Q. I grew tomato seedlings in pots and then transplanted them into the ground. They suffered from transplantation shock and died. How can I avoid this happening again?
A. Transplanting seedlings — of any kind — is a delicate task and must be carried out with tremendous care to minimise losses. Tomato seedlings must have developed at least two to three pairs of ‘true’ leaves above the first to appear ‘seed’ leaves, and at which point they should be three to four inches tall. If transplanted too soon or allowed to grow tall and spindly in the seed trays/pots, then many losses should be expected. Losses also occur if the seeds have been sown too close and the resultant over-crowded seedlings are too weak to survive.
When transplanting seedlings, do not simply pull them out of the seed tray/pot but extract them very carefully — especially tomato seedlings as they are brittle and break easily — keeping as much of the original soil as possible around their roots. Before you do this, however, the growing bed should have been properly prepared and watered. Transplants should be spaced according to the variety and expected height and spread at maturity, and supports should have been inserted at the time of transplanting otherwise the roots get damaged. Transplanting in the cooler hours of evening is preferable so that the seedlings have all night to recover: The soil must be thoroughly watered after transplanting and kept watered for the first few days — water in the evening please and just the soil not the actual plants — until they have recovered from any shock. Hope this helps you the next time you intend to undertake this task.
Treat your plants gently, especially when transplanting, and they will reward you in return
Q. I planted an onion bulb in a pot in mid-March. The only thing that grew was adventitious roots, no shoots. What shall I do?
A. Try again please! Next time, try planting an onion which already shows a green shoot emerging. Why are you planting a full onion anyway? If you are growing it for greens then it’s better to just grow the bottom, root section of spring onions which are usually thrown away. If for seed production, it is much faster to simply buy seeds.
Q. I live in Karachi and have two balconies: one facing south and is very sunny; the other facing west. I already have some creepers and climbers on these balconies and would like to add more plants. Please suggest some and explain how best to maintain them.
A. For the south facing balcony I would suggest that, as it will get very hot in the summer months, you select an attractive range of succulents, such as Aeonium which are found in various shades of purples and greens, with perhaps some cacti as well. Both need little water and will take full sun, plus, be attractive all year round. The west facing balcony would be good for species like Crotons, Coleus, Tradescantia, spider plants and a whole host of other pretty, ornamental leaf plants with, for colour, perhaps passion fruit, orchids and some pots of seasonal flowers mixed in.
Q. I got some indoor plants but after some time we noticed centipedes and millipedes in the house. I noticed a few in the plant pots. I was scared and got rid of them. Can you suggest how to avoid these insects so that I can keep indoor plants without any fear? Also please suggest some indoor plants suitable for Karachi.
A. These creepy-crawlies breed and live in damp places out of the sun. They must already have been present in the plant pot soil when you bought them. To avoid any repeat performance ensure that plants have not been over-watered: The easiest signs of this are fungal growth/moss on the outside of pots and on top of the soil which will also be heavily compacted. Once you have your plants home, be careful not to over-water them at any point and also ensure that the drainage holes in the base of the pots are free from obstruction so that any excess water drains out quickly and can be removed.
Indoor plants for Karachi are numerous but you may like to try some of the following: Rubber plants, Swiss-cheese plant, spider plants, money plants, Asparagus fern, Coleus, Zebrina, Caladium, Peperomia, Dracaena, Maranta, Mother-in-laws tongue and alocasia.
Q. My horseradish is spreading rapidly and I wonder if I can dig it up and divide the roots now.
A. Root division of horseradish is best done during late autumn or in early spring when new leaves are emerging after the plants’ winter rest: be warned — horseradish, when happy, is very invasive and even a tiny strand of root left in the soil will, in time, decide to grow!
Q. I want to begin growing organic vegetables and making compost at home. I need advice on how to begin please.
A. The best advice I can give is to keep a weekly eye on this column!
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 8th, 2014