He has cut down 15 trees since dry spell started

The dry season has affected landscape companies because they have to choose between conserving water and saving the plants.
Jasmine Lim The New Paper AsiaOne 19 Mar 14;

The lingering dry spell is burning a hole in the pockets of horticulturists, who help to keep the Garden City green.

Mr M. Palanichamy, the owner of Good View Gardening & Landscape Construction, said that since the dry season started, he has cut down 15 trees, which were valued at a total of around $20,000.

He even had to chop down a dead tree that had been there for three years because he was worried that it would fall and cause serious damage.

Mr Palanichamy, 50, said this is the worst dry spell he has seen in Singapore since coming here 28 years ago from India.

His company takes care of the landscaping and plants of more than 150 condominiums, schools and private estates around the island.

Like most horticulturists, his contract with his clients states that he has to replace all plants that die.

The dry spell will cost him, but he was not willing to disclose how much he will have to spend replacing the dead plants.

But to get a sense of the money involved: One client spent about $30,000 on the landscaping for his bungalow in Berkshire Road, just off Alexandra Road, but it has been devastated by the dry spell that killed most of the shrubs, pearl grass and even some palm trees.

Mr Palanichamy said: "The client called asking to replace the plants, but there's no point because they will die in this weather."

Confined by concrete

He said some of the trees in Singapore are hit particularly badly because each tree is confined to such a small space surrounded by concrete.

Mr Palanichamy said he would not cut down a tree until he was sure that it was dead.

"Some trees look dead, but if you see a few green leaves, they can still be saved with just one rainfall."

He also said that cow grass, the type of grass we usually see by roads, is resilient. Even when the grass is totally brown, it will be able to grow again with some watering.

Mr Makesh Kumar, the manager of Lovely Landscape & Construction, said that more than 100 of his plants have died, including 10 trees.

Mr Kumar, 33, said: "We are getting so many complaints from clients now saying that their plants are dying. It's also affecting our income because no new projects are coming in with this weather."

Said Mr Palanichamy: "The cost of replacing the dying plants is much more than the cost of water. So we are still watering them to keep them alive."

He said he would wait until after it rains to replace all the dead plants because if he were to plant them now, they would still require more watering through the dry spell.

Mr John Tan, a horticulturist and the owner of Esmond Landscape and Horticulture, said they have to prioritise which plants get replaced.

He said: "If we can delay (planting them), then we will. It depends on how important the plants are, if they are at the front of the building then they should be replaced. If they are in the back where no one can see them, they can wait."

Following the Government's call to conserve water, Mr Palanichamy said his workers are now using sprinklers so that they can water more plants at a time.

He said: "Most of the plants don't need a lot of water, they just need moisture to survive, unless they are potted plants, which need more water."

He said that these days, without the rain, the plants have to be watered daily, which means that more of his workers are working overtime.

Mr Kumar agreed that without rain, more manpower is needed to water the plants because the frequency of watering them has doubled in a day.

He said there is nothing much he can do now and that they are just managing the damage the best they can.

Mr Tan advised clients to water plants "responsibly", which means watering them in the morning and not in the afternoon, when most of the water would evaporate quickly because of the scorching heat.

"I worry every time I see dead plants. Now, I'm just waiting for it to rain again," Mr Palanichamy said.

Given yesterday's rains and the weather forecast of rain for the next three days, things may be looking up for them.