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Growing pains

May 25, 2014


Desi lemons. Photos by the writer
Desi lemons. Photos by the writer

Q. If I plant a Kungi palm close to the wall of my house, will the roots damage the house foundations?

A. Kungi palms are fascinating trees which haven’t changed in the slightest since prehistoric times. Slow growing as they are, it is still a wise decision to plant them at least six feet away from your house or boundary wall to prevent damage in the years to come. Unfortunately these beautiful palms are often attacked by armoured scale insects which initially appear as tiny, light coloured, dots on the fronds and slowly but surely multiply and spread to cover, and eventually kill, the tree. Armoured scale insects are difficult to control and many generations are present at the same time, right from eggs/larvae in the soil to adults sucking the life out of the plant.

Kungi palm.. Photos by the writer
Kungi palm.. Photos by the writer

The best organic method of controlling armoured scale insects is to liberally douse them — and the soil underneath — with very strong coffee which has been boiled up and then allowed to cool. You need to use ground coffee not instant coffee and repeat this treatment every few days, more if you can, until all signs of armoured scale insects disappear. This will take time of course but it does work, as has been scientifically proven. So please, if you do plant a Kungi palm, keep an eye on it for ‘dots’ and give it the coffee treatment immediately as the more of these beasties there are, the more difficult it is to wipe them out.

Q. I live in DHA, Karachi and as we often experience a shortage of water, I arranged for boring to be done. This was successful but while drinkable, it is slightly saline. I used it in the garden but many plants do not appear to like it. How can I improve the quality of this water to make it suitable for my plants?

A. I have no idea if ‘house size’ desalination plants are available but perhaps you can search on the internet and, if they all are too large for personal use, then maybe you can find instructions on how to make something yourself. Desalinating the water is the only way of rendering it acceptable for your existing plants. The only other alternative is to replant your garden using salt tolerant plant species. Sorry that I cannot offer a simpler advice.

Many plants need good quality water to thrive. Photos by the writer
Many plants need good quality water to thrive. Photos by the writer

Q. Is it possible to grow a dwarf mango tree in a large pot? If so, where can I find such a tree?

A. Yes it is possible but I do not know where, in Pakistan, you can find such a tree.

Q. I planted gladiolus bulbs last November but despite all effort, not a single one flowered. Could you please guide me as to what could have gone wrong?

A. The bulbs must not yet be of flowering size. You need to leave them in the ground to grow on and ‘fatten up’ in the hope that they will gain enough strength to flower for you next season. Give them a regular top-dressing (on top of the soil without any digging as this could damage the bulbs) of good quality, organic compost to help them on their way.

Q. How long will it take for a desi lemon to fruit if I grow it from seed? Will it fruit if grown in a container on a rooftop in Karachi?

A. Desi lemons will take from three to five years to produce fruit when grown from seed. It is much easier to purchase a ready grown plant and have fruit right away. Lemons can be grown in large containers and do well on rooftops as long as they are protected from strong and salty winds: A bush variety is more suitable for rooftop cultivation than an actual tree. They need good quality, organic compost and regular watering if they are to thrive.

Be it pest menace or watering issues, gardeners have to keep an eye on a lot of things

Q. Is it possible to grow Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica) tree in Lahore? If so, what special care would it need to get super healthy fruit from it and how many years would we have to wait?

A. Phyllanthus emblica is more commonly known here as ‘amla’. It is indigenous to some areas of Pakistan, especially in the plains and is already being grown both in and around Lahore. A deciduous tree, it reaches an average height of 15 to 20 feet and flowers from March to May and fruits from September to November. It will take from four to seven years to attain fruiting size and, as cross pollination is advantageous, it is a good idea to plant two or three if you have the space.

Amla fruits have many medicinal and cosmetic uses; they are the richest source of natural vitamin C known and are also used in the making of preserves and pickles. It’s a wonderful species which should be more widely cultivated here.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 25th, 2014