground rhizomes, corms, bulbs or other points of growth will rebound and spring into new growths and put the plant back into normalcy. 

This is one of many survival features found in plants to ensure the sustainability of the variety. Shade, therefore helps to keep the exposed leaves cool and free from being battered by the fierce heat of the sun. 

Consequently, the severity of shrivelling and dehydration is much reduced, and hence, the plant may be maintained in a much better shape than if it were to be just exposed fully to the elements.  It is also a good idea to take the opportunity to do some serious pruning and trimming. 

For instance, the badly scorched or half-baked plants may require some skilful pruning to remove the hideous parts like sun-burnt leaves or young shoots.  Diseased or dead portions, may also be neatly pruned away, mindful of the need to keep the plant in as good a shape as possible, in spite of the battering from the elements and the heavy pruning.

Despite the fear that many people have regarding rainless days and fiery heat, there is surprisingly quite a number of advantages that come with it. For one, the lawn grass tend to grow at a much reduced rate, which means the services of grass-cutting ‘Oms’ need be used only once in two months instead of once monthly, which translates into huge savings per year.

Also, a stiff, dry and hot season tends to awaken in many plants the need to come into flowering and fruiting. The most spectacular examples are the flowering shrubs such as Desert Rose and Wrightia spp., and the mango in the case of fruit trees. In well-endowed Sabah, the choices available are truly limitless, limited only by the brain power of the manpower behind the creation of the plantings.  Most pleasant of all is that during the dry season when there is no fear of heavy rains and flooding, there is more time on the hands of the hardworking gardening enthusiasts to have a slow and enjoyable gulp of his favourite beverage within the cool of his garden sulap.


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