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December is the calm-before-the-storm-month for the majority of gardeners. However, there are exceptions in regions facing bitter cold and snow where gardening goes into hibernation.

Autumn colour is gone, spring is a colourful thought away and, on the whole, there is surprisingly little in bloom but if you have been a little conscientious, the vegetable garden should be bursting with scrumptious organic food and general well being.

This is not a month in which gardeners can put their feet up and relax as there is much to be sown and grown for the month and years to come.

Winter doesn’t mean no work in the garden. It’s time to sow fruits, vegetable, flowers and herbs

To help you in your December gardening, here are some suggestions for you to get to grips with.

Vegetable seeds to sow this month include: Spring cabbage, loose leaf and quick-growing pointed cabbage, cauliflower, black mustard, giant red mustard, mustard mizuna, mibuna, Chinese salad greens, Chinese cabbage, bok choi, chopsuey greens, texel greens, turnips and turnip greens, Swiss chard/leaf beet, spinach, many types and colours of lettuce, calabresse, radish, spring onions, beans, broad beans, peas, snap peas/sugar peas, potatoes, swedes, celery, chicory and endives. Tomatoes of all varieties may also be started off as long as they can be given suitable protection on cold nights from cold winds.

In the herb garden: Green mint, apple mint, white mint, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, lemon mint and other members of the extensive mint family can be sown now as can lots of jewel-bright nasturtiums in climbing, bush, dwarf or trailing form. Also sow generous amounts of versatile calendulas, flat leaved and curly parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, coriander, chives and garlic chives, rosemary, chervil, borage, chamomile, watercress, landcress, lemon balm, lovage, aniseed and dill. The first half of the month is also ‘last call’ for fast-growing lavender species which, with correct care and attention, can be enjoyed in bloom in as little as four months after sowing the seed.

In the flower garden: December also gifts a final chance at creating an exhilarating display of seasonal flowers for a late spring showing with the following, simple to grow, contenders ready and waiting to vie for the best spring garden mix: gently waving cosmos, drifts of Queen Anne’s lace, nemophila, sweet peas, bellis, ageratum, larkspur, sweet sultan, phacelia, cornflowers, linaria, ‘brachycome’, pansies/violas, linum, petunia, arcotis and blaze upon blaze of annual poppies.

Fruit trees to plant from December until the end of February include: Jamun and falsas, banana, star fruit, date, coconut, guava, chicoo, kumquat, both black and white mulberries, custard apple/sharifa, guava, coconut, pears, apples, peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, olives, apricots, cherries, oranges, lemons, limes, lychee, sweet limes, grapefruit, tangerines, mango and loquat.

*Select locally suitable varieties only.

Fruiting vines and fruit shrubs/plants: Grapes, Chinese gooseberries — Physalis, passion fruit, kiwi fruit, falsa, raspberries, blueberries, black and red currants, blackberries, logan berries and some ‘come on take a chance’ strawberry runners if there are any left in the market.

Flower of the month: Everyone has their own particular favourite when it comes to roses — or Rosa to use the botanical name. Hybrid tea roses, floribundas, climbers and ramblers being just some of the general classifications to chose from but, whatever your favourite happens to be, this month — and on into January and February — is the ideal time to buy bare-rooted roses to further embellish your collection. Prepare planting holes at a distance depending on the type of rose to be planted, by digging out existing soil to a depth and width that allows the roots of the new rose plants to be spread out and reach down in comfort. Do not try to force the roots into a hole which is too small as this can cause serious damage and hinder growth. Mix the removed soil with old, preferably organic, manure and organic compost and some new sweet earth at a ratio of 25 percent each. In the bottom of the planting hole, place a few iron (not stainless steel) nails/screws and a boiled/cleaned bone or a few bones if they are small ones. The nails/screws provide iron to the plants for a few years to come and the bones, as they break down, feed them with calcium and an assortment of other minerals. Lightly cover the nails and bones with some of the new soil mix and then, carefully, spread out the plant roots, insert it gently into the hole and, bit by bit, fill in with soil mix. The base of the plant — this is likely to be an obvious grafting point — should be at ground level when you are done: do not bury the base/grafting point below ground level and do not leave it fully exposed above ... it must be exactly at ground level to give the new plant the best opportunity possible to thrive. Water the new plant into place and, if the soil settles/sinks in the process, simply top it up, water again and repeat if necessary. Firm the soil down around the plant base/graft point using your hands: do not use your feet to stamp it hard into place as this can damage the fragile roots. Provide support if necessary, water as required, prune back when needed and your well-fed roses should reward you many times over.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to [email protected] 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, December 3rd, 2017

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