Extreme temperatures, an erratic monsoon which appears to have moved in a northerly direction — as was also reported when the 2010 flooding disaster occurred — serious drought conditions in Thar and an increasing shortage of potable water everywhere, are inescapable evidence of climate change / global warming right here in Pakistan and we gardeners must, if we are to continue practicing our passion, make some serious adjustments in how we go about growing the plants we love.
First and foremost — apologies if I am repeating things I have already said but this cannot be emphasised enough — is that touchy subject of watering.
All gardens, even those planted with drought resistant species, require a certain amount of water in order for seeds / plants to grow and survive. Drought resistant plants may only require watering until they are established but gardens in general, need, for much of the year, a daily dose of this increasingly precious liquid which humans, plants, animals, birds, insect life et al cannot survive without.
Water shortages have long been endemic in specific locations and the number of such locations is multiplying rapidly as time goes by. It is, therefore, essential that gardeners alter wasteful water practices and concentrate on getting maximum use out of minimal quantities.
With climate change water is becoming a scarce resource; being a great proponent of conservation Zahrah Nasir advises us how to use water wisely in the garden
Some gardeners and the vast majority of farmers do adhere to the age-old tradition of growing vegetables, plus fruits such as melons and strawberries, on raised ridges with shallow irrigation channels running in-between. Whilst this system requires regular hard labour to maintain on a home garden scale, it is still the most sensible way to irrigate, leaving aside those controversial and oft expensive, commercial, drip feed systems. Water thus channelled, is immediately made available to plant roots and, in the comparative ‘shade’ of these channels, it does not, no matter how high the ambient temperature, evaporate as fast as water applied on top of flat ground. Watering on the flat, even in flower beds, is not a good idea and is wasteful in the extreme as evaporation is fast and much of the water, especially if flooded on by hosepipe wielding malis, either immediately runs off or evaporates — particularly if watering is done when the sun is up — long before plant roots have had time to take up their necessary fill.
Irrigation channels — even in your prized rose beds — are the way to go and they double up as rapid liquid fertiliser, organic please, conduits too.
Such channels should be from just three to six inches deep and 12 inches wide depending on the species of plant under cultivation.
A bed of relatively shallow rooted lettuce for example, is perfectly happy with irrigation channels of three to six inches but things like potatoes and very thirsty tomatoes need something deeper.
It may sound, at least to some, horrific to even suggest irrigation channels in flower beds yet, if properly and neatly done, they look absolutely fine and will enhance plant growth and health to a surprising degree.
Irrigation channels in vegetable beds should be placed every six inches to two or three feet apart depending on what is being grown on the ridges in-between. It is not necessary to be quite so regimental in digging them in flower beds though and they can, especially if beds are not overly large, be dug around the perimeter with just one or two cross-channels and long, narrow borders, do perfectly well with just one, length-wise, irrigation channel.
Excavating irrigation channels should, if possible, be done prior to planting but, with care and as long as plants have been reasonably spaced, they can be dug through existing planted areas.
Digging them is one thing: they must also be maintained on a regular basis. Keep them weed and debris free and clear out soil build-up as it occurs and this occurs far more often in shallow irrigation trenches than in deep ones.
Watering via irrigation channels not only reduces water usage whilst ensuring that plants can easily drink their fill, it also prevents the leaf / flower burn which is a common problem when wind / sun strikes wet plants. Watering in irrigation channels instead of on flat soil, also helps reduce the germination of surface weed seeds amongst plants; plus, it can help to prevent mildew and other fungal infections that routinely appear on overly wet plant foliage.
Those of you gardening in plant pots / containers, be these in courtyards / driveways, on balconies or rooftops, can minimise water usage by utilising plastic bottles to drip-feed. Take, for instance, a regular sized water bottle, make a hole in the lid — not too large / not too small and I find that hammering a two-inch nail through it makes the perfect sized aperture — then either cut off or partially cut away the bottle’s base, push it, top first, into the plant pot/container soil to a depth of a couple of inches or so when it should be ‘fixed’ enough not to fall over, fill it with water through the hole in the base and the water should drip feed the plant pot / container for from one to five or even seven days depending on soil / compost consistency. Vary the size of the bottle according to the size of plant pot / container; and in very large pots / containers use more than one if need be. Top up the bottles as necessary and remember to use recycled ‘grey’ water for your plants at every opportunity please.