Dawn News

Gardening: Tree time

The sultry heat at this time of the year is so enervating that even thinking of getting out there in the garden on your hands and knees, let alone breaking your fingernails as you work in the earth, is a thought too far, but…like it or not, there is work to be done.

For a start you can sow some more zinnia, tagetes and marigold seeds and don’t promptly say ‘No room’ as I am certain that there is — even if you have to resort to growing them in those incredibly useful, wooden fruit and vegetable crates which are so perfect for herbs and many vegetables too.

Speaking of vegetables — I am wearing a huge grin! Before you put in any more ornamentals, you can sow some more chillies, cucumbers, leaf beet/Swiss chard, okra, tomatoes, radish, lettuce, aubergines, cabbage, cauliflower and fast growing herbs such as coriander this month. On the fruit front, put in some watermelons and give some thought to planting fruit trees during the weeks of the summer monsoon.

Generally speaking, people often fail to factor fruit trees into their gardens, many of them thinking, quite wrongly as it turns out, that they will have to wait so long until they can actually harvest anything that planting them is not worth the effort.

While it is true that some species of fruit trees do take a few years to bear a crop, others are very fast growing indeed. Take lemons for instance: Lemon trees, some of the dwarf varieties are actually shrubs, are often in production when they are as little as one foot tall and, furthermore, they grow just as well in large pots as they do when planted directly in the ground.

Dwarf lemons are particularly suitable for roof top gardens as they tolerate extreme sunshine and very high temperatures as long as they receive adequate water and, another big plus, the birds leave them well alone!

Those of you who have set up roof gardens — I am so happy to know that more and more of you are doing just this — should make a point of checking drainage systems before the monsoons arrive as drainpipes may be blocked with plant debris and soil. You should also ensure that any plants susceptible to rain or wind damage are given suitable protection and that shade material, most of you use green netting, is firmly fixed in place as, if even an edge is flapping loose, the whole lot could take flight during the first gusty storm.

Now, back to the subject of fruit trees: Get out there and examine your garden from every possible angle; I’m certain that you will find place for at least one fruit tree and hopefully for more. Purchasing bare-rooted fruit trees right now — for the uninitiated this means fruit trees that are growing in the ground — is not a good idea as they will be in full growth and so resent any disturbance of their fragile root systems, and there is a very high chance that they will die of shock. You can, however, buy pot grown fruit trees all year round now and this is exactly what you should contemplate doing this month so that you can plant them out, in prepared planting holes, as soon as the monsoon arrives.

Prepare the planting holes by digging a hole approximately six times wider and three times deeper than the pot or plastic ‘sleeve’ that the purchased tree is in. Place handful of rusty iron (not steel) nails in the base of the planting hole and another handful of organic bone meal — making your own bone meal is the only sure way of knowing that it is organic — in there too.

Mix up half of the removed soil, after breaking up any lumps and extracting stones, with the same amount of a 50/50 mix of new sweet earth and old, well rotted, organic manure/organic compost.

Next, half fill the planting hole with water and wait until it has soaked in and then, and only then, toss a shovel full of the new earth mix into the hole. Now carefully, very carefully so as not to damage either roots or branches, extract the tree from its clay pot or plastic sleeve, keeping the root ball — this is the soil around the roots — intact and lay it carefully on the ground.

Then, again carefully — as careful as if you are performing heart surgery — crumble small amounts of the compacted earth away from the constricted tree roots and spread them out in all directions.

Next you need to estimate, measure it if you have a tape measure handy, the depth the roots need to be in the planting hole and the width required for them to easily spread out. The tree should be planted to the depth of just one inch above its trunk than it was in the pot/sleeve it was bought in. After doing this, top up the soil in the bottom of the hole if necessary, carefully lower in the tree, spreading out its roots in the process and slowly add enough soil mix until the hole is half full — then pour in some water to settle it into place.

Pouring in water at this stage, even though you will need to manually hold the tree in position until the water soaks in, is less damaging to the tree roots than firming it down in any other way. Once the water has soaked in, fill up the hole, repeat the water process and top up again if needed. Whoops! I almost forgot…if the tree needs staking, the stake should be emplaced, firmly, in the hole, about nine inches from where the tree trunk will be, before you put the tree in place. Hammering in the stake after you have planted the tree will, inevitably, damage the root system.

When you are done, fasten the tree to the stake with a strip of sacking or other soft material. Do not use wire or anything harsh as it will damage the tree bark and allow infection to set in.

Trees requiring plenty of space include: Loquat, Jammun, Walnut, Pecan nut, Mango, Date palm, Almonds, Amlok, Cherry and Olives. Trees suitable for ‘reasonable’ space include: Apple, Apricot, Peach, Nectarine, Plum, Pear, Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, Persimmon, Pomegranate, Chicoo, Sharifa, Papaya, Banana and Guava.

For small spaces and pot cultivation, especially if dwarf varieties can be sourced: Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit, Date palm, Papaya, Banana, Guava and Olive. Please ensure that you select only those species which are suitable for your local soil and climatic conditions.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. Answers to selected questions will appear in a future issue of the magazine. This takes time. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened. Please note: The writer’s garden is not open to the public.

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