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Young waterlily plants
Young waterlily plants

Q. My water lillies don’t floweras much as I’d like them to. Do they need stong sunlight to flower? I wonder if the water lilies need protection from the sun as it is extremely hot in Rawalpindi in the summer months. A friend in Karachi has the same problem when it comes to water lilies flowering.

A. Water lilies, from the botanical family Nymphaea, need sunshine if they are to flourish and bloom and providing that you have a variety that is suitable for our climate, heat is not an issue. The lack of flowering is liable to be due to one of two reasons. 1) The plants have become overcrowded. If so, remove all old leaves / old growth and also thin out the tuberous roots, leaving only the newer ones which will, once they have space, reward you by sending up lots of new leaves and, in season, the flowers you wish for. 2) The plants may need feeding. If this is the case, they can be removed from the pond, have new, rich soil, put into their pots and then be replaced in the pond, or, add liquid — organic please — fertiliser to the pond, the amount dependent on the volume of water. Read the label for instructions. Some liquid fertilisers are toxic to fish, therefore, if you also have fish in the pond, please follow the re-potting procedure.

Q. Is the watering practice the same for pot plants and plants grown directly in the ground?

A handy guide on maintaining water lily ponds and growing shrubs, climbers and creepers

A. It all depends on the species of plant being grown but, as a general guide, pot plants — especially if in small-sized pots — dry out much faster than plants grown in the ground during hot weather so need watering more often.

Q. I live in Multan and want to plant cherries in my garden. Any suggestion would be helpful.

A. Sorry. Multan’s climate is really not suitable for growing productive cherry trees. They would burn up in the summer sun. If you have plenty of water, try growing lychees instead.

Potted ‘Bougainvillea
Potted ‘Bougainvillea

Q. Would you please provide a list of fast growing shrubs, climbers and creepers, that can be grown in summers and in the winter in containers or pots?

A. There are so many that it is hard to know where to begin! Fast growing perennial shrubs, climbers / creepers which do well in large containers / large pots, include: Allamanda, Antigonon — Sandwich Island creeper, Asparagus plumosa, Beaumontia grandiflora, members of the Bignonia family, Plumbago, Bougainvillea, Clerodendron, Quisqualis indica — Rangoon creeper, Passion flower / fruit, grapes, Jacquemontia violacea, Jasminium, Tecoma grandiflora — trumpet vine, various Solanum, Hibiscus, Ixora, Jatropha, Frangipani and more. Annual climbers, some with very rapid growth indeed, include members of the Ipomea family such as morning glory, Thunbergia — black eyed Susan, sweet peas, climbing nasturtiums and many more.

Q. I have a 500-square yard plot adjacent to my home in Karachi. For this I want to set up a hydroponic system to grow vegetables and berries. Is there someone in Karachi who can train me for this project?

A. A very ambitious project — especially if you can combine vegetable growing with fish production. I have doubts about the berry aspect though as, with the exception of strawberries, berries are highly unlikely to tolerate the Karachi climate. I suggest that you approach the ministry of agriculture, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council; perhaps even the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research as well as the Horticultural Society of Pakistan in your hunt for a teacher. An actual, physically present teacher is, in this instance, far better than randomly searching for information on the internet as you need to learn about climate and location specific angles. Wishing you all the best and look forward to hearing how you get on as other readers are bound to be interested.

Quisqualis indica’
Quisqualis indica’

Q. I planted a red silk cotton tree over a year ago in my Karachi garden. It now has new leaves and grows regularly but I would like to know more about its long-term growth rate and flowering season.

A. Bombax ceiba, the silk cotton tree, produces its glorious bright red or orangey coloured tulip flowers during February / March — although all depending on winter temperatures, blossoming can begin in mid-January. These trees grow quite fast and can attain a height of 12 metres in what seems like no time at all. The blossom, with its surprisingly fleshy petals, is absolutely gorgeous and remains so after it falls to the ground, creating a vibrant carpet all around the tree base. The seed pods, when they burst open, spill out masses of fluffy cottony material which is silky to the touch. This material was traditionally collected and used to stuff pillows with but, sadly, few people have the patience to collect it anymore. The tree / flowers also have a number of medicinal properties and remain popular with hakims. The seeds though, are poisonous. It is wonderful that you are growing this indigenous tree species as it thrives in Karachi soil and climatic conditions without, thankfully, the need for much water. Good work!

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 10th, 2016