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December 31, 2017


Poinsettia | Photos by the writer
Poinsettia | Photos by the writer

Q. There is a plant with large red flowers that is very popular during this season and I need to know what it is called so that I can ask for it in the nursery. I have only seen it in winter, mainly in December and January. It grows as a pot plant and also outdoors. It is often used on Christmas cards and plastic imitations of this plant are used for Christmas decorations. I want to have one to keep inside my house which I will later plant in my garden. I also need to know how to care for it, how big it will grow and how to propagate it.

A. Poinsettia is the lovely shrub you are referring to and you will be delighted to know that it is easy to grow. The red flowers — these may also be in shades of pink, orange or white — are not really flowers but the colourful new leaves surrounding the tiny, inconspicuous, greenish-yellow flowers which generally appear in December and January. This festive season shrub is perfectly happy in a plant pot but care must be taken not to over water it otherwise it will shed its leaves. Keeping the soil/compost slightly damp is ideal. In the garden, poinsettias grow into a medium sized shrub and need good draining soil/compost in partial shade. After ‘flowering’ is over in February, the stems should be cut back to a mere six inches in height and fast-rooting cuttings can be made from the cut off pieces. In July/August all new shoots are pruned back again by approximately four to six inches to encourage the shrubs to bush out and thus give a dazzling winter display of colour.

Q. I am considering adopting a plant-based diet as part of my cancer treatment and I need help on growing the following in Lahore: broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, all types of peas and beans, moringa, onions, leeks, celery, parsley and watercress. I need to know where to get seeds, watering and soil requirements, space needed, weather exposure and if they can be grown in plastic barrels cut vertically in half.

Your gardening queries answered

A. Seeds should be available in your local market/garden supply store. They can all be grown in the half barrels as long as suitable drainage holes are made. For all other information, please keep an eye on this column, especially the first Sunday of the month when a monthly planting guide is given.

Q. The grass in my lawn is getting black at the roots. Please tell me the reason and the remedy.

A. Root rot, caused by one of the many fungi that are always present in the soil and triggered under certain conditions. Bad drainage, over watering, soil compaction, a lack of nutrition or over-dosing with nitrogen-based fertilisers can each trigger the fungus. I suggest that you aerate the lawn, correct any water-related issues and give it a liquid feed — preferably organic — with a low nitrogen fertiliser, once a month and see if this helps.


Q. I am desperately in need of an indigo plant. Where can I purchase one?

A. Indigofera tinctoria is not generally here. You probably need to do an internet search for seeds and — using the correct channels — import them and grow them yourself.

Q. I have a three to four-year-old henna plant. It has not flowered yet and the leaves are scanty. Is this because it is a male and not a female?

A. Lawsonia inermis, commonly known as henna, is a medium-sized tree when fully grown. It can take eight to 10 years to reach flowering size. Your tree doesn’t sound happy. Re-pot it into top quality, preferably organic, soil/compost, water regularly and be patient please.

Q. I have four papaya trees in my garden but fruits don’t become big but fall off before ripening and I am wondering if it is necessary to have male and female papaya trees near each other for the fruit to develop properly.

A. Yes you do need to obtain just one male papaya tree to cross pollinate with your four female ones for the resultant fruit to be healthy and large. There are self-pollinating papaya trees available in some nurseries now and these are perfect for people with small gardens who only have space for a single one.

Q. I recently noticed that the trunk of my mango tree is oozing reddish fluid at various spots. What can this be and how to treat it? The tree didn’t fruit this year but did so in previous ones. I reside in Lahore.

A. The problem is gummosis and usually happens when a fruit tree is stressed from lack of nutrients, too much/too little water or bad drainage. It needs regular feeding plus attention to watering or drainage issues.

Q. Can Dahlia seeds be sown in the beginning of April for flowering in the later months. How to sow the seeds and will dahlias survive in full shade as I live in Lahore and summer is increasingly hot.

A. Dahlias are winter-spring flowering in Lahore as they will not withstand the intense summer heat there. Seed is usually sown in August or September for flowers from December through until late spring. They thrive in full winter sun and dislike shade. Seed is sown, in top quality, well draining compost/soil, just under the surface and seed trays/pots should be kept damp — not wet — and be in a partially-shaded place until seedlings are established and summer temperatures drop. They can then be potted on or transplanted out.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened. Commercial enquiries will be ignored.

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 31st, 2017