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GARDENING: CLIMATIC CAUTION

July 01, 2018

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Cabbage
Cabbage

Now that the climate change reality is hitting hard throughout the country, people have belatedly woken up to the indisputable fact; with a country-wide tree cover of just two percent, planting trees is an absolute must. Hand in hand with this realisation comes chaos!

Concerned citizens have, on the one hand, been going mad planting trees. On the other, they are racing around, with axes aimed at the conocarpus. Their sense and sensibility seems lost somewhere along the way.

It’s advisable to think things through before acting.

Planting trees in disregard to planting seasons will only be counter-productive

First and foremost, the importance of planting seasons cannot be stressed enough. It doesn’t matter what some YouTube guru says; in Pakistan, the reality is that planting seasons matter. It is pointless to take a young tree, direct from its nursery pot, dig a hole, stick it in, water it once or twice and expect it to survive, even thrive, in extreme heat when everything around — buildings, roads, pavements — is too hot to touch. It is like transplanting a human being from the cool security of an air-conditioned office directly into the middle of the Thar Desert at noon and expecting them to be perfectly comfortable, to adapt and survive.

Planting seasons have evolved over hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years and, although they are, as a result of climate change, shifting, we still have two planting seasons here in Pakistan: the first one during the summer monsoon — roughly mid-July to mid-September — and the second during the receding monsoon period — approximately mid-January to mid-March. It is during these two seasons that planting/transplanting trees should be undertaken if the said saplings/trees are to have a chance of surviving. And remember, they will only survive with aftercare, such as regular watering for the first two to three years. Even drought-tolerant species need regular watering for their first two years or so — they are not drought-tolerant until fully established.

Having explained the importance of planting seasons, let’s move on to indigenous tree species versus ‘exotics’ or recently-imported ones.

Indigenous species of trees are those which are native to the country. They have evolved, over countless generations, to thrive in this climate and soil conditions, with different species having adapted to different regions of our hugely diverse land- scape; pine trees in the northern mountains and mangoes in the plains being prime examples. These indigenous tree species have evolved in conjunction with native animals, birds and insects which, in turn, have evolved to depend on indigenous trees for shelter and essential sustenance.

Digitalis purpurea
Digitalis purpurea

‘Exotics’ and other recently-imported tree species upset localised biodiversity: they often need special soil conditions, dislike the climate, need far more water than indigenous ones and have nothing at all to offer native wildlife which views them as alien — the infamous conocarpus being one such species.

For the sake of environmental balance and for biodiversity security, planting indigenous tree species is what is needed now.

With the summer monsoon tree-planting season almost here, let’s see how best to plant and care for trees. Given below are names and details of indigenous trees, climbers and shrubs with which to battle climate change and make our cities greener and cleaner in the process.

SEED-SOWING GUIDE FOR JULY

The flower garden: Planning ahead is the name of the game this month as, aside from quick-growing species for late summer and autumn blooms, it is time to make a start on sowing slow-growing winter flowers and some even slower-growing ones for bloom next spring. Fast-growing species include: Cosmos, zinnia, phlox, candytuft (Iberis) and balsam for late summer and autumn whilst the following — best sown towards the end of the month — are intended to create a glorious display from early winter until the end of spring: Begonias, scabiosa, rudbeckia (Dracopis), geraniums and pelargoniums, gaillardia, cineraria, salvia, gerbera, carnations (Dianthus Caryophyllus), Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus), wallflowers (Erysimum), antirrhinums, dahlias, hollyhocks (Alcea), digitalis, verbascum and echium.

Flower of the month: Digitalis (foxgloves) are biannual or perennial, shade-loving plants with spectacular spires of bell-shaped flowers ranging from approximately 12 inches to over eight feet tall. They thrive in acidic soil conditions with good drainage. Biannual species are best for Karachi and other plains areas of the country, with perennial ones reserved for the much colder hills and mountains of the north. Recommended varieties are: Digitalis Excelsior hybrids, mixed colours, up to six feet tall; Digitalis purpurea in white, cream and pink shades reaching around four feet in height and Digitalis thapsi, bearing similar flowers and similar in height to Digitalis pupurea but having distinctly-wrinkled leaves for added interest.

In the vegetable garden: Tomatoes, karela (bitter gourd), cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spring onions, leaf beet/Swiss chard, spinach, celery, radish, endive, beetroot, carrots, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi (nol khol) and chicory.

The herb garden: Coriander, dill, lovage, chives, garlic chives, borage, one last crop of basil, lots of brightly-coloured nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) for culinary and medicinal and masses of calendula likewise.

  • The seed sowing guide is mainly for gardeners in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi/Islamabad and places in between; other areas of the country may differ.

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.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 1st, 2018