Preparing Our Garden for Summer (April / May 2016 garden update)

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Around this time of year, it gets harder and harder to keep the plants in the garden alive. The temperatures are soaring and preparations need to be made if plants are to survive the summer desert heat.

Urban Rooftop Garden Project (in Tecom, Dubai)
My Son Helping to Water the Community Rooftop Garden (in Tecom, Dubai)

At the community volunteer garden in Tecom, where I help out with watering and light gardening duties, sun sails have been erected to protect the plants. These protective shades will go a long way in filtering out some of the sun’s powerful rays.

My kids always have so much fun watering this garden and think that it is the coolest thing ever.

That’s because it’s all novel to them. Even though we have a own garden, they don’t get to water it because we pay someone (Mr. Ali) to do that every morning.

On a side note, Mr. Ali has just left to go home to Pakistan for two months for his annual leave. His “brother” Mohamed will be taking over watering our garden (Mr. Ali seems to have a lot of brothers).

I now fear for the life of my plants. Time will see if any of them will survive the summer without my supervision as I will also be away for two months. Birds migrate South for the winter. I migrate East (to my parents’ and in-laws’ abodes).

My daughter watering the community rooftop garden - May 2016
My Daughter Watering the Community Rooftop Garden

How to Prepare Your Garden for the Summer

These are the three main things we have done to help our plants survive the Dubai desert heat:

1.  Increase Shade – We have moved some plants to shadier parts of the garden – like by a balcony wall or pillar. At this time, we do not have nor plan on installing any shade cloth/sun sails.

2.  Move plants to larger pots to minimize evaporation – Unless your are diligent in watering your small pots twice a day (I’m not), it is best to move plants into larger pots so that there is more soil thus more surface area and slower evaporation rates.

Even better if you can move the plants into the ground.  Last year my rosemary and thyme in pots died so this year they are in the ground with the sage hopefully developing a more extensive root network to help it obtain water.

Also, make sure your pots have a saucer so that water doesn’t freely drain out and can be absorbed back into the pot when needed.

3.  Mulching – Reduce soil temperatures and decrease the rate of evaporation in the soil by scattering a layer of mulch on top of the soil. We bought a couple bags of wood chips from Warsan Plant Souk.

A note on watering – try not to water plants around the hours of 10am to 2pm when the sun is strongest. You will cause plant burn as the water droplets magnify the sun’s heat and also the rate of evaporation is highest (so you will waste water and increase your water bills)

For more tips to prepare your garden for the summer, check out this Dubai-based garden article. I was quoted in the article and didn’t even know it! Or maybe I did know but forgot…

“Sandy, a member of the Balcony and Urban Gardening Group of the UAE (find the “BUGGS” group on Facebook for UAE gardening-advice) recommends that “for those plants that won’t weather the summer, such as lettuces, basil and coriander, because they bolt, now is the perfect time to harvest the seeds in preparation for the next season” “.

My Square-Foot Garden Update

As you can see from the comparison photos, the tomatoes really suffered from the heat and direct sun. I harvested the last of the salad greens that were in the front of the grid.

Right now, I am using the square-foot garden just for rosemary, thyme, sage, and Thai basil.

Comparison photo – Last month (March 1st):

Dubai Garden March 2016
Dubai Garden March 2016

Comparison Photo – April:

Dubai Square Foot Garden April 2016
Square Foot Garden – April 8, 2016

Comparison Photo – May:

Dubai Garden May 2016
Square Foot Garden – May 1, 2016

Bird’s Nest

When we came back from a few days away in Oman, we were so excited to find a bird’s next right above our front door. We hid around the corner by the driveway to see what bird had made it’s home there and Scotch was doubly excited to discover that it was one of his favorite little birds – a sunbird!


Unfortunately, after a few weeks, the nest started to look like it was being ripped to shreds. Possible because the vine that the nest was attached to was growing and growing and pulling the nest apart.

Bottle Palm
Cherry Tomatoes
Citrus – Kumquat Orange Seedling
Citrus – Mandarin Plant
Curry Plant
Desert Rose
Globe amaranth
Pepper Plants
Recao (also known as culantro, ngò gai, sawtooth herb, or stinking herb)
Rose (miniature)
Strawberry Patch
Other Herbs (Thai Basil, Onion Chives, Garlic Chives, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme)


Have I mentioned we have a Frankincense tree. Three actually.

