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Gardening: Seed saving

March 09, 2014

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Q. I was excited to read, in a recent column, that it is possible to dry and preserve dahlia seeds for the next year. My dahlias, grown in pots, are flowering now and I would like to know, precisely, how to dry and store the seeds. Should I dry the wilted flowers in the sun and then preserve them wrapped in paper or some other way? Can I do the same with my marigolds too please? I reside near Seaview in Karachi.

A. Saving your own dahlia seeds is really quite a simple matter: After the flower has naturally finished and the petals have all dropped, it will form a nice, fat, seed-head in place of the flower. This seed-head will start out green and then slowly — the time depends on the weather — turn light brown as it dries out on the plant. When fully dry, it is papery to touch and will pop open into something resembling a papery, very miniature, light brown flower. Each of these dried out ‘petals’ has a long, black or dark brown seed, embedded in its base.

The easiest method is to collect these dried out seed-heads in a basket, place it in the sun for a day or two to make sure that all moisture has evaporated, then crumble the heads with your fingers and, very lightly, blow the papery residue away to leave only the seeds behind. The seeds should be stored in an airtight container, in a dark, cool place until seed sowing time comes round again.

Marigold seed, as does all seed, forms in the dried flower heads and you will know when it is ready to harvest as the long, black and white seeds, burst out of the seed-heads at the slightest touch. These should be placed in a basket or on newspaper, in the sun for a couple of days until fully dry and then stored just the same way as dahlia seeds.

Q. Will ‘Arbutus unedo’ (Strawberry tree) and ‘Manettia luteorubra’ (Firecracker vine) grow in Karachi and, if so, where can I get them?

A. Both are worth a try but will require partial shade, well drained soil very rich in organic matter and slightly on the acidic side. You might be able to obtain plants via a specialist grower — you can search Pakistani gardening websites online — but may have to import the seeds yourself.

Q. I have a lemon plant which is about 2.5 feet high on my rooftop in Hyderabad. I planted it about a year ago in a 13-inch pot. It has lots of very sharp thorns but hasn’t borne any fruit as yet. I have seen fruiting plants in local nurseries and they are in smaller pots or plastic bags and are fruiting. A nursery owner told me that lemon plants with thorns have turned wild and will not fruit. Is this true? Can you suggest something so that I get a few lemons at least?

A. Patience is, as always, a virtue and some lemon plants/trees take much longer to bear fruit than others. Many lemon plants/trees are very thorny and this has nothing to do with whether they will fruit or not. My own lemon trees have huge thorns and, in a good season, fruit heavily. Keeping the soil in the pot nutrient rich and full of organic plant food is essential for healthy growth and fruit production, as is regular watering during dry weather. Keep your plant happy and give it time.

Q. I reside in Risalpur near Mardan and have been trying, without success, to grow money plants for a long time. Please guide me on this.

A. Money plants thrive when simply grown in water, in partial shade and in natural light. They seem to prefer a clear glass water container to a coloured or ceramic one. They are also easy to grow in soil, again in partial shade: The soil should be reasonably rich in organic matter and be watered regularly.

Q. I am told that growing money plants in houses is not a good idea as they attract snakes. Is this true? A. Not true.

Q. I have not had any success growing roses in Karachi. Please, if possible, will you provide some basic guidelines about care and prevention of disease?

A. I have written about caring for roses in a number of columns so I would suggest that you do a search in the back issues of the magazine. As long as you include ‘roses’ in your search request, lots of information should come up on the Dawn website and under my name. Please let me know if you don’t find what you need.

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.