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Of fruit, seeds and flowers

March 13, 2016

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Delicious desi papaya
Delicious desi papaya

Q. I planted Petunias, twice in one month, in my garden. Each time though, every single plant was finished within a week. I am in a fix as I planted them in exactly the same places where, last year, they bloomed so beautifully in spring. The mali says it is probably some insect that comes out at night.

The plant leaves are initially nibbled away — not by birds as this is a different kind of nibbling than birds do. Then the plants thin out and disappear.

Petunias planted in pots are doing very well even though they are close to the flower bed from which plants are vanishing. There are no trees overhead. Ideas and a solution are requested, please.


Gardening may be a tedious job but the returns are worth the labour and care


A. The mali is probably right: it could very well be that slugs / snails — both of which are predominantly nocturnal — are responsible and they will happily munch plants at ground level before exerting themselves to climb up into the pots.

Laying a barrier of chuna or wood ash around all edges of the bed may help keep these nasties out, as will a barrier of large grained, sharp, river sand (not saltish sea sand) with crushed eggshells mixed in.

Slugs / snails have soft underneaths and anything coarse or sharp is painful for them to cross. If the aforementioned are not the culprits, it could be one of a number of soil-dwelling, nocturnal insects: spraying your plants, regularly, with ‘hellfire spray’ (recipe has been given a number of times) may help keep them at bay. Additionally, repeated planting of the same species in the same bed is not a good idea: this encourages insects with, let’s say, a taste for petunias, to take up permanent residence and multiply in readiness for a laid-on feast of their favourite food.

Q. I would like to take a gardening course in Karachi. Does such a course exist and, if so, where and how can I join?

A. Such courses are sometimes organised by the Horticultural Society of Pakistan and by the Ladies Horticultural Society, as well as a few kitchen garden organisations. I suggest that you contact one of these for information. Good luck!

Q. Can plants be watered in the morning, instead of the evening, during cold weather?

A. Yes, they can. It is only during hot weather that morning watering is best avoided.

Q. I have started a kitchen garden and want to know how to save seeds from vegetables as there are no seed stores in our location. All we have is nurseries but the problem is that they sell low quality, flowering plants which have been grown in manure and these die when I plant them in my garden.

A. Saving vegetable seed is an excellent undertaking and one which a full column is scheduled to be devoted to in a few weeks time: please be patient until then. Meanwhile, to help you on your way, you can propagate ginger from healthy roots (as long as they have not been chemically treated) bought in the bazaar along with some potatoes. Both of these can be planted right now. Tomato seeds can be extracted from purchased tomatoes and planted or tomatoes can be thickly sliced and the slices planted just underneath the surface of top quality compost, seedlings will soon appear. It is common for nurseries to propagate seedlings in a mix of manure and soil but not usual for all the seedlings to die when transplanted into gardens. Perhaps the soil conditions in your garden need improving or maybe irrigation practices need review. I suggest that, before planting anything else, you give this some thought, identifying and then resolving any issues there may be.

Q. I reside in Karachi and have an issue with my papaya tree. I got an imported papaya plant three years back and it started fruiting last year. The issue is that the fruit stays small and green and even if they begin changing colour they fall off. I think that crows may be responsible for the fallen fruit but what about the small size?

Trailing double petunia with trailing lobelia
Trailing double petunia with trailing lobelia

A. To prevent crows from detaching the papayas you need to either net the tree — buying old net curtaining from the bazaar and using this, perhaps on some kind of support frame, is one way or contriving a bird scarer using old tin cans / old DVDs may work but crows are highly intelligent birds and may, in time, learn to ignore them.

Regarding the size, feeding the tree with a mulch — laid around but not in direct contact with the trunk — of old, well-rotted, organic manure / organic compost, may assist as the minerals / nutrients it contains will slowly be taken down into the ground by the combination of hard-working insects and of watering.

Watering the tree when fruit is forming is essential for healthy, good size, fruit development. Immature fruit drops off if a tree is not watered correctly: never allow the soil to completely dry out between waterings and never flood the ground either. Evening watering, little and often, is the way to go. If, however, the variety is a small fruited one, nothing you do will alter this basic fact.

Q.I want to grow olive trees in Noorpur Thal, district Khushab where soil is very sandy and also in Noorpur city where soil is not sandy. Is this possible and how to go about it please?

A. Please refer to this column in the Jan 17, 2016 issue that can easily be found on the Dawn website or via an internet search. That column was devoted to the cultivation of olives throughout Pakistan.

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

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 13th, 2016