Q. I am interested in growing guavas, organically, in Rawalpindi and need guidance please.
A. Excellent that you have chosen to grow organic. Prepare soil by adding lots of old / well-rotted, organic manure, plus, lots of, preferably home-made, compost. Ensure that drainage is good and that the site receives lots of direct sun. This is the perfect planting month. Codling moth larvae are nasties to prevent: tie ‘grease bands’ — strips of greased sacking / cardboard — around the tree trunk and main branches, each October, changing them for new ones every month until late spring, disposing of used bands sensibly. This prevents codling moth larvae from climbing the tree, they get stuck in the grease bands, to lay their eggs in the fruit. Fruit flies are another issue: hang plastic bottles, half-filled with sugar water and a little powdered yeast, in tree branches as soon as fruit begins to form. Fruit flies will be attracted to the sweet water, fly into the bottles and drown. Top up the water as needed, adding more sugar / yeast and keep this up until fruit has been harvested. You may also need to net the tree against birds.
Q. I live in DHA, Karachi, close to the sea. Is it okay to plant a guava tree in my garden and, if so, when is the correct time of year to do this?
Growing fruit trees requires a commitment to pruning and close monitoring of pests
A. Perfectly okay but, if your garden is exposed to wind, erecting some kind of wind protection is advisable otherwise new growth / leaves may get wind burnt.
Q. I have a passion for gardening but lately my mali left and the burden is now on my shoulders. Currently, I am having a problem with my guava trees, the fruit is ripe but the birds are taking it all. What can I do? I reside in Lahore.
A. Simply net the tree to prevent birds from feasting on the ripe fruit.
Q. I have a small back garden at my home in Malakand. The garden receives very little sunlight. I need to know what vegetables can be grown in winters. There is also slight frost here.
A. Vegetables for harvesting over winter and into spring are best started off in late summer and autumn for your growing / climatic conditions. Sow seeds of winter cabbage, winter cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard, giant red mustard, kale, leeks, winter radish, turnips, beetroot and hardy winter lettuce from the end of August to mid-October for best results. Remember to feed the soil — organically of course — prior to planting.
Q. My Neem tree is dying. It is a big tree and its lower part is still green when I scratch the bark away to see. I tried to save it by cutting the upper part and branches, then by giving fertiliser and watering daily. There is no improvement though. The lawn is also not in good shape: some areas have no grass and there are many weeds. What can I do?
A. Oh dear! Presumably the upper part of the tree was dead — which is why you cut it — this could have happened for a number of reasons but I suspect, judging from the state of the lawn, the soil is suffering from a nutrient deficiency. You omitted to mention your location — this is very important — therefore, guessing that you may be in Karachi where the soil is often seriously lacking in zinc and potassium, I suggest that you attempt to remedy the situation by adding these along with a balanced mix of additional minerals and nutrients. Follow the instructions on the packet as use varies depending on the manufacturer. Weed your lawn and feed that too. It will take time for the tree to recover so patience is needed: the lawn should respond fairly fast. If, however, the tree has a fungal infection in its roots — bad drainage / very high salinity can cause this — then you may not be able to rescue it and will need to improve drainage / soil condition before planting something else.
Q. I recently moved into a new house in Lahore and now intend to make a large garden. Unfortunately the garden area is completely shaded by adjacent buildings so gets no direct sun — not even for a single hour. I want to plant vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and grapes. Can you recommend varieties that will grow without sun?
A. Fruit trees and most commonly found flowers need sunshine: grape vines require lots and lots of sunshine. You should be able to grow green, leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, spinach, Swiss chard / leaf beet, kale, lettuce, mustard and maybe radishes, plus, herbs such as mint and coriander, but forget chillies, tomatoes, aubergines, capsicums, etc. as these all need plenty of direct sunshine.
On the flower front: you need to select shade tolerant species such as hostas, frangipani (‘chumpa’), ixora, cestrum nocturnum (‘rat-ki-rani’) which are perennial species with climbers like lonicera (honeysuckle), passiflora, jasmine and quisqualis indica (Rangoon creeper) against the boundary wall. Seasonal flowers, kept in clay pots and other suitable containers, can be used for short-term colour but do buy them at the flowering rather than seedling stage. Otherwise: opt for a colourful mix of shade loving foliage plants from your local nursery.
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 24th, 2016