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Beat the heat

July 13, 2014

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Single hibiscus
Single hibiscus

Q. I am growing a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines and chillies in pots on my terrace in Islamabad. It gets direct sun for most of the day so is very hot. The result being that the plants need daily watering. Is it possible to mulch the pots to reduce the amount of watering needed?

A. You can indeed mulch the pots. The mulch should be at least two inches deep to be effective and can be composed of any or a mix of the following: organic compost, shredded newspaper or other paper but not the glossy magazine kind, chopped straw/bhoosa, wood shavings/sawdust but not walnut or teak as these contain natural toxins, crumbled up dry leaves, tea leaves, coffee grounds or other purely organic material which is rotted down past its ‘green’ stage. It is more usual to add green garden and household waste to the compost bin but if you don’t have space for one, you can simply put these items, cut/shredded up into very small pieces, into a plastic bag, tie it close and allow it to rot in there. Using fresh, green material as mulch can be detrimental for plants as it heats up before rotting down and can burn them. In any case, try to keep mulch from coming into direct contact with plant stems. A two-inch deep mulch should reduce watering requirements to at least every second, possibly every third, day.

Q. Which flowers and vegetables can be sown, for pot cultivation, in Karachi this month?

A. Please look out last week’s gardening column or find it on the internet. Details of what can be sown each month appear on the first Sunday of each month right here on this page.


Reduce the need for water by using mulch in your pots/garden


Q. I intend to create a small roof garden in Defence, Karachi; please suggest some plants which will thrive in the summer heat.

A. If you intend to produce food plants, which you should, then the following are just some of those which will, with the correct care and attention, meet your needs: tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, aubergines, Lady’s finger, water melons, melons, tinda, karella, ginger and garlic. If you want ornamentals then succulents, cacti, hibiscus, jasmine and numerous coloured-leaved plants will be fine in the perennial department with annual summer flowers like zinnia, tagetes and amaranthus dotted here and there for additional colour.

Q. Is it possible to grow basil, rosemary, parsley, dill and oregano in Islamabad? If so, what are their local names and where can I get seeds or seedlings from.

A. Yes, you can grow all of these in Islamabad. Basil enjoys sunshine and heat so is best sown in spring. Dill can be sown anytime from the beginning of April through to the end of September for best results. Parsley prefers relatively low temperatures so should be sown in late autumn. Rosemary and oregano are both perennial and can be started off either in early spring or early autumn. Seeds are easily available and you may find seedlings or, in the case of Rosemary, full grown plants in one of the many nurseries in Peshawar Morr.

Q. I am growing tomatoes, capsicum, aubergines and chillies in plastic crates lined with newspaper on my rooftop in Islamabad. What other vegetables can be grown like this and how to ensure a good crop? I do mix manure with the soil but what else is needed?

A. Most vegetables — and some fruit — can be successfully grown in crates as long as the crates are deep enough to cater for their root systems. You get more produce per crate from vegetables which produce above ground, such as spinach, lettuce, cabbage, beans and peas, than root vegetables like turnips which tend to take up too much space. In addition to the manure, a nitrogen and mineral rich liquid feed, applied once a week, is a good idea and especially so if you are reusing soil.

Q. Mosquitoes and flies are a nuisance in my Karachi roof garden. I tried placing a tulsi plant there but this did not deter them. Suggestions please.

A. One tulsi plant on an open rooftop will do nothing as its active, essential oils will simply disperse in the atmosphere and wind. You need to have lots of tulsi plants placed here and there amongst your other plants for them to have any effect. Additionally, instead of masses of tulsi, you could introduce some pots of lemon grass and various mints to increase the variety of fly and mosquito repellent plants and, as you undoubtedly know, all three of these species are very useful in the kitchen too.

Q. I planted a pineapple top in my garden. It gets lots of sun and I water regularly. How long will it take to fruit?

A. As long as the soil was correctly prepared and is thus rich in iron, your plant should fruit approximately 12 months after planting.

Q. Will you kindly suggest some good books on gardening which relate directly to Pakistan?

A. Sorry! I cannot suggest a single one which is, indeed, a sad state of affairs. May I suggest that you keep your eye on this column or search out back issues for specific subjects on the internet. n

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, July 13th, 2014