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What a pest!

October 26, 2015


Striking cactus flowers
Striking cactus flowers

Q. Should one save the kernels / seeds of seasonal fruit for planting? If so, when should they be sown? If this is possible, I would like to encourage my friends to do the same so that we can plant a portion of a public park so that everyone can enjoy the results. Living in Karachi one does not have access to fruit trees. Chopping down trees and replacing them with concrete structures is so wrong: We have to do something before we lose the right to live.

A. A very laudable idea indeed and I take my hat off to you for thinking of not only other people but of the earth itself. I am delighted to tell you that yes, you can do this. As for planting times, when a fruit is in season then, towards the end of this season is the natural time to sow the seeds of whatever fruit it happens to be but please ensure that the fruit did not have its natural season prolonged by a period in cold storage. Also, before planting young trees in a public park, it is best if you get permission otherwise the ‘authorities’ may come along and rip them all out. I wish the very best of luck with this wonderful project and hope, most sincerely, that many of your friends follow suit.

Q. I am just 11 years old and live in Abbotabad and my plants are being eaten by snails. Small snails are not a problem but there are big snails, with brown shells, and they eat a lot. I have tried using salt on them and it works a bit but still they won’t go away.

A. The snails may, quite possibly, not be a problem by the time you read this as they are at their most problematic in Abbotabad over the summer months into very early autumn. However, bear in mind for the next season that small snails grow into big ones and that all snails love to eat plants – especially tasty new leaves. Using salt is good but even better – presuming that you are wise enough to avoid chemical interventions – is that as soon as snails, no matter how small, make an appearance in your garden, start picking them up/off by hand (you may want to wear gloves to do this) and disposing of them well away from your garden. It can be a real chore having to do this every single day at first but it is the best and most natural solution. After a while though, the number of snails will decrease and, as long as you are dedicated, eventually you will not have to do this at all as all the snails will have gone.

Snails and bugs are an inevitable presence in your garden, but you don’t need harmful chemicals to

ward off these little visitors. Many tried and true organic solutions can zap them away


Q. Black and red beetles are munching on my flowers in Lahore. I haven’t seen them before and would like to know if they are harmful or just another insect looking for pollen. There also seems to be a black residue on plant leaves and the beetles are eating leaves too. What are they and what should I do about them?

A. These are a type of ‘Cercopis vulnerata’ or ‘Spittlebug’ and actually, other than eating a few leaves, really don’t do any harm. Earlier in the season, you may have noticed what resembles ‘spit’ on some plant joints and the beetle larvae emerges from this – hence the name ‘Spittlebug’. If the presence of these beetles bothers you then next time you see ‘spit’, hose it off with a jet of water to prevent them hatching out. The black residue you mention has nothing to do with them but may be either ‘sooty mildew’ or some other fungal disease: This can be removed by washing off with soapy water unless, that is, the infection is severe, in which case either remove infected leaves – disposing of them sensibly – or, in extreme cases, remove the entire plant.

Q. I live in Islamabad and have been trying to establish a roof garden. There is no guidance available so I have had to learn through trial and error about which plants will survive the extreme heat up there and the cold too. All of this in addition to being short of water as I am often too exhausted after a day at work to physically go up to the roof to water them. Please guide me on some suitable plants which will tolerate all of this.

A. Cacti and succulents are the best bet: Some, such as Aeonium of these are very colourful and many bear surprisingly beautiful flowers. Otherwise, select plants which have thick, leathery leaves as these tolerate such conditions far easier than fragile, thin leaved plants.

Q. Is it correct that old soil / sand, when mixed with plenty of organic compost / organic manure, is good for all plants.

A. Yes it is.

Q. I was a gardening enthusiast when young and remember making a promise to myself that, just once, I would gather my entire family — they are spread and away and some very far away — together under a cherry blossom tree: I guess the younger me had a thing about cherry blossom! Anyway, I live in Karachi where cherry trees are super rare but yes, I have seen some and they are absolutely magnificent when they bloom. Is it easy to grow them in Karachi and how many years until they blossom.

A. Keeping promises, even to oneself, is important and I am delighted to say that whilst not all that easy, you can grow such trees in Karachi unless you garden is exposed to a direct sea breeze. Selecting a dwarf, weeping, flowering cherry of Japanese rootstock is the best: These dwarf trees, planted out of direct wind, can blossom in their second year but take four to five years to put on a stunning show.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. Answers to selected questions will appear in a future issue of the magazine. This takes time. The writer does not reply directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened. Please note: The writer’s garden is not open to the public.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 25th, 2015

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