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Q. My grandmother’s garden in Gujrat was neglected for many years and is now in a bad state. There is moss on the soil, and small insects and fungal infections on plant leaves. A rose bush which used to produce lots of gorgeous blooms doesn’t produce a single one. I urgently need some tips regarding these issues and some on garden maintenance too.

A. Poor garden! It sounds like it is in desperate need of lots and lots of love, care and massive amounts of attention to return it to its former glory. You need much more than just ‘tips’ for this major task ahead. I suggest that you start with a thorough clean-up, prune back the dead, dying and diseased plants and sensibly dispose the debris off to a legal rubbish dump at a distance because diseased/pest-infected plant material should not be composted. Then you can move on to soil issues and further improvement.

Moss on the soil surface indicates poor drainage and this must be corrected before replanting begins.

Your gardening queries answered

Once the garden has been thoroughly cleaned up and soil structure improved, you can begin to think of re-establishing flower, vegetable, herb beds and fruit trees. Regular and, for much of the year, daily care is necessary to establish and maintain a flourishing garden in our climate. Dedication is essential.

You may be able to resurrect the rose bush mentioned: prune it hard back, transplant to freshly prepared, well-drained ground if needed, feed it well, give it plenty of pep talks and hopefully it will eventually respond to your good intentions.

Q. What are ‘chia’ seeds called in Urdu?

A. Tukhm-i-balanga is the closest Urdu translation for this special variety of basil seed.

Q. I planted eight Euphorbias in containers last winter and all were happy. Unfortunately in summer, all the stems bent right down and the plants died. While taking them out I found that inside, the stems was full of fluffy stuff. I had watered carefully and the plants received sufficient sunlight. What do you think happened?

A. Presumably you refer to the popular flowering succulent Euphorbia milii or ‘Crown-of-thorns’ and not a less ornamental member of the large Euphorbia family of plants. If so, stems can be naturally hollow as you describe. The problem was probably some form of root rot which, as it developed, caused the stems to slowly fall over. Euphorbia milii root rot is generally caused by one of the following: a) over-watering, b) poor drainage, c) soil so compacted that roots cannot breathe, d) growing the plants in infected soil. Only you can tell which one of these was the problem.

Q. Please suggest some easy-to-care for plants, flowers and vegetables that can be grown in pots/containers on the balcony of my home in Hyderabad.

A. Suitable plant varieties depend on the direction your balcony faces — north, south, east or west — as this indicates the amount of direct sunshine it receives. Plants that need lots of sunshine will not, for example, grow well on a north-facing balcony which mostly gets shade. Please get back to me with this information so that I can give correct advice.

Q. I am unable to find a source of horseradish in Quetta. Can you advise please?

A. Sorry but I am not aware of a nursery in Quetta that stocks these. I suggest that you order seeds via the internet, preferably from a Pakistani source.

Q. I have tried both Murraya exotica and ‘Queen of the night’ plants in large containers in the shade but, despite regular watering, they do not survive the summer in Larkana. Is there anything special I can do to safeguard them if I try again in the future?

A. Daily watering — around sunset — of the soil around the plants is advisable during the intense summer heat experienced in Larkana. On no account, no matter how dusty they appear, allow water to go on to the plant leaves as, in summer, this can result in a variety of complications such as windburn or mildews. Shade is, as you are already aware, essential. Perhaps the soil/compost mix used was not nutrient-rich enough to sustain the plants or maybe it was lacking in water retention capability. If you decide to try again, be extra fussy about soil/compost mix and quality. Plus, spread a three-to four-inch layer of mulch around the plant base — to aid root coolness and reduce water evaporation — as soon as spring threatens to turn into summer. One more thing: grow them in cool clay pots not hot plastic ones.

Q. I intend to start vegetable gardening at my home in Dhabeji and need advice on the source/s of certified, high-yielding seeds in my area.

A. Why not ask gardeners/small farmers in your locality if any of them are still growing indigenous/heritage varieties of vegetables from which they harvest, store and then replant their own seed, and obtain this precious seed from them? Indigenous varieties are rapidly becoming extinct. Yet, in the majority of cases, they taste better and are far more resistant to localised pests, diseases and climate issues than so-called ‘improved’ seeds imported from elsewhere. If, however, our vanishing heritage is not a factor you wish to consider, approach your local agricultural department for advice.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to [email protected]. It is important to include your location. The writer does not respond by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened. Commercial enquiries will be ignored.

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 12th, 2017

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