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Water it right

February 28, 2016

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Watering is a complex issue
Watering is a complex issue

Q. Would you please tell us, in detail, about the proper watering system as inexperienced gardeners, like me, do not know much about the watering systems of different kinds of vegetables, fruit and flowering plants. Which plants, for instance, require daily watering, which every alternate day, which after a gap of two or three days and which need just weekly watering?

A. There are no firm rules for watering plants as the individual requirements of each and every species change according to weather, soil conditions and the season. I do realise how confusing this is for someone learning how to care for plants but the subject of watering is very complex and cannot be covered in just a few words. The best general guidance I can provide is:

  1. Plants with ‘soft’ leaves, such as lettuce and petunia, need watering far more often than ‘thick’ leaved species, succulents and ficus being good examples, and woody stemmed shrubs / trees.

Gardening is a tricky business and entails proper watering and soil conditions


  1. A seemingly dry soil surface does not automatically mean that plants need watering as, on the whole, plant roots are below the soil surface where moisture may still be sufficient. If in doubt, stick a finger in the soil, to a depth of an inch or so, to see if there is any moisture there.

  2. Watering lightly, thus more often, is better than applying huge volumes of water all at once.

  3. Plants need far less water in cool weather than in the heat.

  4. Water during late afternoon so that plants have all night to drink their fill before the sun rises and evaporates water during hot weather.

More detailed guidelines will be provided in a future column.

Q. I would like comprehensive information about planting, care and propagation of chrysanthemums in our climate please, with special reference to Upper Sindh if possible.

A. Caring for chrysanthemums requires dedication all around the year in our climate and it is not possible to cover everything here: I will dedicate a full column to the subject at some point in the next few weeks. Right now though, is the time to begin potting up the strongest runners: pot them in small clay pots, four-inch pots are perfect. Place a layer of broken clay pots, correctly called ‘shards’, in the base of each pot to help ensure that the drainage hole does not become blocked up by soil / compost. Use a potting mixture of equal parts pure wood ash / top quality sweet soil or organic compost / leaf mould / river sand — not saltish sea sand. Carefully cut the runner from the parent plant, insert into the already filled pots to a depth of half an inch, a little more if the runners have well developed root systems of their own, keep lightly watered, place in partial shade and wait patiently until the plants are strong enough to be potted on in another two months.

Bright petunias
Bright petunias

Q. Where can I find lavender plants or seeds in Islamabad?

A. It may be possible to find plants in one of the many nurseries located in Peshawar Mhor or Chack Shezad. Seeds may not be easy to track down and it could be that you will need to order them via internet but, please keep in mind, there are many different varieties of lavender and not all are suitable for cultivation here. You need a fast growing one which will flower in a matter of just a few weeks, not in months or years.

Q. I planted tulip bulbs, in mid-December, in my backyard in Lahore. They were planted 10cm deep and 10cm apart but they have not shown any signs of growth. What could the problem be?

A. The bulbs should have come up and be well established by now as your question was received early last month and selected questions are answered in turn. If, however, they have not grown, they are unlikely to do so now. The possible reasons being unsuitable soil conditions — too wet and the bulbs rot, too dry and they cannot grow — or, sadly, they could have been eaten by rodents or some other pest. Tulips require well drained soil and plenty of sunshine if, providing they are good quality bulbs of course, they are to thrive and flower to their full capacity.

Q. Some seniors suggest hoeing. Is this a correct practice?

A. Yes. Hoeing, done with care so that plant roots are not damaged, is an excellent practice. It cuts off small weeds before they have time to become a nuisance and leaves the weed debris right there in the soil to be broken down, helped in this by hard working creatures such as earthworms and beetles, and quickly transformed into soil conditioning plant food. Hoeing also keeps the soil surface from solidifying, thus, allowing irrigation water to penetrate more easily than if the soil is ‘crusted’ and hard.

Dazzling ‘Parrot’ tulips
Dazzling ‘Parrot’ tulips

Q. What do the words ‘GMO’ and ‘BT’ mean?

A. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism which is a scientific process involving taking genes from one species and inserting them into another species. In the plant world, this is done to encourage the development of larger, higher yielding crops which, in some cases, have also been provided with ‘inbuilt’ pesticides. There is much debate, especially in organic circles, as to the safety of GMOs in the food chain.

BT stands for Bio-Technology which, basically confirms that seeds / crops are GMO with inbuilt pesticides. Many countries, predominantly in the Western world, have banned the growing of GMO / BT crops as they are increasingly considered to be a danger to human health.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. 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, February 28th, 2016