Gardening in Dubai has its challenges with the scorching desert heat and high humidity of the summer months. But for 8 months out of the year (October to May), the climate can support a wide range of plants and vegetables including many cool weather crops.
We just do things a bit backwards here. While people in other parts of the globe are winding down their gardening activities due to frost, we are starting our planting season. And when we wind down our growing season in May due to heat, others in the North Hemisphere are starting their planting season. There are also many plants that can survive the harsh desert environment and can be grown year-round.
If you are new to gardening (or new to gardening in Dubai), you may have a lot of questions on the topic and I’ve put together a bunch of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help you on your journey.
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Where can I buy plants that won’t cost me an arm and a leg?
While the Dubai Garden Center (on Sheikh Zayed Road) and Ace Hardware (Festival City) sometimes has good deals on plants, it can get really expensive if you need a lot of plants to landscape your garden.
A few alternatives that sell plants and soil (even stones and decorative fountains) at decent prices are: (1) the plant souq in Warsan (Google Map: Acacia Garden Center to find the general location). Warsan is a district that has many open-air garden and landscaping shops. I would recommend that you park by one shop and then walk around by foot to check out the plants in stock and the prices. You will start getting a feel of the prices and bargaining room. You may even find a favorite shop that you’ll go back to again and again. You should always ask for the “best price” to begin the haggling process. Or not. I’m pretty rubbish at haggling and the shop keepers often take pity on me by throwing in a free plant or two. Delivery charges are usually 100-150 dhs depending on how much you purchase.
(2) Wahat al Sahara located in Khawaneej (they are the suppliers of the Dubai Garden Centre). I have not visited this place yet but it’s highly recommended by many people.
(3) “Plant Street” (otherwise known as Al Hudaiba Street) in Satwa (you can Google Map: Madina Garden Center to help you find plant street.) Plant street is only about a block or two long and consists of little shops that sell plants, irrigation supplies, fertilizers and more. Prices are more expensive than Warsan but much closer to central Dubai.
(4) There are also lots of little neighborhood nurseries dotted around the city. If you’ve every driven buy a mosque that seems to have lots of potted plants and bags of soil piled out front, then it’s probably a local garden nursery and worth dropping in to look at what they have. Prices are usually only a few dirhams more than the plant souq but saves you time and gas money by not having to drive all the way out there. Especially if you just need that one bag of soil or a few annuals. Haggling is possible. Some well-known local garden nurseries are the one in Barsha near Seashells Nursery and Um Sequim by the big Spinneys. I’ve been known to spot a new nursery, slam on the brakes (if no car is behind me), reverse, park and get out of my car to explore.
I just bought new plants and now they look like they are dying. What can I do?
Plants are like children and do not like to be moved from one place to another. A sudden change in location and friends can cause children to become very sad. For plants, this is called “transplant shock”. All of a sudden, you have changed the plants’ sunlight levels and watering schedule and if you’ve disturbed its roots by planting it into a new place. Since plants can not talk, they tell you they are unhappy by wilting and dropping leaves. Often this is normal as the plant is directing its energy towards staying alive.
But there is something you can do to minimize transplant shock. When you get new plants, try to keep the in their pots and place them in their new spot for a day or two. Make sure they are well-watered but not flooded. Wait for the sun to start setting (so that the new planting location is shady) to transfer the new plants into the ground (don’t forget to prepare the new site with new soil or compost because Dubai soil can be very infertile). Planting during direct sunlight (especially in the summer months) is one of the major reasons why plants go through transplant shock and many don’t survive. After you’ve placed the plants in the ground, water it well. I don’t fertilize for at least 2 weeks because you don’t know when the plants were last fertilized at the plant shop and too much fertilizer can kill a plant.
My plants were doing great and now they look pale and unhealthy. What is happening?
Plants need regular fertilizing to thrive. If you see that your plant’s leaves are starting to get smaller, and the color of the leaves are getting paler and paler, then you need to quickly start fertilizing your plants. There are many products you can buy on the market. Your gardener can help too and will have probably asked you for money to buy fertilizer in the form of little blue pellets which is inorganic NPK.
