On the rooftop

Q. Please suggest some kind of flowery creeper to climb over my boundary wall in Clifton, Karachi. I already have Bougainvillea and Tecoma grandiflora and want something really attractive to add on half of the wall length that is currently bare.

A. Allamanda, this has bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers on and off around the year and, whilst it can be a little slow to settle in, once it does, it grows fairly quickly. It benefits from a decent pruning in January. Otherwise, you may like to consider one of the following: Antigonon — Sandwich Island creeper with sprays of pink, white or rose coloured flowers; Bignonia venusta — Golden shower; Passiflora — Passion flower and look for one bearing edible fruit; Quisqualis indica — Rangoon creeper with gorgeous heads of pink and white flowers which turn to red on their second day — this climber is perfumed during the evening and night. All should be easy to find in your local nurseries.

Q. How much water should be used in the compost making process and how often should it be added?

A. Much depends on which composting method you are using and in the amount of material being composted. Compost heaps and bins, for instance, require differing amounts of water. A simple basic guide is that the compost should not be allowed to dry out during the composting procedure: moisture is essential for compost ingredients to ‘work’. The centre of the heap, in which composting activity is most concentrated, usually remains moist for a very long time which is why many compost makers ‘turn’ or ‘mix up’ their compost heap / bin at regular intervals to help all of the ingredients breakdown at a similar rate. A light spray of water, in an evening, on top of the ‘cooking’ compost — at least once a week in our climate — will help it along, as will covering the heap with something like a weighted down piece of strong plastic or old carpet, etc. Covering it helps prevent evaporation. In watering compost heaps / bins, be careful not to overdo it otherwise the compost will turn into a slimy, stinky mess!

Q. I want to grow both greenery and flowers on my 360 yards open rooftop which receives sunlight the whole day. I would prefer plants requiring little water as I want to avoid the possibility of seepage through the roof into the interior of the house. Also, kindly suggest a nursery where I can get them from.

A. A wide range of cacti and succulents should meet your needs as these require little water. Please do not simply dismiss this suggestion as ‘boring’, as it is certainly not the case. There are far too many kinds of cacti and succulents, many of them bearing stunning flowers, to list here. There are some very colourful succulents, varying in height from miniatures to those of quite gigantic stature, which offer year round interest. Different nurseries often stock different varieties, so it is wise to check out all of your local nurseries — prices can vary tremendously too — before making your purchases. But why limit yourself to drought-tolerant species?

Paying strict attention to watering requirements of individual species and totally avoiding over-watering anything, will reduce the possibility of seepage to — if you are diligent — absolutely nil. Rooftops, if suitable growing conditions, shade and wind protection can be provided, are excellent locations for vegetable gardens too, as long, that is, as you do not have issues with your water supply. I strongly suggest that you give this matter more thought before making a final decision.

Q. What is the correct procedure for taking out seedlings from pots / trays and then to plant them in the garden?

A. Seedlings should have developed four to six true leaves — in addition to their original ‘seed leaves’ which are the first to appear – before they are transplanted. Transplanting, into previously prepared ground, is best done in the cooler evening hours. Lightly water the ground they are to be transplanted into before, very gently as seedlings are easily damaged, easing the seedlings out of their pots / trays. It may help to, carefully, tilt the pot / tray and tap on the base to loosen the soil and roots so that seedlings slide out easily. As long as seeds were not sown too close together, it is then a simple, if delicate, job to separate seedlings for planting out at designated intervals. Make planting holes, in the prepared garden space, just deep enough to replant the seedlings at exactly the same soil depth they were at in the seed trays / pots. Planting them too deep, or not deep enough, can be fatal. Tenderly push the soil around their roots, fill up the holes and, using only your fingers, firm the soil in place before, for a second time, lightly watering the area. Repeat this light, evening watering daily until the seedlings are settled and then water according to the species’ specific needs.

Q. Tiny white insects are harming my plants for the last two months. They gather underneath the leaves and there are many of them. They spread from plant to plant. What should I do? I live in Karachi.

A. Mix up a solution of warm water and pure soap liquid and, in an evening after the sun is off the plants, spray them with this, ensuring that you spray underneath as well as on top of the leaves. Repeat every alternate evening until the pests — these are aphids — are gone.

Q. I am a retired person with a 240 sq yard house in Karachi. I want to plant something on the rooftop which I can earn some money from. Please give some suggestions.

A. Unless you are able to specialise in something of high value and which no one else is growing, making a profit from your rooftop is not going to happen. The cost of setting up — and then maintaining — such a project makes it, quite frankly, unrealistic. The best way to alleviate income problems is to turn your rooftop into a fruit, vegetable and herb garden purely for your own use.



Author: Zahrah Nasir


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