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‘Under the greenwood tree’

August 24, 2014


Shady paradise
Shady paradise

Q. We recently moved to Rahim Yar Khan and the climate is hot and dry. What plants can be grown here? Also, how can the garden, which surrounds the house on three sides and gets sun all day, be made cooler in the hot season?

The most productive growing season in your new location is from late September/October through until late spring/very early summer when temperatures are more acceptable for the majority of plants, especially for the production of vegetables, herbs and seasonal flowers of all kinds. Take a look at what is being grown by other gardeners in the immediate area to get a basic idea of which plant species perform best and ask your local seed seller for additional advice. In addition, keep your eye on this column as, on the first Sunday of each month, a planting guide is given.

Planting lots of trees, fruit trees if possible, around your lawn and underplanting them with shrubs, will, in time, provide lots of greenery, plus privacy; these will also provide shade, thus lowering the temperature, as they grow. Sorry that I cannot be more detailed as there is not enough space here. I will, however, write a column on creating shade in the not too distant future.

Q. I grew zucchini plants in pots placed on my balcony in Hayatabad, Peshawar. The packet said to sow them in April which I did. They get full sunlight and the pots are one foot deep and one foot wide. I used local soil with plenty of manure mixed in. The plants reached a size of four to five feet across, were healthy and not affected by any insects. Despite this some of the flowers fell off and any fruit which set turned yellow and fell off when just two to three inches long. What was the problem and how can I grow zucchini successfully next time?

Healthy zucchini plant
Healthy zucchini plant

A. Presumably the seeds were imported, probably from either Europe or America; hence the instructions to sow in April which, in Peshawar, is rather late. Zucchini seeds should be sown in your location as soon as temperatures rise in early to mid-March at the latest. This gives the plants more time to grow and fruit before humidity begins creeping up. It is usually high humidity that causes the fruit to yellow and fall before it is ready to pick. The other reason for this is over-watering/bad drainage. Sow them earlier next time, be careful about watering and, hopefully, they will reward you with an excellent crop.

Planting trees, especially fruit trees, not only rewards you with seasonal fruit but greenery, privacy and shade as well

Q. I planted a small banana tree in my kitchen garden at Seaview, Karachi. I added manure to the soil and water it every alternate day but it is not doing well. My vegetables are doing very good and I grow a wide range but neither chikoo nor mango could take the heat. Your advice is needed.

A. Banana plants need lots and lots of food and water if they are to perform as they should. They also enjoy a reasonable measure of wind protection, which I suspect you have not provided and especially as it is salty, is what may have burnt up your chikoo and mango trees rather than heat as both species are extremely heat tolerant. The main mango growing areas of the country are far hotter than Seaview.

Q. I have a large garden in Lahore and would like to know which trees and creepers are suitable for the climate here.

A. There are countless species of both trees and creepers suitable for cultivation in Lahore: far too many to list here. The best thing to do, after giving careful consideration to available space, planting distances and the hours of direct sunlight received, is to make regular trips to your local nurseries — say once a month — and select your plants (flowering, fruiting or purely ornamental) from what is available there. You will be amazed at the extensive range but do, if possible, include the glorious Solandra maxima in your collection of creepers/climbers.

Solandra maxima
Solandra maxima

Q. We love to sit on our terrace in Lahore to enjoy, in cool weather, the local flowers and vegetables we grow there. Any ideas on how to further improve our terrace garden would be appreciated.

A. Your terrace sounds gorgeous as it is. All I can think of, without seeing it of course, is to perhaps increase shaded areas so that you can also make full use of it during warmer and hot times of the year. This can be done with shade netting or by introducing something such as grape arbours, if the terrace will take the additional weight.

Q. We planted six ‘Mast’ trees (Ashok) next to the boundary wall of our house seven years ago: one fell in a storm and another has a bent trunk near the ground. Four of them are over 23ft tall and one is about 18ft, three of which now block light and airflow from our first floor windows. Is it good practice to trim their tops from time to time to restore light and airflow or does this damage the trees. Also, seeing that one fell over, is it a good idea to remove two more so that the remaining trees have more room?

A. Locally known as ‘Ashok’ and botanically as Polyalthia longifolia, these flowering trees can reach a height of approximately 40ft and should be planted at least 12ft apart to allow for natural growth. As you have failed to mention the planting distance between your trees it is hard to say whether or not you need to take some out. Ashok is often side pruned to keep it reasonably compact.

Top pruning is not usually done but, if there is no alternative, then you can, during December/January, give this a try; but, be warned, top pruning will encourage thicker top/side branches to form and the weight of these could unbalance the trees, making them more susceptible to wind/storm damage in future. Given the circumstances, planting smaller trees may have been a better idea but, now that you have them, it would be sad to remove them in full.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to 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, August 24th, 2014