All fertilizers, whether organic or inorganic, will contain some form of NPK and minor amounts of other minerals. N stands for nitrogen (for healthy leaves), P stands for Phosphorous (for healthy blooms and fruits), and K stands for Potassium (for healthy roots and stems). Micronutrients include minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese… Fertilizers can come in solid or liquid form. Some need to be diluted so please read the instructions and be careful not to over-fertilize plants or you can cause leaf browning, leaf drop and plant death.
Where can I find organic fertilizer?
It used to be really difficult to find organic fertilizer but there are more options now. Check your local garden center and the major ones as well (Dubai Garden Center, Ace Hardware). One great place is Madina Garden Center in Satwa. I often go there and buy organic fertilizer in bulk – often this means that I buy a 25 kg bag and it will cost me 100-125 dhs. You can buy in much smaller quantities and they’ll just measure out what you need. They also sell seaweed extract and fish emulsion which are great for healthy leaf growth. You can also buy online at Amazon AE.
Can I make my own compost?
Yes! You can just bury your food scraps around your garden or buy compost bins or make your own. Bokashi bins are popular for many people, especially apartment dwellers because the bin is kept indoors (see below to learn more).
You can also buy traditional compost bins or make your own. Google has lots of ideas and suggestions on DIY compost bins and how to compost. I have a short video here on how I made my own compost bin for 138 dhs (I already had a drill) using a large plastic trash bin. I keep mine in an unused part of the garden that gets a lot of sun.
To use a compost bin, you need to layer “greens” and “browns” in your bin. You can google what greens and brown are but basically, greens are fresh material like grass clippings and veggie waste while browns are dried/dead material like twigs, cardboard boxes, paper.
This is how I compost: I throw all my kitchen scraps in a small bucket (I use this one which I keep on my kitchen counter but I previously just used an extra-large bowl) and when that bucket is full, I empty the contents into the outdoor compost bin. Because I order from Kibsons.com a few times a week, I end up with a lot of brown paper bags which they use to hold produce. I shred these paper bags with my shredder (which I bought from Amazon.ae because my hands were hurting from constantly cutting with scissors) to make them easier to break down and I throw the shredded bags on top of the food waste. I repeat until the compost bin is full. You will see in my video that my kids help me rotate the bin (usually with a bit of bribery) but it does get to a point where it is too full to rotate and I just let it sit and compost on its own. When the compost bin is full, I let it sit untouched for two months because it just so happens that I leave Dubai every summer for two months. When I’m back in September, the compost is ready but I usually wait until October to empty the contents into my veggie patch when the weather is cooler. I should really sift the contents out but I don’t bother. I should also have two bins so that the one I have doesn’t get too full but I haven’t gotten around to doing that either.
What is Bokashi?
For bokashi composting, you buy (or make your own) a Bokashi bin and bokashi bran. The bins come in different sizes. You put your food waste (only vegetables and egg shells; no meat or bones) in the bin and then sprinkle a light later of bran on top. You continue doing this until the bin is full. It does not smell bad if done properly. Now the bin needs to sit unopened for a few weeks to fully ferment (I kept mine under the sink). You are not composting yet, only fermenting! After a few weeks you dig a hole in your garden (or use a very very very large pot) and dump the contents of the bokashi bin into the hole (it will not smell nice), cover the contents with more soil and wait another few weeks before the contents are fully composted and ready for planting. There are many people who use the bokashi system with no gardens because they want to compost and then they give the fully fermented bokashi contents to friends with gardens. You can buy bokashi bins and bran online at My Green Chapter. You can also find used ones online by checking various Facebook groups.
What is eating my plant?
There are two common pests that like to chomp on leaves. (1) The vine weevil (my kids call them evil weevils) and (2) caterpillars. They leave distinctive eating patterns on the leaves that will help you identify them. Weevils leave irregular patterns along the leaf edges and leave behind little black spots on the leaves like dried liquid. Caterpillars tend to leave more rounded edges (you can google “caterpillar damage” for more images) and leave behind little green-black balls (can also be square) of poop.
