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Cool plants for your garden.

Several readers have requested the names of garden plants that will survive the heat of Bahrain's summer.

Indeed, this summer was exceptionally hot with quite a number of plants giving up - even those one would have expected to remain unaffected.

However, those unaffected included all types of bougainvillea mentioned in last month's article.

They are Nerium oleander (Oleander) and its dwarf forms, Thevetia peruviana (Yellow oleander), Atriplex halimus Mediterranean saltbush), Atriplex canescens (Four-wing saltbush), Caesalpinia pulcherrima (Dwarf Poinciana or Pride of Barbados) and Tecoma stans (Yellow trumpet bush).

Others include Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste tree), Jatropha pandurifolia (Coral bush), Malvaviscus arboreus (Turkscap), Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Shoe flower), Lycium arabicum, Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas ranger) and Carissa grandiflora (Natal plum).

This is in addition to the Nerium oleander (Oleander - Tree form), Caesalpinia pulcherrima (Pride of Barbados) and Jatropha pandurifolia (Coral bush).

For any garden plant to survive Bahrain's summer, it is essential that watering be done regularly and appropriately.

Also the growing medium should be adequate, containing all the ingredients necessary for optimum growth, and with a pH of around 7.5 or less - seven being ideal for most plants.

An analysis of a sample of agricultural sand recently submitted for a project revealed a pH of 9.91. While this is acceptable for date palms (though good fruits could not be expected) - it is quite unsuitable for most ornamental plants. Consequently, it had to be leached with sweet water to reduce the salt content and ameliorated with organic matter and elemental sulphur, plus chelated iron to bring down the pH.

The issue of agricultural sand is mentioned in the light of plants which, in addition to having had to cope with extreme temperatures, have had to cope with high alkalinity in the soil which makes iron and magnesium unavailable for absorption by root hairs, and has resulted in a yellowing of foliage.

Trees particularly affected have been recently planted specimens of Ficus retusa (Indian fig), Azadirachta indica (Neem), and a species of Tabebuia.

I rather think, in certain instances, it is uneven distribution of ameliorants that is the cause, for in the case the Neem trees, the foliage of some is perfectly green, while that of others is perfectly yellow.

Should readers have encountered this issue, it can be remedied by driving holes into the ground in a circle roughly in line with the edge of the tree canopy, for that is where feeder roots are most active, and pouring Chelated iron or ammonium phosphate in solution down the holes.

Certain groundcovers have disappointed over the summer. This should not have been surprising considering the extreme temperatures.

Plants such as Lampranthus, Carpobrotus and Gazania, while growing well during the winter and spring, producing fine displays of flowers, suffered extreme stress during the summer, being all but wiped out.

It is pleasing to note though, with the fall in temperature, the survivors are recovering well and bursting into flower.

However, bearing in mind the stress they endured during the summer, they would be better employed as autumn and winter bedding, with Sesuvium and Portulaca used for the summer months.

Both the latter were unaffected by the high temperatures and the Portulaca, in particular, produced an abundance of flowers and is still flowering.

In last month's article I said September and October marked the start of the gardening year in Bahrain.

September, however, proved to be another record breaking month for high temperatures and while October started hot, over the last seven days or so there has been a marked drop in temperature, so now is the time to sow seeds in prepared outdoor seed beds.

Visiting a garden centre a few days ago and popping my head over the boundary wall of an adjacent date palm plantation my eyes were met by a beautifully ordered sight with beds arranged in neat rows between lines of date palms and punctuated with Indian almond trees offering dappled shade for the seedlings as they develop into fully grown plants.

It represented a superb example of the traditional Bahraini date palm garden and a precious jewel in the nation's horticultural heritage. The beds had been made for growing vegetables. Some were seed beds, with the others prepared for growing-on seedlings transplanted from the seed beds.

Should readers be interested in growing vegetables, the range that may be grown in Bahrain during the cooler months is extensive.

It includes Asparagus, aubergines (Egg Plant), beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, beans (Broad, French and Runner Beans), leeks, lettuce, okra, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes and swedes.

Preparation of a seed bed generally involves digging over the ground to a depth of 300mm, removing any deleterious material, incorporating well decomposed compost and a combined fertiliser.

Other measures include applying copious amounts of sweet water, then leaving it fallow for about three weeks during which time it should be dug over again and raked even.

Weeds that will inevitably appear during this period can be hoed-off, following which, and having brought the bed to a fine tilth, seeds may be sown.

The preparation described will also serve autumn and winter bedding plants.

They include Antirrhinum majus (Snapdragon), Calendula officinalis (Marigold), Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar Periwinkle), Celosia cultivars, Leucanthemum maximum (Shasta Daisy), Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William), Geranium species, Gomphrena (Purple Gomphrena), Mirabilis jalapa (Four o'Clock), Narcissus hybrids (Daffodil), Tagetes (African and French Marigold) Verbena cultivars and Zinnia angustifolia.

There are more that I believe could be grown with success in the Bahrain garden and will discuss these in future articles.

However, all those mentioned tolerate a pH of up to 7.5, and bearing in mind that Bahrain garden soil is usually between 7.5 and eight, it will not involve too much amelioration to achieve the required pH.

I am increasingly being asked about fruit trees and clients are often amazed and delighted at the range of fruits other than dates that can be grown in Bahrain and thrilled at the prospect of growing and eating fruits produced in their own gardens.

The range embraces Banana (Musa), Chiku (Manilkara sapota), Fig (Ficus carica), Grape (Vitis vinifera), Guava (Psidium guajava), Indian Jujube (Zizyphus Mauritania), Lemon (Citrus limon) and Lime (Citrus acida).

Others include Mango (Mangifera indica), Manila Tamarid (Pithecelobium dulce), Olive (Olea Europea) and Indian Tamarind (Tamarindus indica).

There are more which I cannot recall at the moment, though will include them in next month's article with notes on the cultivation of fruit trees in general. I will also discuss organic and bio-dynamic gardening - a cosmological approach!

On a closing note, I must just share with readers a heart-warming experienced in connection with a Moringa tree growing outside the kitchen window of my flat.

I thought it might have succumbed to the summer heat, but am delighted to say that it was only dormant and is now putting on a coat of exquisitely patterned apple-green foliage, soon to be adorned with white, star-shaped flowers of the sweetest fragrance. Happy gardening!

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Geographic Code:7BAHR
Date:Oct 31, 2010
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