You will have come upon frankincense at the old Spice Souk in Dubai. It looks like lumps of dried sap (because that’s what it is) and is used in perfume and incense.

A colleague of Scotch’s was able to obtain a few thick branches that was chopped off a larger tree. Scotch stuck them into various spots around our garden.

Dubai Garden - Frankincense
Dubai Garden – Frankincense

This one is in our front yard where it enjoys full sun and is doing the best out of the three.  [back to quick links]

Mandarin Orange Plant

My two-year old plucked all the fruit that was within her arm’s reach and collected them all in an unused flower pot.

Because that’s what kids do.

I wasn’t very upset since I find the fruit too sour for my taste. I should really figure out how to preserve them – perhaps for a jam.

Mandarin Orange Plant
Mandarin Orange Plant

I wasn’t sure if it would fruit again. But it’s flowered all over two times now in the last two months. Maybe the plucking of the fruit triggered the plant to start flowering again.

BONUS! The little white flowers are Jasmine-scented and the aroma is just sensational. I love sitting on my balcony next to it throughout the day so that I can get a whiff of the scent when the wind blows. I find it very calming.

Mandarin Orange Plant - new leaf growth
Mandarin Orange Plant – new leaf growth as seen by the lighter-colored leaves

I wasn’t very diligent about spraying this plant as it didn’t seem like there were any bugs. But when the new leaves started to appear, they were afflicted with leaf miners and spider bites – gnarled and wrinkled. I snipped off all the ugly leaves (yes I did – don’t send me hate mail for that).

New growth has already appeared from where I snipped and I’ve been spraying once every week so seems to be OK.  [back to quick links]

Kumquat Orange Seedling

The seedling is still alive. I’ve transplanted it into a bigger pot in preparation for the summer heat. All it’s other 10 siblings have gone to seedling heaven.

Kumquat Seedling in pot - Dubai
Kumquat Seedling

I bought some organic citrus fertilizer from the U.S. via Amazon to and have been feeding it to the seedling about once every 2 week (or when I remember).  [back to quick links]

Papaya Tree

FINALLY the papayas began to ripen. They’ve been growing fruit since around Christmas last year. The first one that showed signs of ripening, we left on the tree to fully ripen. Then when I figured it was ready, I took it down – it was much easier than I expected. Just a gently pull and off it came off the tree.

Unfortunately, we were still denied the chance to taste our first homegrown papaya. When I cut it in half, the inside was all moldy and rotten. It was so scary looking and disgusting inside that I could not get it out of the house fast enough.


Then as soon as another papaya started to develop a patch of yellow, Scotch took it down immediately to ripen inside the house.

We forgot about it and it started to get very soft. Uh-oh. Well, I cut it open yesterday and it was perfectly ripe! And so sweet! I scooped out the seeds into the trash and scooped the soft sweet flesh into my mouth. Before I knew it, I had eaten the whole thing before I even remembered to take a photo.  [back to quick links]

Bottle Palm

Last summer, during “the drought” when my gardener disappeared for a few days, this plant suffered quite a bit. It looked like it was nearly dead (like most of our other plants from that era). Mostly out of laziness, we just left the plant alone, looking very pathetic with it’s dried up leaves:

Bottle Palm in Pot - Dubai
Bottle Palm in Pot – Dubai

Our gardener continued to water it all these months and lo and behold – two new shoots have appeared and growing fast! I was so excited – I felt like a proud mom.  [back to quick links]

Bottle Palm in Pot - Dubai
New Growth on Bottle Palm After nearly a year

Desert Rose

This desert rose is in a pot right outside my front door so I must pass it like 10 times a day. And then one day I noticed there was something different about it.

Desert Rose Seed Pod
Desert Rose Seed Pod

It had grown a seed pod and I hadn’t noticed until it was the size of the photo above.  [back to quick links]

Cherry Tomatoes

Unfortunately they weren’t as good as I hoped. They were squishy inside and better suited for salads and sandwiches and soups than snacking straight off the plant. For that, I have a dwarf determinate varietal called Tiny Tim.

