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September 2010
Maintaining It Right


I MET a lady recently who wanted my advice on greening her house compound. She had extended her living room until there was barely any garden left, which is not uncommon among Malaysians. But how that extension came about turned out to be an interesting story.

According to her, it started out as a beautiful pergola casting shadows over her delightful garden. But well-meaning friends and relatives convinced her to cover it with polycarbonate sheets. “What if it rained?” or “If the sun is so hot, how to sit outside?” were the frequent remarks. But in a dense housing estate, putting up polycarbonate roofing usually blocks ventilation and creates a heat trap. If you don’t believe me, try standing under a polycarbonate cover during a hot day. It’s much cooler to be in the sun than under such a roof! So she added a ceiling fan, which did little to disperse all that hot air. But the heat was now felt in her living room. So again, well-meaning advice convinced her to wall off the area and install air-conditioning. And that’s how she ended up with a living room extension.

In garden and home renovation circles, the proliferation of misinformation is alarming. It’s quite common for furniture salesmen or retailers to exaggerate product properties or fail to mention certain drawbacks. Most cases may not be outright cheating, but customers who are not diligent in researching what they buy or build usually end up getting shortchanged.

So today, I want to put right a topic that many homeowners have misconceptions about — garden maintenance. Pests - Ants: These are drawn to sugar. Everyone knows this. So to reduce the chances of having ant nest in your garden, refrain from growing fruit trees. Then again, ants are prolific creatures and you can never really get rid of them. Usually spraying their route with an insecticide a few times is rather effective. If you must have fruit-bearing trees in your garden, make sure that they are far from your seating area.

- Mosquitoes: These are a legitimate threat, but knowing their habits will help you get rid of them.

They breed in still water, so if you have a pond, rear fish such as guppies that feed on mosquito larvae for lunch. In the day, mosquitoes hang out in dark areas. If your garden usually gets a good breeze, this is not a problem. But if you live in high-density townships where airflow is restricted, you don’t want a garden that resembles a jungle. Spraying your plants with a water-based insecticide in the evenings is also an effective method. Also, grow mosquito-repelling plants such as citronella, neem tree and some geraniums around your garden. These plants themselves do nothing, rather it’s the fragrant sap that releases chemicals that irritate the mosquitoes, so crush some of the leaves to release the smell.

- Tadpoles or frogs: When you have a pond in your garden, you may get frogs as well. And like ants, there’s no foolproof way of getting rid of them. Frogs are fairly common, so it doesn’t mean that the absence of water features will get rid of them. If you find tadpoles in your pond, simply scooping them out will do. Furniture - Maintenance: If you want your wooden furniture to last, you must choose the right type of wood in the first place. Outdoor furniture not only requires weather resistance, but also chemical treatment. In Malaysia, chengal wood is best suited for outdoor use, like decking or furniture. Any type of wood, however, will gradually look faded after exposure to rain and sun. - Termites: Either use chemically treated wood or chengal for your garden, which is naturally termite-resistant. If you suspect your land has a termite infestation, call an exterminator.

Pond - Maintenance: There’s only one objective here — crystal-clear water. Like aquariums, ponds need periodical cleaning to get clear water. For koi ponds, you need specialised built-in filter systems, which are very expensive but worth every sen.

Enough plants in the pond will absorb the nutrients and slow the growth of algae while too many fish or overfeeding the fish will have an opposite effect. But some algae growth is normal and adds to the charm of the natural landscape.

Plants - Maintenance: Plants, especially indoor ones, are commonly used as decorative pieces. But don’t mistake them for furniture. Plants are living organisms, and just like us, they need food and water. Caring for them is a no-brainer — all they need is sufficient sunlight (or strong artificial light) and regular watering. And add some liquid fertiliser when you water them. For outdoor plants, use slow-release fertilisers.

Remember, with the right maintenance, the happy moments and pleasure your garden offers you far outweigh the work to maintain it.

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