Q. I have been growing zonal geraniums in Quetta for quite some time but have always been confused about preparing suitable potting mixes for them. Can you please suggest the perfect home-made potting mix?
A. Zonal geraniums with their attractive leaves and unmistakable flowers need slightly more care than some other geranium varieties and this is primarily in the potting mix department. Good drainage, plenty of nutrition and a potting mix high in organic matter are all essential. A mix comprising 25 percent finely shredded coconut coir, 25 percent river sand/silt, 25percent organic compost or top quality loamy soil and 25 percent old, well-rotted, organic manure with an additional sprinkling of pure bone meal mixed in, is ideal for this particular species. This along with morning sun and afternoon shade, and careful watering should ensure that your much loved plants continue to flourish.
Q. I have an eight-year-old sharifa tree. It bore two fruit last year but nothing since. It grows well, looks healthy and is in a semi-shaded location. What can I do to get a nice harvest?
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A. Lack of fruit is probably because two reasons: not enough direct sunlight and possible over-watering. There isn’t much, unless cutting back other shrubs/trees in the immediate vicinity is feasible, to be done about lack of sunlight as moving the tree now could very well kill it, but cutting back on watering — no more than once a week please — may shock the tree into fruiting mode. Too much water and too much food result in lush growth but no actual sharifas.
Q. Can you give the names of climbing plants with flowers?
A. There are so many that it is hard to know where to begin but the following are amongst the easiest to find and to care for: Jasminium, Bougainvillea, Tecoma grandiflora (trumpet vine), Quisqualis indica (Rangoon creeper), Lonicera (honeysuckle), Clitoria ternatea (mussel shell creeper), Antigonon (Sandwich island creeper), Bignonia venusta (golden shower) and Passiflora.
Q. I found your recent column about pots very informative but you failed to mention fibreglass pots. Please give an opinion on these.
A. Fibreglass pots are very lightweight and brittle so are easily broken, and are especially used for tall growing plants that topple over in the slightest breeze. Unlike clay pots, they do not breathe. The soil/compost inside fibreglass pots heats up tremendously in the sun, right to the point of ‘cooking’ plant roots when temperatures are very high. If used for the cultivation of fruit/vegetables/herbs there is a distinct possibility of toxins contained in the fibreglass leaching into the soil and then into the produce thus contaminating what has been grown and rendering it unfit for human consumption.
Q. The grass in my large lawn in Lahore is not growing properly. Growth is uneven; some patches have rough grass, while other patches are completely bare. We have tried each and every kind of fertiliser and water extensively. The lawn gets direct sunlight. What would you suggest?
A. It is likely that the problem lies in the soil rather than in the grass itself. If the lawn area has been in use for many years it is possible that soil is badly depleted of nutrients (unless they have been topped up at least twice a year) which, combined with the possibility of compacted soil, clearly indicates that a serious soil top up is needed. Applying fertiliser to ‘spent’ soil will not resuscitate the lawn. Costly as it no doubt is, you need to start again, from scratch or look into replacing the lawn with something else.
Q. I am keen to grow larkspur and Californian poppies with zinnias in Clifton, Karachi but have failed to find seedlings. Where can I get them, as well as the other flowering plants mentioned in a recent column titled ‘wild mix’?
A. Larkspur is usually grown from seed sown in autumn/winter/very early spring; seed is easily found in seed supply shops during the sowing period. Pretty as the combination would be, in our climate it is not really viable to grow larkspur and zinnias together as they flower in different seasons here. Californian poppies though will be lovely with zinnias; these are also grown from seed — a very simple process — sown directly where they are to flower as, like most poppies, they hate being transplanted. All other flower species mentioned in ‘wild mix’ are grown from seed sown directly in the garden; seed is easy to find in seed stores during the autumn/winter sowing season.
Q. I am struggling to find some ‘different’ variety of vegetable that will grow well in the coastal region of Sindh. Can you suggest something as I want to grow more than the usual cabbages, aubergines, okra, tomatoes, etc?
A. You may like to look into the possibility of growing Salicornia. This saline tolerant plant, usually grown as an annual for culinary purposes, is perfect for coastal regions and can even be irrigated with sea water. It was once — and maybe still is — commercially cultivated here with freshly harvested crops being flown directly to Paris, France to be sold to top of the range restaurants.
Q. Where can I get olive saplings for growing in district Toba Tek Singh?
A. I suggest that you contact the Sub Campus of the University of Agriculture Faisalabad in your area, or the main University itself, for information on locally suitable varieties and where to source them.
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Published in Dawn, EOS, March 25th, 2018