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Gardening: Salt and sand

July 27, 2014

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Sea-sand: Caution!
Sea-sand: Caution!

Q. I saw the DHA parks and garden people spreading sea-sand and planting grass. Surprisingly the grass seems to be growing well. On enquiring from the people doing this planting, I was told that after spreading the sea-sand they water it twice to get the salt out before planting the grass. Can this process be used for residential gardening? I grow all of my flowers and vegetables in pots and was thinking of filling large pots with sea-sand, watering them twice or thrice to get the salt out, mixing this sand with ‘sweet earth’ in the proportions you give to grow flowers and vegetables. It is next to impossible to get river sand in Karachi.

A. An interesting observation and a very interesting question indeed. The situation, however, is not actually as simple as it sounds but I will try to answer without getting too complicated. Firstly: you didn’t mention on what depth of sea-sand the grass was planted and whether or not it was a maritime, therefore salt tolerant, grass species. Washing sea-sand as you describe, will most certainly not remove the high levels of salt it contains, plus, in this case, as it was washed after being spread, the resultant salty water would obviously percolate down into the soil beneath. I feel that, in the light of this, the grass species must be salt tolerant.

There is conflicting information about using washed sea-sand in soil mixes. Results from commercially washed sea-sand in various countries are indicative of two opposing conclusions: 1) All necessary minerals and nutrients are washed out, along with salts, during the commercial process — this sometimes includes the use of acids — rendering it fairly useless. 2) No matter how thoroughly it is washed at home, sea-sand is only suitable, mixed with soil, for cultivating salt tolerant species of plants. Therefore, I personally suggest, that you give the matter much thought and, if you decide to give it a try, begin on an experimental basis only and judge the results for yourself.


Soil, water, sunshine ... the basic ingredients of gardening need to be used carefully for healthy plant growth


Q. The leaves on my grape vines are drying out at the edges. The vines are just two years old and I snipped off all flowers as soon as they emerged earlier in the year as, according to your earlier advice, this should be done until the vines are mature enough to be allowed to fruit. Now, however, I am very concerned about the leaves and am wondering if I have done something wrong. I reside in Lahore.

Young grapes
Young grapes

A. No. You have done the right thing in snipping off the premature flower spikes. Vine leaves are surprisingly delicate and when they are wet, this can be from a heavy dew, high humidity, rain or from actual watering, they tend to burn, as described, if there is either wind or strong sun. The only other time they dry out is when they die back and drop during the autumn months. But, having said this, if a vine is ‘leaf heavy’, it can shed excess leaves at any point so, basically, nothing to worry about.

Q. I am having problems with my lemon and lime plants in Karachi. The lime that I planted about five years ago is not fruiting. It did produce just one fruit three years back but nothing since. I placed iron nails the year before last, reduced watering to twice a week but while the plant has much growth with lots of leaves, fruit remains absent. The same problem is with the two lemon plants: They are about four years old and I did place iron nails at their roots and chopped the whole plants back twice. The plants re-grew but still no fruit. The nursery mali thinks that probably the grafted portion of the plants became dumb and that the original one grew instead. Please advise.

A. ‘Chopping’ back citrus trees is a grave mistake: Only dead or diseased branches should be removed. Your trees will not fruit if you continue ‘chopping’ them back. Leave them alone, be patient and they should flower and fruit in their own time.

Coriander
Coriander

Q. I am developing a small kitchen garden at my home in Defence, Karachi. I have managed to grow spinach, chillies, tomatoes, egg plants, okra and mint but have not been able to grow coriander. I use seeds available in the kitchen but it does not work.

A. The seed must be old and therefore ‘expired’. Please buy fresh seed and try again.

Q. Some kind of mite is attacking all of the plants in my garden. Can you suggest some organic remedy please?

A. Depending on the type of mite involved, you can try garlic water, soapy water or hell-fire spray as according to instructions/recipes provided in earlier columns.

Q. Why is that no one is cultivating pineapples here in Pakistan?

A. Pineapples have been grown commercially in Sindh and in home gardens from Karachi to Islamabad since way back in the 1960s.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. 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, July 27th, 2014