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GARDENING: HOW DO I MAXIMISE MY SPACE?

April 08, 2018

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Oputnia in bloom | Photos by the writer
Oputnia in bloom | Photos by the writer

Q. I am a 12-year-old boy and love organic gardening and animals. I have three German shepherd dogs, rabbits, chickens and ornamental birds which take up a lot of space and time. Can you suggest some easy-to-care-for plants that don’t need much room?

A. You certainly have your hands full but good that you want plants in your life too. Having plants in hanging baskets seems logical: this would keep the plants away from your pets and maximise use of space. If you want to grow vegetables then tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce, aubergines, coriander and mint, etc. can all be easily grown in hanging baskets of a reasonable size and depth. The baskets, lined with coconut coir to keep things in place, should be filled with good quality, preferably organic, compost and planted — the number of plants depending on the size of the basket — before being securely hung in place. Be careful not to have too many plants per basket as they each need lots of space to grow. A basket with, for example, a 15-inch diameter can manage just three tomato plants and no more; the plants do not have to be tied up but can be left to grow outwards, upwards or trail down as they wish. They will, though, need watering each evening. Alternatively, you can plant ornamental or flowering plants in the baskets.

Q. I would like some information about Opuntia cacti — prickly pear in English and Anar phali in Urdu — as I want to grow it in district Layyah which is part of Thal Desert. I think it will do well here as the climate seems to be very suitable. If this is correct, where can I get plants and what is the best method of cultivation? It sounds like a good food source for this desert region.

All your gardening queries answered

A. You are 100 percent correct on all counts. This fast growing, extremely useful member of the cacti family really should be more widely grown — and used — in Pakistan and the area around Layyah is ideal. For full information and cultivation instructions please refer to a previous column — Opportune Opuntia — which appeared in this magazine in the September 9, 2015 issue and which is available online if you search for it. As for sourcing plants, I have seen Opuntia growing in the gardens in Multan city so I would suggest that you try nurseries there.

Q. I heard that double Amaryllis bulbs are being imported but have no idea where to find them. Can you help?

A. You should be able to find them in up-market gardening stores or already growing, in pots, in some nurseries. The other option is to look for a Pakistani bulb- seller via the internet.

Single Amaryllis
Single Amaryllis

Q. Is it possible to use tubelights to replace sunlight for indoor plants? If so, then what voltage of LED bulb or tube light is best and how long should it be on for each day? I live in Karachi.

A. Yes you can but the subject is far too complex to be covered here. Due to reader interest, however, a full column will be dedicated to this subject in the very near future. Keep your eyes on this page please!

Q. Is it worth trying to grow Japanese maple in a spot shaded from the afternoon sun in Rawalpindi area? Any idea where I can get one?

A. Worth a try. You may strike it lucky in one of the many nurseries outside Islamabad.

Q. I have a three-year-old lemon tree. It is about 3.5ft tall, but it still hasn’t given anything except thorns. I keep looking after it, giving water regularly and applying fertiliser every two or three months. My mali doubts if it is a lemon; he says it is a khatti.

Brugmensia
Brugmensia

A. It is highly likely that what you have is a grafted lemon tree that has been taken over by its hardy desi rootstock or it could simply be an original desi lemon tree. Either way, desi lemon trees take longer to begin producing lemons than do their grafted counterparts — possibly as long as five to seven years — but the wait is well worth it as, despite the thorns, desi lemons can be huge, prolific and will survive in conditions that would make other lemons give up the ghost.

Q. During my visit to Karachi last year I saw a most delightful flowering shrub in someone’s garden. It was around four to five feet tall, had a good spread and was absolutely smothered in large, downward facing, yellow bell-shaped flowers with the most heavenly perfume imaginable. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an opportunity to learn its name. Do you have any idea what it may be, where I can obtain a plant and if I can cultivate it in my Islamabad garden?

A. I am certain you are talking about Brugmensia which also does well, in a sheltered spot, in Islamabad. Flowers can be yellow, white, peach or pink and may be double or single form. It is fairly hardy but if it does get damaged by winter chills, just let it be, cut off damaged shoots in early spring and it will quickly pick up.

*All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous so do handle with care.

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, April 8th, 2018