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An ode to spring

June 12, 2016

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Passion fruit
Passion fruit

Q. I have one pomegranate tree and it blossoms well. The problem is that much of the blossom falls and many of the fruit which sets fall too. The few fruit left split before maturity and are blackish inside. What is the cause of these problems and how to resolve them? Additionally, when and how the tree should be pruned?

A. So many people have this problem with pomegranates yet the solution is so simple. Basically, it is all down to maintaining a regular watering routine. Pomegranate trees, when in blossom, when setting or developing their luscious fruit, need plenty of water and if they don’t get it, they have a tendency to shed flowers and fruit in protest. Never let the soil completely dry out around the tree roots at any point from blossom through to harvesting the fruit. This is not to say that the soil should be drowned — it shouldn’t, as it can cause problems such as root rot — nicely dampish will do just fine. Mulching around the tree helps conserve this essential moisture during hot weather.

Depending on how water retentive the soil is, water every two or three days throughout this crucial period. Allowing the soil to dry out and then flooding it, does more harm than good. The thirsty tree will take up water at a faster rate than developing fruit can deal with, while too much water all at once causes fruit to split. Splitting is also common after rains and in periods of extreme humidity. The moment a pomegranate splits, be it immature or mature, air borne-pathogens get inside, and hence the black mould appears. Regular watering in a sensible amount is the solution. Pomegranate trees do not require pruning other than the careful cutting away of any dead or diseased branches / twigs and this is best done over the winter season.


Take advantage of two spring seasons in the country and grow flowers that will bloom longer


Q. I plan on creating a rooftop garden and was thinking about including grapevines but you have written, in a past column, that grapevines should be transplanted during late winter and I want something right now. Can you suggest other suitable plants? I live in Okara and the temperature is almost the same as in Lahore or slightly higher.

A. Fruiting vines, of any kind, should not be transplanted when in full growth, in blossom or when bearing fruit. All are best transplanted during the winter months when they are resting. This applies to Passiflora edulis, (passion fruit) and to kiwi fruit as well as to grapes. Please be patient on this front and wait until the correct transplanting season comes around. In the scorching heat of the summer months — this heat is magnified on unprotected rooftops — it is unwise to transplant even flowering vines as they may simply shrivel up and die. It is best if you keep your project on hold until late autumn when cool weather moves in and then to put the infrastructure, climbing supports for instance, in place ready for a major transplanting season come winter. I understand that you are eager to make a start but it is really best to wait. Meanwhile, to keep your morale up, put some seasonal pot plants in place and enjoy those as much as you possibly can.

Grapes
Grapes

Q. On approaching seed sellers we are told that seeds of Coreopsis, Nicotiana, Matricaria and Tagetes are sown from August while you have suggested sowing them from February. This is confusing. Please explain.

A. Here in Pakistan we are blessed with what can be called two spring seasons. The first spring season is the traditional spring period which follows winter and the second ‘spring’ period is, in most parts of the country (with the exception of upland areas such as the Murree Hills and the northern regions where winter is bitterly cold and snowy), the time generally known as autumn. Both of these ‘springs’ are treated as major planting seasons. Fast growing annual plants, such as those you have named above, can be sown during both of these ‘spring’ periods. From a February sowing, for instance, Tagetes will bloom all summer (providing they have water) and, in the plains and coastal regions, if sown from August onwards, will flower during winter and on into spring. The majority of seed sellers do not, unfortunately, seem to be aware of this fact.

Q. I have an eggplant creeper which survived a summer and started fruiting the second year. The fruit is initially purplish green and turns bright yellow as it grows larger. I am confused whether it is edible or poisonous. I live in Dubai.

Aubergine
Aubergine

A. Eggplants, aubergines or brinjals are not, to the best of my knowledge, creepers. They are upright, bushy plants that generally fruit within three to four months of growing from seed. The plants usually die back after fruiting and do not grow again the following year. I am puzzled as to what species of creeper you are growing. Please do not eat it unless someone — perhaps a plant nursery there — identifies it correctly and can tell you if it is edible or not.

Q. Is the climate of Gujrat suitable for growing tamarind?

A. Tamarind — imli — is worth a try in your area although, depending how low winter temperature drops, young trees may need protection over their first two to three years.

Q. How can it be verified that suckers / runners have formed strong root systems and are therefore ready to be cut from the parent plant.

A. When suckers / runners have made four to six leaves of their own, this is a good indication that their own root system is strong enough for them to be cut away from the parent plant and be grown on alone.

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, June 12th, 2016