Q: I would like to know the Urdu name for sage, please and if it is available in Karachi. It is said to be very helpful in giving relief from menopausal symptoms if taken as tea.
A: Sage (salvia officinalis) is known as ‘Sepakass’ in Urdu. It is unlikely to be easily available in Karachi but can be grown from late summer/autumn sown seed and treated as a winter/spring annual rather than as a perennial plant. Seed can sometimes be tracked down but, if not, then you will need to import it yourself.
Q: Can you suggest some flowering bulbs for Lahore which are perennial? I am already growing clivia, amaryllis, crinum, agapanthus, rain lilies and nerine lilies. Please also exclude calla lily. What about watsonia and babiana? Will you please also give some guidelines for buying bulbs online?
A: Fritillaria persica, F. imperialis, hymenocallis, eucomis, dierama, arostea major, anemone, ranunculus, tigridia, sparaxis, freesia and belamcanda are all worth trying although some are corms/tubers rather than true bulbs. Watsonia and babiana are worth a try although the latter may require some winter protection.
Buying bulbs online is not a good idea, particularly if they are coming from overseas as they can be heavy and expensive to transport; plus, on arrival, they could be in very poor condition. It is much better to purchase seeds, keep your fingers crossed that they are reasonably fresh and dredge up all your reserves of patience as some types, not all, may take years to reach flowering size.
Q: How can I make a compost pit? What size should it be and what material to use? Where should a compost pit be located and does it emit a horrible smell? Should I make two pits so that I can rotate them and how long does the compost take until it is ready?
A: Above ground compost bins are much better and cleaner than pits as pits are difficult to maintain, can fill with water during the monsoons and attract nesting vermin such as rats and snakes. The ideal compost bin should be no more than 6ft x 6ft with a height of 3ft - 4ft. The base can be of soil or, if concrete is preferred, then it is necessary to incorporate some kind of drainage run-off as all compost making creates a certain amount of liquid which can be diluted with water to make excellent liquid plant food. The sides of the bin can be of concrete if you like, or of small sized, very strong mesh, although this will need replacing every couple of years at the most, or out of corrugated sheets supported by posts. Wooden bins are not suitable in our climate. On a smaller scale, polythene dustbins, with drainage holes, can be utilised. Compost bins are best located at a distance from the house but should not smell too bad unless you add incorrect items such as meat, fish, chicken and oil-based foods.
Having at least two bins, more if you have things to fill them with and the space to put them, is the best way to proceed. The time until compost is usable depends on the contents and the weather but bins of the suggested size, if filled with kitchen and general garden waste, need at least six months to ripen.
Q: We planted a lot of fruit trees, oranges, anar, lemons, mangoes, etc. on the perimeter of our land about two years ago but none have started to fruit as yet. Is this normal?
A: Depending on your local climatic conditions it usually takes from three to five years for some species of fruit trees to become productive although lemons, if of the Chinese variety, are usually much faster. Ensuring that the trees have adequate nutrition and are regularly irrigated is highly important.
Q: You often mention root division as a method of increasing plants. Please explain this method further. Should it be done when a plant is dormant and will it harm the source plant in any way?
A: Most plant species are multiplied through root division when they are dormant although some can be divided just when beginning to die back or soon after they emerge in the spring. If a certain species is suitable for propagating in this manner then, when the plant has naturally increased to the point where its root area is overcrowded, the entire root system is carefully dug up and either cut or pulled apart into a number of decent sized clumps which should be planted elsewhere immediately. The parent plant should not be harmed if the process is carried out correctly and according to the peculiarities of that species.
Q: Is it possible to grow plants in plastic bags?
A: Large, very strong plastic sacks can be turned into ‘grow-bags’ by filling with growing medium, tying the neck tightly closed, laying them down on their ‘backs’ after having made drainage holes (use a garden fork for this purpose) and then making suitable planting holes in the top surface. Such grow-bags are useful for cultivating quite a large selection of vegetables, herbs and flowers and are an ideal way to create garden areas in paved courtyards, etc.