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Perfect rose
Perfect rose

Q. It has been observed that some of the plants recommended in this column for planting during a particular month are not, according to traditional planting times, suitable. This is confusing and requires clarification.

A. Over the last 30 years — perhaps longer — the weather pattern has altered and climate change has increasingly turned previously recognised weather patterns upside down. Because of this it has become imperative that traditional planting times are reviewed. Many of them no longer apply.

The impact of climate change has been mentioned many times in this column and readers are strongly advised to forget traditional planting times and be guided by what the natural world indicates instead: this means major changes and experimentation.

Your gardening queries answered

Farmers throughout the country — and farmers are merely large-scale gardeners when the chips are down — have been reporting declining crops. About a month ago the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock and the Ministry of National Food Security and Research announced that traditional planting times are no longer relevant. They also said that farmers need training on how to deal with the vagaries of an altered climate and that experimentation with alternative food crops is essential. The writer has been advocating this for the last few years. I hope that this clarifies your confusion.

Q. The leaves on my rose plants have developed black marks, though otherwise the plants are perfectly healthy. What should I do about this? I reside close to Nathia Gali and usually have a good display of roses all summer long.

A. Your roses have what is commonly known as black spot, caused by one of the countless strains of Diplocarpon rosae fungus which thrives in damp/humid conditions.

To treat your roses, remove the infected leaves plus any fallen leaves and dispose of them in the household bin. Repeat as necessary. Feed the plants regularly to help them overcome the shock. Well-fed roses will still flower profusely for many years but their lifespan is liable to be shortened.

There are chemical controls but as this fungal strain rapidly mutates and develops resistance, they rarely work for long. The fungal spores are impossible to totally eradicate as they are carried by wind and rain from everywhere.

Q. What is the ideal planting time for avocado saplings and where, exactly, can I get them in Lahore?

Home grown garlic
Home grown garlic

A. Late winter to early spring. Apologies but it is against the policy of this paper to name specific suppliers here.

Q. I am looking for water-absorbent beads — sodium polyacrylate — for my plants. These beads are said to keep soil moist in hot weather but, unfortunately, I am unable to find them in Karachi. Help please.

A. This toxic, non-biodegradable material can hold 200-300 times its own weight in water but is so environmentally damaging that it should be banned (an opinion shared by many). Please forget about it and use a more water-retentive organic compost or mulch instead.

Q. Is lime (choona) beneficial for cacti and succulents? If so, how is it prepared and used?

A. No. Cacti and succulents prefer an acidic medium. Lime (choona) reduces necessary acidity.

Q. How do I ensure that I get a good crop of tomatoes in Karachi?

A. Grow them in top-quality, preferably organic, soil or compost, and feed and water regularly throughout the growing/fruiting period.

Q. What plants are best for cleaning the water in a home-scale waste-water treatment system?

A. A huge question mark currently hangs over the safety and viability of such projects, therefore, laudable as the idea is, let us wait a while and see exactly what research scientists recommend. When health is involved it is better to be safe than sorry!

Q. I buried a whole garlic bulb in my Karachi garden. It has made lots of long green shoots but I don’t know how it is going to produce garlic underneath. Are there any special requirements to make that happen?

A. It is normal practice to separate the individual garlic cloves from the main bulb. These cloves are then planted, one to three inches apart depending on their size and no more than one inch deep, in soil which has had lots and lots of organic compost/old, well-rotted, organic manure mixed in.

Rows should be about six inches apart or it can be grown in the same soil/compost/manure mix by inserting just a few cloves per large container. It must be regularly watered and kept free of weeds. It takes about five or six months from planting to harvesting in Karachi and seems to grow best from a September/October planting time.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location.
The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 14th, 2017