Cherry Tomatoes April 2016
Li’L Ginger with Cherry Tomatoes

I trimmed some of the tomato plants because they were growing a little too crazy and crowding out the adjacent sage and rosemary. Sadly, they didn’t seem to recover from the assault but I was still able to harvest tomatoes every day and used them all up in a Vietnamese sweet and sour soup (click here for my mom’s awesome recipe).  [back to quick links]

Green Beans

With the increased temperatures, the beans just suffered. We left them to mature on the vine and dry up, then collected the seeds for planting in September.

Green Bean Seeds April 2016
Collecting Green Bean Seeds

I really like these beans and can’t wait to grow them again in the Fall.  [back to quick links]


I fell in love with this herb (also known as culantro, ngò gai, sawtooth herb, or stinking herb) when we lived in Puerto Rico. It grew like a weed and I loved it in Asian soups and a kicked-up spaghetti bolognese.

Recao aka Culantro April 2016
Little Recao Seedling

Recently I ordered some organic recao seeds via Amazon. The germination rate has been quite low – for every 50 or so seeds I sprinkle, maybe 1 will germinate.

My gardener is off on Fridays so every Fridays I am sure to water the little recao seedlings. Once Friday morning, hectic and didn’t water first thing in the morn. By noon when we returned, all the recao were fried.

It’s too hot now to try again and I will be leaving in a month so will try again in the fall. [back to quick links]


Every couple of months, I like to start all over again with the mint. Especially when it gets infested by spider mites or overrun by little hungry catepillars.

I dig up all the roots and toss them out because it is insanely crazy how many feet of root one little sprig can produce! Here’s the root growth in just a few months.:

Mint Roots
Mint roots extracted from that yellow pot

Two weeks ago, I’ve stuck these 2 sprigs into the pot and soon it will grow like crazy again.  [back to quick links]

Rooting new mint cuttings
Rooting new mint cuttings (spearmint and peppermint)


This plant really surprised me. It’s been evergreen even when the temperatures began to sour.

I’m very pleased with it because I haven’t had to buy parsley in months! And it’s great in my recipe for Tabbouleh Salad with Qunioa.  [back to quick links]


Curry Plant

Every winter, my husband tells me to throw out the curry plant because it looks so pathetic with it’s yellowing droopy leaves. And I remind him that the plant loves hot weather and once the spring comes around, the plant will grow like crazy! And it does!

Curry Plant (Murraya koenigii)The more you harvest, the more shoots it seems to send out. Last month, I gave away 5 or 6 babies that kept shooting up from the roots.  [back to quick links]

Strawberry Patch

The children’s strawberry plants are doing well in the heat so far. The fruit are getting smaller and smaller but sweeter and sweeter. Although the novelty of the strawberries seemed to have worn off with the children.  [back to quick links]

Strawberry Plant


These baby carrots are so ready to be harvested. I’v just been procrastinating on it. Maybe this weekend…

Baby Carrots in Pot

The kids (mostly Li’L Ginger) like to pull them out from the pot and snack on them. [back to quick links]


Pepper Plants

In March, my in-laws brought over some chili pepper seeds from Scotland. One of the plants has started to flower and it looks like we will be getting A LOT of fiery peppers soon.

Chili Pepper "Numex Twilight"
Chili Pepper “Numex Twilight”

The leaves are all wrinkly even though I spray them every few days with organic insecticide.  [back to quick links]

Globe Amaranth

It’s funny – my son and I scattered these seeds randomly in the pot and all the white ones ended up on one side and the purple ones on the other.

The children just love these plants – we call them mini truffala trees after watching The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.  [back to quick links]

Globe Amaranth - potted in Dubai

Miniature Yellow Rose

The rose leaves dried up again bc I forgot to water it. It was blooming so beautifully that I moved it to my balcony table so I could enjoy it’s view more.

I’ve plucked off the dead crispy leaves and put the plant back down onto the floor where my gardener can water it. I’m hoping it’ll come back from the dead again.  [back to quick links]

Yellow Rose


Of the 10+ seedlings that grew, only one is still alive today. But that one is looking like it’s about to die as well.

I’ve heard that lavender loves heat but not humidity. I really haven’t had any luck with lavender in Dubai.  [back to quick links]

Other Herbs: Basil, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Chives, Thai Basil

Still doing very well in the ground! Hoping they’ll survive the summer.  [back to quick links]


And that’s it for our April and May garden update. Thanks for reading this incredibly long post!

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