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Gardening: Leave the bulbs alone

April 06, 2014

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Spring has well and truly sprung and gardening circles chatter that it’s time to put seasonal bulbs, such as daffodils, Dutch hyacinths, narcissus, gladioli, etc. into ‘storage’ which is utter ‘stuff and nonsense’!

Bulbs, imported or not, are designed by Mother Nature to live in the ground where, if soil and climatic conditions are suitable, they will make themselves perfectly at home and multiply as the years go by. If they do not like the place provided, they may pop up just once to take a look around before, quite rightly, disappearing altogether. To dig them up, stick the poor things in boxes of sand, etc. for months on end, and then replant them when you feel the time is right and then expect them to multiply, is to expect the impossible.

European and other ‘cold climate’ bulbs are not meant for places such as Karachi: They will, having a survival instinct second to none, flower once and may, as already mentioned above, decide to settle in. But unless you can afford to purchase new ones every year, they are simply not going to adapt and packing them away for the summer is, putting it bluntly, a cruel waste of time. If a species is not climatically suitable then my advice for what it’s worth is: Don’t grow it — end of the story!

Having got that subject off my chest and apologies if anyone doesn’t appreciate the truth, let’s move on to the garden in general and tasks to add to your ‘To do’ list for this month:

Top of the work list is the very rewarding job of sowing as many vegetable seeds as you can find room for. Those that can be started off in seed trays/pots/specially prepared seed beds, for transplanting to their permanent growing position when large enough to handle, include the following: Tomatoes, aubergines, capsicums, chillies, summer cabbage, summer cauliflower, lettuce, endive, beans and globe artichokes. On the herb front you can grow basil, lovage, summer savory, calendulas, nasturtiums, lemon grass, chives and garlic chives; plus, in the shade, rosemary, lavender, echinacea, oregano, marjoram, rocket/arugula and thyme.

Edibles to be sown directly in the ground this month include: Cucumbers (remember to sow the seeds on edge), courgettes, pumpkins, ‘tindas’, ‘loki’ and other members of the gourd family of plants — botanically known as ‘Cucurbits’. As with cucumbers, the Cucurbits seed achieves a higher germination rate when sown on ‘edge’ that is, not flat down but narrow edge down. You can sow radishes, Chinese yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard/leaf beet, Lady’s finger, water melons and sweet melons too. Try giant red mustard and mustard mizuna in the shade. Herbs to be sown direct include: Borage, both blue and white flowered, coriander and lots of spring onions and a wide variety of salad greens as the seed becomes available in the stores which are, thank goodness, becoming a little more adventurous than they used to be!

Those of you with brightly coloured seasonal flowers in mind can sow sunflowers — big ones, little ones, in-between ones and in colours ranging from cream through to traditional yellow, oranges, reds and even velvety, chocolate browns. Then there is that wonderfully adaptive cosmos, bright zinnias, gorgeous coreopsis to dance in the breeze, marigolds, tagetes, verbena, old-fashioned and newer versions of petunias both upright and trailing, climbing thunbergira (Black-eyed Suzie’s), morning glory /ipomoea and so on and so forth. Tips: Relatively large and hard-coated seeds like lady’s finger, beans, nasturtiums etc., find germination much easier if they are treated to a 12-hour, warm water soak before being put in the ground.

For all kinds of climbers, support needs to be provided/erected at the time of sowing seed if direct in the ground or at the time of transplanting species, such as tall growing tomatoes, into their final growing position. Putting in supports at a later stage can damage the plant’s tender roots and thus either reduce their cropping/flowering potential or kill them off completely.

For indoors or on partially shady verandas that are fully protected from the wind, it is the perfect time to start off a colourful selection of ornamental-leaved caladiums. To bring out their colours, you can put in some alocasias and calocasias behind them or off to one side, depending on potential height and spread. All these three relish high humidity; therefore, in very dry weather, a warm water spray is highly appreciated and helps keep the leaves in tip-top condition. Other houseplants such as monsteria deliciosa, rubber plants and other members of the ‘ficus’ family, crotons and other ‘medium to large-leaved’ decorative plants, should be carefully wiped clear of dust using a sponge soaked in warm water and a little milk to clear their ‘pores’ and make breathing easier for them. If leaves are not cleaned of accumulated dust every so often, they are adversely affected, lose their shine completely and, eventually, yellow and die.

Houseplants with smaller leaves, ferns being a prime example, should be taken outside, into a shady location, and, using a spray attachment, lightly washed down with warm water from a sprayer or watering can: Then left to drain and dry off before being taken back inside.

If any of your houseplants need re-potting, do this now as well and they will thank you for it over the months to come.

Many of the above named ‘houseplants’ can, depending on your location and localised climatic conditions, also be cultivated outdoors. These will, towards sunset on a still day, also benefit from a leaf cleaning session, say once a month throughout the summer. Do not wash their leaves when the sun is high or on a windy day as wet leaves can be badly burnt by both hot sun and a cool or salty wind.

One final piece of advice: Go easy on water please and recycle every drop you possibly can.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.