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Gardening: Imported problems

September 13, 2015


Patty-pan summer squash
Patty-pan summer squash

Q. I managed to obtain some seeds from Canada and grew them in Karachi with mixed results. Tomato germination was good but the plants collapsed due to high temperatures and infection by small, white insects. Squash grew vigorously but with no flowering or fruiting. Okra grew normally and produced pods. One sunflower plant reached nine feet in height, with a flower of one foot diameter but the other plant reached normal height, producing many branches with a flower on each but then it collapsed. I need your comments please.

A. Whoops! You failed, unfortunately, to mention exact varieties which is an important factor. Take the tomatoes for example: Canada has very different growing conditions and hours of daylight than Karachi does and some varieties of tomatoes have been specifically bred for relatively short, cool Canadian summers as compared to Pakistan, so are unlikely to flourish here and the same applies to squash — of which there are numerous varieties too. The white insects were possibly white fly and simple to control by use of soap sprays, garlic spray or ‘Hellfire’ spray made from chillies. There is no need at all to import okra seeds — unless you are opting for the purple podded variety — as climatically suitable seeds are easily available in our markets.

The problem of ‘collapsing’ sunflowers is due to lack of suitable support and perhaps shortage of water: this may also apply to your ‘collapsing’ tomatoes if, that is, the variety selected was not Canada specific. While foreign seeds are so very tempting — there is always such a fascinating selection compared to what our rather jaded seed sellers have to offer — it is advisable to steer clear of them unless you are certain that those you choose stand a chance of success in Pakistan and, even then, whatever else you do, do not import a species which has the potential to turn into an invasive pest!


It’s no use buying foreign seed unless you are sure that they will thrive in our climatic conditions

Q. When is the correct time to sow the following seeds in Sialkot please: Cosmea, Calendula, Cyclamen, Gerbera, giant daisy, Verbena, Phlox, asters, Dahlias, blanket flower, pansy and Primula? I brought the seeds from abroad.

A. Cosmea, better known here as cosmos, Calendula, Verbena, Phlox, blanket flower or Gaillardia and pansies should all be sown late this month and certainly before the end of October for a winter to spring display. Dahlia seed is usually sown during August /September at the latest. There are many varieties of Cyclamen and some need stratification prior to sowing — this means placing them in the freezer, in a sealed container, for approximately six weeks before sowing them in December / January but, be warned, they will not tolerate a Sialkot summer and the same applies to most species of Primula. Gerbera seed is sown either in March or September / October — this seed must be as fresh as possible as it does not keep and germination can be both poor and erratic. I am not sure what you mean by giant daisy, there are quite a few such, so the best I can do is to say that if it is an annual variety then sow September / October and hope for the best.

Q. I live in Lahore and have been trying to grow dancing bamboos in a vase with some jelly beans and a little water but they always start yellowing and eventually die. This time I brought some from Dubai but those died too. I keep them indoors, close to a window so that they get sunlight. I don’t know what to do to make them healthy. Can you help?

A. Skip the jelly beans please!

Q. I love Camellias and have tried to grow them in Lahore a number of times. They do very well in winter but from May onwards they shed their leaves which first turn black and then die. I have kept them in shade, kept the soil moist at all times, soil is acidic and free draining, the roots remain healthy but they die. I have even tried to bring them in doors in air conditioning but they persist in dying. Is it possible to keep them year round in Lahore at all?


A. Oh dear! It is highly probable that you have spores of the fungus Glomerella cingulata present in your garden / soil / atmosphere: this causes the die-back you describe and the die-back reaches lethal proportions in high humidity and heat. Once it strikes a camellia plant it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to save it. This fungal disease is common in nurseries too and plants could have been infected there before you brought them home. It is possible to grow these gorgeous plants in Lahore and, as a last ditch effort, try bringing a healthy plant from a different nursery than you previously used. Do not keep the plant inside ... air conditioning kills them.

Q. I have two date palms in my garden: one of them began blossoming three years ago but the small buds dry out and so does the shoot they are attached too. Why does this happen?

A. Lack of pollination. You need both male and female date palms: the male pollinates the female palm and dates then develop. Date palms are wind pollinated but it is common practice to pollinate them by hand.

Q. I heard that there are male and female date palms and that something has to be buried near the base of the female tree in order for there to be fruit. Is this true?

A. One male date palm can pollinate up to 100 female date palms. Pollination is essential for fruit to form. Nothing needs to be buried at the base of the trunk.

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, September 13th, 2015

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