Q. I planted three almond trees at our house in Quetta but the problem is that in summer the leaves begin to look like they have been roughly squeezed. This enigma goes on until autumn and the almonds drop off and are wasted. Can you kindly suggest a solution?
A. You have described a classic example of the fungal disease taphrina deformains, more commonly known as ‘Peach leaf curl’. This unsightly disease affects most members of the Prunus family of plants such as peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and, as you clearly demonstrate, almonds too.
The fungal spores which cause it are spread from one tree to another, from one orchard to the next, and so on, by wind, rain, high humidity. Also, warm to hot weather conditions can severely weaken infected trees.
It is possible that the trees were already carrying the disease when purchased, or that the infection was caught from other gardens or orchards in the vicinity. The only way to treat it is by prevention.
The fungal spores over winter on the trees, hiding away in minute cracks in the bark and are invisible to the naked eye. When the trees have shed all of their leaves in autumn, rake up the leaves and either burn them, or tie them in sacks and dispose of them in garbage bins.
Do not add a single leaf to your compost bin / heap otherwise the spores will breed there.
Next, taking great care and wearing protective clothing, including goggles, mask and gloves, spray the entire trees with a copper based or lime sulphur fungicide. Repeat the spray after two weeks. Follow this course of action each autumn and winter for three years and then, unless you see infected trees in your area, you can stop the treatment, but do restart if the disease reappears.
I had the same problem with both almond and peach trees in Bhurban but the trees still produced decent crops. The fallen almonds looked terrible (black and soggy) but were perfectly edible and, to be honest, delicious, after they had been laid out in the sun to dry or buried in a hole in the ground for 10 days, and then dug up and peeled.
Q. Where, in Karachi, can I find good quality, packaged, organic soil for use with indoor plants?
A. Gardening supply stores in Clifton and Defence, as well as Empress market should have what you need.
***Q. Will nasturtiums and Calendulas thrive in Larkana over the hot months?*
A. Provided that they are given plenty of water, in the evening, on a daily basis, then yes, they should do so. Having said this though and with this summer set to be another record breaker, I would suggest growing them in partial shade rather than under the full glare of the sun.
Applying the matkha or recycled plastic bottle drip-irrigation system would help them to thrive and reduce the amount of precious water used in the process.
Some issues can be solved in a jiffy but others take time; read on to see if there’s a solution to your problem here
Q. How do you preserve flower seeds in such a way that they may be planted once the season comes round again? Is there a specific way to plant them after preservation? I reside in Islamabad.
A. Ensure that seeds are fully ripe when harvested. Ripe seeds or pods should drop into your hand or burst open, at the slightest touch. Shaking them directly into a paper bag is a good idea, especially if the seeds are very small.
Next, spread them out on sheets of newspaper, in shallow baskets, or on trays, in an airy place out of direct sunlight for a few days so that any previously undetected moisture can evaporate.
Pack into air tight containers, add sashes of silica gel (as found in some medical and electrical products) if you have them, label and store in a cool, dark place. Sow as per usual when planting season comes back.
If seeds are not 100pc dry they will rot. Remember to save seeds from only the best quality, heritage, open-pollinated flowers. Do not save seed from F1 or F2 hybrids as these rarely produce flowers on the same scale as the parent plants.
Q. In order to get rid of ants, it is said that hot water should be poured into their nesting holes. The question here though is: will plant roots be damaged by this hot water?
A. Good point. Established shrubs and trees will not be harmed, but tender seasonal plant roots may. As an alternative, use a very mild solution of ‘pinky’ — potassium permanganate — dissolved in cool water instead.
Q. What is soil pH and how can it be improved?
A. The pH value of soil relates to its acidity or alkalinity level. ‘Improving’ these levels is relative to the kind of plants you wish to cultivate. This subject will be covered, in full, in a column appearing in a few weeks time.
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine May 22nd, 2016