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Top tips to help your garden spring to life.

Landscape consultant John A Davies provides a month-by-month guide to what you should be doing in your garden to ensure it flourishes throughout the year

TASKS in the garden this month include mowing and edging lawns every 10 days; irrigating every second day and weeding as an on-going routine.

You should be applying insecticide as necessary and cleaning the garden on a daily basis, as well as removing dead and fading flowers from seasonal plants to encourage more blossoms.

Planting of cool season annuals begun last month can continue. These include African daisy, calendula, antirrhinum, petunia, stock and verbena and gladioli, which can be planted at 10-day intervals for blooming in the coming spring.

Vegetables will benefit from having manure worked into the soil and from being hoed regularly to control weed growth.

Planting of trees and shrubs may also take place during this month and continue through to the onset of the warmer months of March and April.

Judicious pruning of established trees and shrubs can be carried out.

The heavy rains that fell last month were a blessing for gardeners in Bahrain, for salts have been leached out of the root zone, thereby providing plants freer access to nutrients, which can be now seen in healthier growth and an abundance of flowers.

The absence of heavy rains in 2008 and the two preceding years resulted in high concentrations of salt in the soil, which led to poor growth and fatalities in respect of plants with low salt tolerant thresholds.

The two major challenges, apart from the extreme climate, facing the gardener in Bahrain, are the salinity and alkalinity of the soil. Managing these factors is a critical aspect of gardening in Bahrain.

Bahrain soils are naturally saline; i.e. salty, the most common salt being sodium chloride (table salt).

Plants vary considerably in their capacities to tolerate salinity. The date palm for example, can tolerate salinity in excess of 30,000 parts per million, though the quality of fruit deteriorates; whereas Hippeastrum suffers when salinity rises above 1,750ppm.

In any case though, all plants benefit when the salinity in their cells is higher than the salinity in the soil water for then, in accordance with the process called osmosis, salts (nutrients) in solution pass from the soil into the plant cells.

Conversely, when soluble salt concentrations are higher in the soil than in the plant cells, water passes from them into the surrounding soil causing the plants to dehydrate, wilt and perish, unless remedial action is taken.

Remedial action involves leaching the soil by applying lots of sweet water, thereby washing away salts. This process occurred naturally during the heavy rains of last month.

Other measures include removing salt encrustations and mulching the surface of the soil to reduce evaporation, thereby inhibiting to some extent salts rising to the surface.

Introducing sub-surface irrigation is another means of reducing evaporation.

Good drainage is critical and the installation of a capillary break layer also can be beneficial. This is a layer 150 to 200 millimetres deep, comprising granular material, Ras Al Khaima gravel, for example, used to stop the upward movement of salts through capillary action.

This process may be seen in a cube of sugar when moistened - the manner in which moisture passes through the cube is capillary action.

As for the alkalinity of Bahrain's soils, while salinity makes nutrients unavailable for plants by causing salts in the root cells to flow out into the saltier soil solution, high alkalinity "locks up" up nutrients, particularly micro nutrients and phosphorus, making them unavailable for absorption by the root hairs.

As in the case of salinity, plants vary in their capacity to tolerate alkalinity, the date palm being an example with a high alkalinity threshold.

On the other hand, the ornamental shrub Ixora, has a low alkalinity tolerance, demonstrated by yellowing of its foliage.

Remedial action involves amending the soil to achieve a neutral pH value of 7 or near to it. The pH is a scale of 1 - 14, which relates to potential hydrogen ions present in the soil and is used to determine the alkalinity or acidity of a soil.

The more hydrogen ions present, the more acidic the soil. A value below 7 is acidic and a value above is alkaline.

Bahrain soils being alkaline, and with most plants thriving in soil with a neutral pH, the aim is to reduce the alkalinity, which, in addition, has the effect of making salts in the soil less soluble, thereby counteracting salinity.

Soil alkalinity can be reduced by applying elemental sulphur at the rate of 1 - 1.5 kg per 10 square metres for each unit of reduction in ph value required.

It is appreciated that the above is somewhat technical and that seasoned gardeners in Bahrain are well aware of the technical challenges gardening in Bahrain poses.

Hopefully, the information will be of some value to them and, likewise, to people taking up gardening as a pastime, as well as to the owners of new homes on residential developments such as the Amwaj Islands; Riffa Views; Durrat Al Bahrain and the other developments currently in progress.

Unless the soil is properly treated and cultivated, the chances of achieving a beautiful garden are slim.

As the late Ted Moult of BBC Gardeners' Question Time, during the 1960s, would say: "The answer lies in the soil!"

Copyright 2009 Gulf Daily News

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Jan 14, 2010
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