Q. I am facing a serious issue with container gardening at my first floor apartment in Karachi. I have tried using both large clay pots and plastic ones, too. I have tried growing local and export quality seeds of fruit, herbs, flowers and vegetables but nothing has come up. Only a small-sized money plant and a small date palm are surviving. I was feeling desperate so hired a mali to come in once a month to help but the plants still did not grow. I use bore water for everything except drinking purposes but even though I have filtered this water before use on plants, the problem remains. What is wrong and what should I do as I really want a beautiful balcony full of plants?
A. Bad water quality — it is probably very brackish with a high saline content — is an obvious problem to focus on, though not an easy for you to overcome. Buying expensive tanker water is not a sensible option; plus, the odds are that this may be no better, perhaps even worse, than the water you already have. Therefore, keeping bad water quality in mind, concentrate of plant species that will tolerate this water: date palms like brackish / saline water and your money plant sounds to be tolerant of it too although it will also benefit from additional, preferably organic, feeding. Other plants which should be alright, include: Sanseveria — Mother-in-laws-tongue, members of the Agave family and lots of other succulents, many of which do have very pretty leaves with, as a bonus, some of them flowering from time to time. Additionally, have a look around to see what your neighbours are growing and try growing the same kind of things.
Having, however, suggested that the water is the problem, it could be that your growing area is not receiving enough direct sunlight for the varieties of seeds you have sown; it could also be due to over or under-watering or even to ‘bad’ soil in the pots. If you consider sunlight adequate, try again using good quality, organic compost, ensure that seeds are sown as per instructions on each packet, keep the compost damp not wet and also keep your fingers crossed that something will finally grow.
One last suggestion: as you are new to gardening, try buying low-cost, seasonal plants from the local nursery and learn how to care for these before moving on to the more laborious task of growing your own plants from seed.
Precautionary measures must be taken to protect tender plants and roots from exposure to cold temperatures, frost and subsequent damage
Q. I want to grow Rosemary in Quetta. In which season should I begin, what conditions does it need and how should I care for it?
A. If established, pot-grown, rosemary plants are available locally then get some of these during early spring. Rosemary needs well-drained soil in a reasonably sunny location and, in Quetta with its severe winters, it is best to apply a thick layer of mulch — chopped straw is fine — around the base of the plants and their roots, to provide protection over the cold months. If growing from seed then sow this, in spring, just slightly under the surface of top quality, well-draining, organic compost, keep damp, place the seed trays / pots in a sunny location until germination begins — this takes time and can be sporadic — and then move them into a slightly less sunny place until the plants are large enough to pot on when, all going well, they can be moved back into more sun. Rosemary grows very well from cuttings: these should be taken during early spring. Once established, rosemary will take both the extreme summer heat and bitter cold for which Quetta is rightly known.
Q. Do blueberries grow wild in the Galiyat area or elsewhere in Pakistan? Can they be grown in Islamabad or do they require a different climate than this?
A. Blueberries are not indigenous to Pakistan. They are, I am told but have not personally seen, being successfully grown in Abbotabad, Islamabad and even around Lahore: the plants having been imported. Blueberries require highly acidic soil conditions and will not tolerate the presence of lime, even if this lime is in the water used to irrigate. If perfect soil conditions are created — and this is not as simple as it sounds — they do stand a reasonable chance of surviving but it will take quite a few plants, and much patience as the wait may be a long one, to produce sufficient fruit for them to be useful. Give them a go by all means but never let up on the tender loving care.
Q. Is it possible, keeping in view the weather conditions, to grow olive trees in Quetta?
A. Please refer to the column which appeared here on Jan 17, 2016 in which full details of olive cultivation were given.
Q. You once wrote about planting weeping willows along river / canal banks to help stabilise the soil. What is the Urdu name of this tree please as I am desirous of planting some?
A. Safaidha / safaida / safeeda.
Q. I wish to cultivate Moringa oleifera in Lahore. Where can I obtain seeds?
A. I suggest that you contact your local department of agriculture or The Agricultural University, Faisalabad; otherwise, maybe the forestry department can help.
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 14th, 2016