Q. I want to grow blueberries and raspberries in Quetta. Is this possible and if so, where can I source them and how to go about growing them. I would also like to have information about specialist nurseries / growers from where I can source seeds and plants. I have developed a passion for organics after reading this column and am eager to expand my plant range.
A. Blueberries and raspberries both require acidic soil conditions which, if soil pH is not suitable, it can be corrected but, the problem is one of climate. Blueberries tolerate more heat than do raspberries, therefore Quetta and the immediate vicinity, are liable to be far too hot over the summer months. Growing in upland areas of Balochistan is a possibility as long as the aforementioned soil conditions can be provided. Both species need regular and copious watering, enjoy a certain degree of sun, need good drainage and should be kept relatively free of weeds. The plants, of both, can be purchased, via the internet, from an importer in Lahore, though you will need to do an online search for details. The same supplier has a wide range of unusual plants but not seeds — these you will need to search for separately and it is more than likely that you will have to import them. Raspberries do well in the Murree Hills, throughout the Northern Hills and surprisingly, in Islamabad.
Q. I planted strawberry runners in Quetta last season. A couple of them flowered but no fruit appeared. What could be happening and how best to care for strawberry runners?
Easy to grow, quick to bear and naturally resistant to disease, berries are the best fruits to grow organically
A. Please read this column next Sunday for full details about strawberry cultivation.
Q. I grew a huge zucchini plant in Quetta but within a week of fruit setting, it shrivelled and rotted. How can I prevent this happening in future?
A. It is probable that humidity was too high for the fruit to develop. The writer encountered the same problem when growing zucchini in the Murree Hills and also in Karachi. The solution is to sow seed much earlier — even if you have to do this under glass or underneath individual plastic cloches made from cut- in-half water bottles — so that the plants crop before humidity becomes a problem.
Q. I intend establishing a lawn in Turbat district. The temperature ranges between 35 – 50oC in summer and 8 – 25oC in winter. Soil is clay loam with a mixture of sand. Which variety of grass will grow? Is it possible to grow it from seed and where can I obtain the seed?
A. Thank you for providing such exact information about soil and temperature conditions. The most suitable type of grass is the local, indigenous variety which, as you are unlikely to be able to locate seeds, should be transplanted — with prior permission from land owners — directly into your envisaged lawn. Transplants should be put in, at a slanting angle to encourage lots of root development, approximately three inches apart and kept well watered until established. Transplanting is best done from early November through to the end of February in your location. Providing enough water to keep the lawn alive over the summer months may be a problem and, as there are far better uses for water than using it on ornamental lawns, please give serious consideration before going ahead. Growing food crops and using the water for these, makes for better water, land and time use.
Q. I love gardening and presently live in Jeddah where the climate is extremely hot and humid: humidity is often 70 per cent. Please share your thoughts on developing a fruit and vegetable garden and a small lawn.
A. There are some beautiful, highly productive, small, private gardens in Jeddah. A reliable source of water, lots of it, is essential and the existing sandy soil needs to have lots of organic manure/organic compost, mixed in to render it highly productive. Watering is best done via small irrigation channels: these ensure that plant roots can drink their fill before the water evaporates — surface watering is a waste of time and water as it evaporates rapidly. Watering should be done at sunset so that plants have all night to take up water before the sun comes up and evaporates it. Erecting shade netting over the growing area will assist plants and reduce the amount of water needed over the summer months. Following guidelines for gardening in Karachi will be of immense help. Lawns need far too much water for them to be sensibly viable in Jeddah: a paved / gravelled seating area is better unless — this makes the writer cringe — you opt for imitation grass purchased by the square metre.
Q. Which are the easiest houseplants to maintain? I am currently posted in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and as it is so hot outside, I want to fill my apartment with fresh green plants.
A. As the houseplants will, no doubt, have to cope with air-conditioning, it is best to stick with ‘tough’ succulents of which there is a huge range, including some very colourful ones. Otherwise, some varieties of bamboo, money-plants, spider-plants, ‘Tradescantia’, ‘Zebrina’, Sanseveria, rubber plant and ‘Monsteria deliciosa’ are possibilities. Species such as delicate ferns will not tolerate air-conditioning.
Please continue sending your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 13th, 2015