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Gardening: On the battlefront

April 13, 2014

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Q. My plants are under severe attack from all sorts of pests: The daisies are covered in black insects the size of onion seeds, while rose leaves are shrouded in cobwebs that cause the leaves to fall and stems to turn black. Jasmine and motia leaves are drying from the edges and pink mites are attacking people! I have sprayed chemicals, soap and garlic sprays but without any success. I am wondering if the pests are in my garden or come from the soil which I obtained from a local nursery. Please help!

A. Your garden sounds like an all out battlefield: Black flies on the daisies, spider mites on the roses and people being attacked by pink mites too — the mind boggles! The invasion of black fly and spider mites should, if caught in the early stages, have been easy to control with either the soap or garlic sprays — I do not advocate use of any chemicals in the garden as these toxic interventions destroy the natural ecosystem. The invasion must be massive for it to resist the sprays or, perhaps, you did not mix the sprays properly or did not repeat them as is often required. Organic sprays do not provide instant relief but wipe out the pests over a period of time. They should be used immediately when a pest appears and repeated, around sunset, every two to three days until all traces of infestation are gone.

Your daisies should recover fast; the roses will take much longer as, if they are to have a chance, they should be pruned hard back — all prunings and fallen leaves should be carefully and thoroughly removed and disposed of outside the garden and not in the compost. The jasmine and motia sound like they may have been damaged by either a cold wind or have been burnt by the sun when they were wet. Prune back lightly and they should recover in time. Pests tend to accumulate in gardens which have been subjected to heavy use of chemicals and in gardens where routine maintenance and cleanliness have not been given priority. As for the people being attacked by pink mites, I haven’t got a clue!

Q. My son has a passion for gardening. Please provide him with some quick tips for a healthy kitchen garden and lawn.

A. Happy to hear that your son is keen on gardening. I suggest that he keeps an eye on this column to expand on the knowledge he already has and, if he has the time, to browse through back issues of the magazine online for additional information.

Q. I recently purchased a lettuce plant, in a pot, from a local nursery in Karachi. The pot is small and I am wondering if I should change it for a larger one. The seller said that it will flower and produce seeds for re-planting. How do I care for it, aside from watering?

A. Lettuce is, providing soil is reasonable and water is sufficient, a fast growing salad crop. They will, when left uncut or when reaching the end of their short lifespan, flower and produce hundreds of seeds for replanting. Now that the weather in Karachi is warming up, lettuce should be grown in partial shade and watered regularly. They do not tolerate water-logging or drought.

Q. Is it possible to farm silkworms in Rawalpindi and where can I get full advice on this subject?

A. The high level of atmospheric pollution in and around Rawalpindi would adversely affect silkworms which really need clean air to breathe. I suggest that you get in touch with PARC (Pakistan Agricultural Research Council) or NARC (National Agricultural research Council) for further information or contact the NARC Silkworm Research Station in Murree.

Q. I want to establish a tea plantation in my village, Ayubia. Please guide me on this.

A. Sorry. The winter temperatures in Ayubia are far too cold for tea plants.

Q. I have grown a healthy Sri Lankan pineapple plant — this was done by planting a pineapple top a few months ago — and need to know if I should transplant it into a larger pot or plant it directly in the ground. Can this be done now or should I wait for the summer monsoon to arrive first?

A. You can transplant it right now, either into a pot or into the garden but, please ensure that the soil/compost is extremely rich and also very high in iron. Pineapples are heavy feeders and will not bear fruit of any size if the soil is poor and lacking in necessary iron. Iron can be easily provided by burying at least half a dozen, large size, iron — not stainless steel — nails in the bottom of the plant pot or in the base of the planting hole.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.