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February 25, 2018


Vegetables shaded by ancient olive trees| Photos by the writer
Vegetables shaded by ancient olive trees| Photos by the writer

Q. I want to grow vegetables and herbs on the rooftop of my home in Wah Cantt. I have researched the subject in depth and feel confident about success. However, I have hit a blank in sourcing certain necessary items such as drain trays and weed cloth. Where can I get these or can you suggest alternatives?

A. Improvisation is the name of the game here. Aside from the drainage trays available with individual plant pots, personally speaking, I haven’t seen anything specifically made for this purpose and haven’t come across weed cloth either.

I have, however, found that shallow metal (usually aluminium) oven trays make excellent drain trays for recycled wooden boxes used as planters; these are not overly expensive in the bazaar, are lightweight and long-lasting. Instead of specialised weed cloth, you can use jute sacking cut to size — the sacks need not be new — or, literally at no cost, recycle strong cardboard boxes cut to size: with either of these all you need to do is cut out suitably sized holes for plants to grow through.

All your gardening queries answered

The idea of weed cloth is to suppress/prevent weed growth and jute sacking and cardboard do this. As an added bonus, they reduce water evaporation from the soil so save on this precious commodity too. I do not recommend using black plastic as it is toxic, prevents the soil from breathing and, in summer, further raises soil temperatures.

Q. Can Moringa trees be grown successfully in the Islamabad area? If so, where can I get saplings, seeds or stems for propagation? I want to cultivate Moringa as fodder for my goats.

A. Moringa oleifera is an indigenous tree often found growing wild in the Islamabad/Rawalpindi districts as well as in other plain areas of the country. I believe that saplings may be sourced from the Arid Agriculture University, Murree Road, Rawalpindi and perhaps from the forestry department, too. Otherwise, you may hit it lucky in one of the nurseries around Peshawar Morr. If unsuccessful, harvesting seed from the wild and propagating it is the best alternative.


Q. What fruit and vegetables can be grown beneath young olive trees in the Potohar region? The olive trees will begin fruiting in three to five years so it seems to make sense to grow other things underneath them during this waiting period.

A. Any of the seasonal fruit and vegetables that are normally cultivated in the locality e.g. tomatoes, chillies, cabbages, etc., can be grown beneath the young olive trees with mutual benefit. The fruit and vegetables will greatly appreciate the developing shade of the olive trees, which in turn will benefit from the improved soil conditions associated with crop production, plus, irrigation water will have maximum use. Providing that there is reliable irrigation, mixed crops can still be cultivated even when the olive trees are mature if a cropping gap is given to cater for the olive harvesting period.

Q. What is the best time to prune back Bougainvillea and can it be pruned when blooming?

A. Late winter is an excellent time for pruning these rampant climbers before they burst into full spring growth. Light pruning can be done at any time of year, including when they are in bloom.

Juicy grapefruit
Juicy grapefruit

Q. My grapefruit tree produced about 30 large fruits but they were very dry from inside. The tree was watered twice a week in summer and once a week in winter. How can I remedy this situation so that it doesn’t happen again? I reside in Lahore.

A. Twice a year, at six monthly intervals, spread a thick layer of mulch around — but not touching — the tree trunk to help keep its roots cool and the soil both moist and well-nourished. The irrigation routine sounds fine but do ensure that the soil is thoroughly soaked each time as the dry fruits indicate a serious lack of water. Fruit trees, especially grapefruit, need lots of water when fruit is developing.

Q. I am thinking of planting an almond tree in the green belt in front of my Islamabad home as I do not have enough room in my garden. The tree will be beautiful when in blossom and then there will be nuts to harvest too. Do you think this is a good idea?

A. A wonderful idea but ... the legal owners of the green belt may not agree: especially if, in digging a hole deep enough to plant the sapling underground water/sewage or other services are damaged.

Q. Can flowering plants, vegetables and herbs, grown organically or in-organically, be fertilised during the winter months?

A. Yes.

Q. Where can I find seeds for yellow, orange and golden-coloured bell peppers in Lahore?

A. They should be available in seed supply shops either right now or very shortly as sowing time is coming up.

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.
Commercial enquiries will be ignored.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 25th, 2018