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Growing pains

October 12, 2014


A hot, dry climate, kitchen garden. Photos by the writer
A hot, dry climate, kitchen garden. Photos by the writer

Q. I have three young pomegranate trees in my garden. One has started to fruit but has only three pomegranates on it, the other two have no fruit at all. What should I do to make them bear lots of fruit?

A. trees, of any kind, but especially fruit trees, take time to reach maturity and fruiting size. It sounds like your pomegranate trees may be on the immature side and thus not yet ready to fruit in any quantity. If this is so, providing that they are kept well-fed and watered as necessary, they may begin bearing their delicious, highly nutritious, fruit either next year or the year following that. Pomegranates benefit from an iron-rich feed, therefore, if you did not put any iron (not stainless steel) nails into their original planting holes, then begin giving them an iron-based, liquid feed, on a monthly basis to help them grow strong and to remain healthy.

Q. I have a three to four-year-old ‘Dracaena’ plant which has always had just two to three leaves as other leaves fall off. Now it has only one leaf and this has white spots on it. The plant was expensive and I do not want to lose it. I have changed the soil more than once and keep it out of the sun as I was told when I bought it. Am I using the wrong soil or is there another problem?

A. Oh dear! I am very sorry to tell you that a Dracaena plant with only three leaves, let alone just one, is certainly not a healthy plant by any stretch of the imagination. The white spots could be any one of a number of diseases / insect infestations — I cannot be sure which one without further information. Leaf fall, as you mention, can also be the result of a number of problems: overwatering, under-watering, poor soil, disease / insects, incorrect light conditions, etc.

A lot of efforts, know-how and patience are needed to be a successful gardener

All I can suggest is that you carefully re-pot the poor plant in a medium to rich, well draining soil / compost, place the plant in a partially shaded location, water lightly but often and keep your fingers crossed that it survives although, frankly, I have doubts. If you supply more detailed information I could be more precise.

  Tomatoes are excellent in pots. Photos by the writer
Tomatoes are excellent in pots. Photos by the writer

Q. In a recent column you stated: ‘in addition to manure, a nitrogen and mineral rich feed, applied once a week, is a good idea and especially so if you are reusing soil’. What do you mean by this and where can I acquire it from? I grow vegetables in pots and feel that maybe this kind of feeding will help them.

A. Soil which has already been used for plant cultivation is depleted of the nitrogen and assorted essential minerals required for healthy plant growth and crop production as, naturally, the plants grown in it previously, have taken up these natural foods. Nitrogen promotes green, leafy growth such as that found in cabbages and spinach for example and essential minerals — these include iron, magnesium, calcium, etc. — which are found in good soil, maintain plant health, strength and a plant’s ability to combat disease.

You can make a liquid plant food at home: half fill a bucket with shredded green leaves, grass (without seeds), used tea leaves, crushed egg-shells (preferably either sundried or oven baked first); fill the bucket up with water, stirring daily for seven to 10 days; strain out the ‘bits’. Mix one part of the resultant liquid to nine parts of water and use it to feed your plants. It can be used on vegetables, herbs, flowers and trees. The liquid smells when being made so please place the bucket as far from your house as you can. The smell disappears within an hour or two of the liquid being applied to the garden.

Q. I reside in north Nazimabad, Karachi and want to start growing vegetables in clay pots. What kinds of vegetables are suitable for pots and how should I care for them?

A. Wonderful that you intend growing your own vegetables and I wish all the best with this. Please read this column on the first Sunday of each month for advice about what to plant and when and, for further information on growing conditions, etc, keep your eyes on this weekly page.

Q. We have a very large garden in Multan. The soil, which is dug by hand, is hard and the weather remains extremely hot for at least eight months which makes the digging exhausting. We grow vegetables beneath rows of shade-giving fruit trees which are planted, in rows, at a good distance from each other. Are locally made small tractors or tilling machines available in Pakistan, of a kind suitable for use in home gardens rather than the big ones for farms? If so, are they practical and rugged enough for Multan soil conditions?

A. Such machines, largely imported from China, are available and, providing that the land is relatively free of stones, can be very useful indeed. With correct use and proper maintenance, they do last.

Q. What is Epsom salt and where can I find it?

A. Epsom salt is a mineral mixture sold for human use. It is great for replacing minerals and trace elements in the garden, is particularly useful for fruit trees and vegetables and can be found in some large stores and pharmacies.

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, October 12th, 2014