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GARDENING: ‘CAN I GROW BROCCOLI IN MY GARDEN?’

February 11, 2018

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Clipped rosemary hedge
Clipped rosemary hedge

Q. I want to grow broccoli in my kitchen garden in Karachi. I tried 20-30 days ago but nothing grew. What is the best season and how can I cultivate it?

A. Broccoli seeds are best sown from September until mid-November in Karachi as they thrive over the winter months into spring. Start with seeds in trays/pots of good quality, preferably organic, compost, thinly sowing them about a quarter of an inch deep. Keep the tray/pots out of direct sunlight, keep the compost damp but not wet. When seedlings have developed four to six leaves, transplant them out into prepared garden beds in rows 18 inches apart with 12 inches between plants.

Q. A few months ago we travelled to Spain where we visited the Al Hamrah palaces. There were acres and acres of lovely gardens which made extensive use of Wax Myrtle shrubs, some of which had grown into trees. The guide informed us that this plant protects against mosquitoes and that the Arabs introduced it to Spain hundreds of years ago. We would now like to plant Wax Myrtle shrubs to form a hedge around our garden boundary in Karachi but the nurseries we have looked in have no idea which plant we are talking about. Is there a local name for it and secondly, will it survive the maritime climate?

Your gardening queries answered

A. Wax myrtles, botanical genus Myrica are native to North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia: I have personally seen just four beautiful specimens, in flower, in the Islamabad area but they were privately imported, not locally sourced. There are approximately 50 species of small trees and shrubs in the wax myrtle family, some of which would be perfectly at home in Karachi’s climate. Unfortunately, I have no idea where you can legally get them from and I am not surprised that local nurseries are unable to help. Perhaps you can try importing seeds which, as with so many things, can be tracked down via the internet. Myrica cerifera, native to South East America, is one species known to repel many different insects including mosquitoes.

Q. My Bird of Paradise plant is now in its third year but, while it has grown lots of new leaves and is taller, it still hasn’t flowered. It seems to be healthy and happy but no sign of flowers at all.

A. Bird of Paradise or Strelizia reginae, to give it its botanical name, can take five to 10 years before reaching flowering stage, so patience please!

Q. What is meant by watering ‘underneath the pot’?

A. Some plant species do not like getting their leaves or the soil around their stems wet. In this case, it is best to water them by standing their pot in a saucer/tray of water; water is sucked up into the plant roots/soil via drainage holes in the base of the pot.

Q. Where can I get organic compost in Lahore and how to choose dung from animals without antibiotics? I need to make my lawn, flower and vegetable gardens 100 percent organic. Is there a place here that I can go to for advice on this?

A pumpkin blossom
A pumpkin blossom

A. Most reputable garden supply shops sell organic compost these days; it is just a matter of checking them out. Small farmers or house holders who keep just a single cow/buffalo or a few goats are less liable to use antibiotics than commercial concerns having lots of milking animals, so, if possible, try to get dung from such a place. For up-to-the minute advice of organic growing in Pakistan, search out some local facebook groups dedicated to gardening, there are more than one based in Lahore. From these you will get information and be able to interact with like-minded organic gardeners. Good luck with this.

Q. I planted rosemary seeds two weeks ago but nothing has come up. How, and when, should it be grown in Karachi?

A. Rosemary seeds are best sown in September/October in Karachi. This wonderful herb is difficult to maintain on a perennial basis in Karachi’s climate but grows well if treated as an annual plant.

Q. Can I use ‘hell-fire’ spray on my pumpkin blossom as it is suddenly covered in tiny black flies?

A. Quite simply: yes.

Q. I am a 4th year engineering student studying in the University of Prince Edward Island, PEI, Canada and am currently working on developing a wastewater system for a rural village in Faisalabad. I came across a previous column in which you detailed some aquatic plants used in wastewater treatment, these being water hyacinth, duckweed, pennywort, vetiver grass and reed beds. I need to know if there are any more plants that can be used please.

A. Different types of wastewater i.e. industrial effluent, sewage, etc contain widely differing chemicals which, to some extent, can be filtered (on a small scale) by different species of aquatic plants. Unfortunately many of these plant species will not survive in the localised climate of Faisalabad. For further information please contact the appropriate research department of one of our universities. Wishing you success with your laudable project.

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. Commercial enquiries will be ignored.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 11th, 2018