Weevils come out at night and eat around the edges of leaves and can devastate your plant. In my garden, they particularly like the leaves of my figs, desert rose and basil. There are no organic sprays that can treat weevils and the inorganic ones can be purchased at your local nursery or at the Dubai Garden Centre. I prefer not to spray with chemicals. The way I get rid of them is this: I wait an hour or two after sunset, I go out to my garden with a head lamp, I find the evil suckers, and I remove them either with a gloved hand or gardening tools, then I “dispose” of them permanently. I do this every night for a few nights until I can’t find any more weevils. You will see that they have a few tricks up their sleeves: when they sense your presence, they drop and fall onto their backs (playing dead) into the soil to camouflage. Although they do not normally come out during the day, you can force them out by spraying the soil around the affected plant with water. They do not like water and will start crawling up the nearest object whether it’s a wall or trunk of plant. You can catch them then and remove them from your garden.
As for caterpillars, I gently remove by hand or garden trowel and transfer them to another part of the garden that’s not near my edible plants.
What are these squiggly lines that look like tunnels on my plant’s leaves?
These tunnels are caused by leaf miners. They are caused by insects like moths and butterflies that lay eggs on your leaves (usually on the underside of the leaves so that you cannot see them).
When these eggs hatch into larva, the larva tunnel through and “mine” your leaves for food. Not great if they are in your basil right? The best thing to do is to spray organic pesticide on your plants about once a week. And only spray in the late afternoon and never in direct sunlight. If you spray in the morning, I’ve heard that you can also kill the good bugs and residual pesticide on the leaves can cause leaf burn during the summer months when the sun is ultra strong. So spray in the late afternoon.
What do you use for organic pesticide?
I use a combination of Neem Guard and organic dish soap. You can find Neem Guard at some local garden centers and almost always at Madina Garden Center in Satwa (use Google Maps). You can also buy online via Amazon AE. I used to pour this mixture into a small 1-liter spray bottle but my garden got so big that I needed something with more capacity so I’ve since upgraded to a 5-liter pressure sprayer from Gardena which I bought at Ace Hardware. Again, you can check these options at Amazon AE.
How can I stop birds from eating my tomatoes?
I have tried tying CDs to a rope, sticking windmill toys in soil, and leaving out bowls of water for the birds. Ultimately, the only thing that worked for me is to use bird netting to keep the birds out. Click here to read the post I wrote about how I set up the bird netting. This is the bird netting I bought from Amazon US and you can also click here to search the Amazon AE site for similar products.
How can I keep cats from using my garden as a litter box?
I can only speak from personal experience. Cats tend to like loose sandy areas that are dry and bare. So plant grass, flowers or lay stones, gravel, or mulch if you can. One solution that has consistently worked for me is to sprinkle a small amount of whole black peppercorns in the areas where cats like to do their business. The effect wears off after a couple days so I repeat three or four times or until the cats stay way. I buy whole peppercorns in bulk at the hypermarkets because they tend to have the best prices. You know the area in Carrefour or the Coop where the spices are in large bags? Yes, that section. You can get even better prices at the spice souq but it’s too far for me to drive out there. If you want to shop online, you can compare prices on Amazon AE.
Is there a local community of gardeners that I can connect with?
On Facebook, there are many gardening groups and the largest is The Dubai Gardening Group. Many communities with have their own private Facebook group. Use the search function on Facebook or ask within your own local FB group. For example, if you live in Meadows, search for “Meadows Gardening Group”.
Please share this post with your fellow gardeners and if you have any gardening questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below.
Remember that many of the Amazon products I’ve suggested can be purchased with free Prime shipping from the USA with a Prime UAE membership. Click here to try Amazon Prime UAE free for one month and check it out for yourself (affiliate link).
Thank you for reading and happy gardening!
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