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Seeds of life

June 22, 2014

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Cobaea scandens
Cobaea scandens

Q. I have grown egg plants from seed but, while the plants are full of flowers, the flowers keep on falling off without setting any fruit. What may be the problem? My ladyfingers, planted right besides the egg plants, are doing fine and cropping every week. Both are being grown directly in the garden soil.

A. If you are treating the egg plants and ladyfingers in exactly the same way — which, as they are being grown side by side, is a distinct possibility at least when it comes to watering — then please understand that the two very different species have quite different watering requirements and this could be the source of the problem. Egg plants do not require the same amount of water as ladyfinger and nor will they tolerate overly wet soil conditions for any length of time. Egg plants drop their flowers prematurely and no fruit is set, when the soil is too wet or if the soil is allowed to dry out and, when eventually watered, given copious amounts. A little water on a regular basis is best for egg plants. I do not suspect soil or pollination problems seeing that the ladyfingers are doing well and that the egg plants are full of flowers. It’s definitely a watering issue that need to be resolved.

Q. I planted Tukh malanga in my garden and the plants, all four of them, are growing reasonably well. I need to know how to care for them properly as I think they are small in size. The variety I grew is Italian and the seeds were given to me by a friend.

A. Tukh malanga is a local name for annual sweet basil (Tulsi being a very aromatic perennial species) of which there are very many different types with different sized leaves, in different colours and with often quite different flavours. It sounds as if you may have grown a dwarf Italian variety which has quite small leaves; if this is the case, there is absolutely nothing to be concerned about. Sweet basil, all kinds, enjoys rich, well drained soil, plenty of sunshine and needs regular water, in the evening not morning time, in order for it to thrive.

Egg plant
Egg plant

Q. Can the following plants be grown in Lahore and, if so, when should I sow the bulbs/seeds: 1) Exacum affine, 2) Amaryllis belladonna, 3) Chlidanthus fragrans, 4) Montbretia?

A. Exacum affine requires an average winter temperature of approximately 13 C so is not recommended. Amaryllis belladonna can be grown from spring sown seed or autumn planted bulbs. Childanthus fragrans, a rare, very tender, bulbous, South American plant is also not suitable for Lahore. Montbretia is a pretty member of the Crocosmia family and flourishes in partial shade from either autumn sown seed or autumn planted corms.

Q. I have been unable to germinate Hardenbergia violacea, although I even tried scarifying and then hot water boiling the seeds. The seed does swell when soaked overnight but then rots away instead of germinating. I tried the ‘baggie’ method of germination but that failed as well. I have also tried germinating the seed in both spring and autumn without any luck. Suggestions please.

A. This native Australian species, otherwise known as ‘Happy Wanderer’, is a glorious perennial with pea-like, lavender coloured flowers and is perfectly suitable for the climate in Karachi but may not be happy in Lahore unless it is given good winter protection til it is well established. This tropical to sub-tropical species is frost tender and scarifying the seeds inhibits germination. A warm — not hot — water soak of 12 hours usually aids germination: Boiling the seeds kills the plant embryo inside! It is possible that you tried to germinate old, therefore dried out seed so please, if at all possible, locate some fresh seed and try again.

Q. I started off Cobaea scandens from seed last autumn and it grew well in the soil bed until March, but when the temperature rose it started to wilt. It was in partial shade and I watered it regularly. Is this species suitable for Lahore’s climate?

Nicandra
Nicandra

A. Cobaea scandens can be grown in Lahore. It likes to have its roots in the shade and ‘head’ in the sun. The soil must be rich and very well drained — adding river sand helps maintain drainage. Your plants may very well, from what you tell me, have been over-watered and this, along with the opposite of not enough water, can cause them to wilt and eventually die off.

Q. At which size should Nicandra seedlings be separated and transplanted out in the garden after being started off in a seed tray. What should the planting distance be between each plant when grown in the garden itself and, if grown in pots, what should be the size of the pots used and how many seedlings per pot?

A. The seedlings should have developed two or three sets of true leaves above the seed leaves before being transplanted at 12-18 inches apart in the garden or one plant per 10-inch clay pot.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 22nd, 2014