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Gardening: Tips and tricks

August 23, 2015

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Q. Last winter I bought a dozen, quarter-plate sized IdahliasI. They were very expensive and I was told that they had been brought to Karachi from Murree. Now I would like to propagate from the tubers and need to know how and when to do this.

A. Right now — and until mid-October, is the best time to divide and multiply IdahliaI tubers in Karachi. It is a simple procedure: select the largest tubers, those with lots of smaller tubers attached, and gently snap them off from the parent one. Discard any damaged or infected pieces. Plant the tubers, largest ones the deepest, four to six inches deep with their ‘eyes’ — these are budding points — facing upwards. Soil / compost should be well-draining and slightly acidic, add river sand if necessary. As these gorgeous plants are heavy feeders, it pays to mix in plenty of organic compost / old, well-rotted, organic manure. Dahlias are sun-lovers so please keep this in mind irrespective of whether you grow them directly in the ground or in clay pots. These plants are also thirsty and must be watered regularly. A monthly top up with organic liquid fertiliser is a good idea, increasing this to every other week when flower buds begin to form and on throughout the flowering period. If the plants develop quite a number of flower buds, it will be necessary to thin them out if large flower size is to be maintained. You can also save seed and sow this but the resultant plants will not be the same as their parents: far from it in fact — but this is still worth doing as the new plants can be very interesting indeed!

Q. I want to grow vegetables and flowers in my small front garden and large back garden but there are many trees, in both areas, so there is much shade. I am concerned that there may not be enough sunlight for plants to grow but I do not wish to cut any trees. I previously tried planting a lawn in the front garden but this did not succeed. My home is in Malir, outside Karachi. Can you make some suggestions please?

A. Growing vegetables and flowers is quite a different proposition than growing a lawn. Lawns need far more direct sunlight than many — not all — vegetable species and you should select flower species for their shade tolerance rather than for their intrinsic beauty. Prepare planting areas in less shady parts of the gardens — designing their shape and size, at least in your head, beforehand. In these beds, providing that soil conditions and drainage are reasonably good, it should be quite alright to cultivate vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, spinach, kale, leaf beet / Swiss chard, mustard, etc, and, over the coming winter, potatoes, carrots, turnips and beetroot. Species such as tomatoes, capsicums, chillies and aubergines are sun-lovers so you may have to give them a miss in their growing season. As for flowers, there are a tremendous number of species which will thrive: I suggest that you check on market availability and take advice from the seller as it is not possible for me to list all of them here. Trial and error is the best way to learn and I wish you luck in this.

Stunning dahlia
Stunning dahlia

Q. I want to teach my five-year-old daughter about the life of plants and thought that the best way would be for her to grow something from seed. Please suggest an easy to grow species as I am not knowledgeable about growing plants either.

A. What a wonderful idea! If a flower then, in this season, try Nasturtiums as these are easy to grow either in the ground or in pots. They grow rapidly, have colourful flowers and she can eat them too. If a vegetable, then both lettuce and radish are ideal. All of these will, if allowed to flower, make lots of clearly visible seed for replanting at the appropriate time.

Q. Where can I find Ph soil testing meters in Karachi as I want to alter the Ph of my soil?

A. It is against the newspaper policy to name suppliers here: I suggest that you check the advertising section of the paper or search garden supply stores in the Defence / Clifton localities.

Q. I need to know the names the following plants are given in Karachi: Ponytail palm, spider plant, air plant, ZZ plant. I reside in Edmonton, Canada.

Air plants
Air plants

A. A bit of a confusing question to be honest as the names you give are — with the exception of ‘ZZ plant’ as I have no idea what this is — the names commonly used for these plants in Karachi! Perhaps you want the botanical names. If so, Ponytail palm, which is actually an Agave, is botanically called Beaucarnea recurvata, spider plant is Chlorophytum and Air plant is Tillandsia.

Q. I have grown Asparagus from seed but the crowns of these plants are very small. Germination was good but even though the plants are now nine months old, they remain very small. Soil conditions are good and they are watered regularly, plus, I have been applying liquid plant food every three weeks or so. Why are the plants / crowns still so small and what can I do to remedy this. I live near Peshawar.

A. Time and patience are the simple answer: grown from seed, asparagus can take up to three years to develop a reasonable-sized crown.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Izahrahnasir@hotmail.comI. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 23rd, 2015

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