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Stunning roses | Photos by the writer
Stunning roses | Photos by the writer

Q. Despite my best efforts, I have failed to cultivate roses in my garden in Defence, Karachi. The mali says that roses cannot be grown here due to the sea breeze. Is the situation hopeless or is there, somehow, a chance?

A. Roses can be grown — and very successfully too — in your locality providing that special care and attention is continuously provided. If the soil is very saline, try growing them in large clay pots/containers and give them adequate protection from strong winds. If you require more details, please explain the specific problems you face.

Q. I planted several fruit trees around my house on the outskirts of Rawalpindi. Amongst them are some peach trees which are fruiting for their second year but I have noticed that their leaves are curling. I am worried about how to resolve this issue as I am making an effort to use only organic methods and materials in my garden. Can you advise?

A. Peach leaf curl is a common problem, one which can affect nectarine and almond trees as well. It is caused by an airborne fungal infection called Taphrina deformans, the spores of which lie dormant in crevices in the bark and soil around the tree over the winter months. They wake up and attack new leaves, buds and blossoms in the spring and are especially active in wet/humid weather.

Spores are carried long distances by the wind and infections can rapidly spread from one garden/orchard, to another. However, you will be delighted to know that there are organic remedies. Immediately, even if the trees are fruiting, spray all parts of the trees with either 5ml neem oil or 5ml oregano oil mixed with four litres water, repeating every three weeks until fruit has been harvested. Then wait until the tree has shed its leaves — early to mid-winter — and spray with a purely organic liquid copper fungicide with a repeat spray just as buds begin to form in spring.

All your gardening queries answered

If you are unable to find an organic copper fungicide, then use neem or oregano oil again. Neem and oregano oil in no way poison the tree, the fruit or the soil, but are best sprayed late in evening so that honey bees and other useful insects are not harmed. Additionally, keep the area around the base of the trees clear of fallen fruit/leaves — these may harbour spores — and dispose of this debris in the garbage bin, not in the compost heap.

Q. My beloved husband is buried in the Christian graveyard in Karachi. It is a low-lying, water logged place and I would like to plant a tree, preferably a flowering species, to beautify the grave. Please suggest a tree — or large bush — that will grow in such conditions.

A. The very tough Tulip tree (Thespesia populnea) is eminently suitable for the conditions you describe. It is a fairly fast growing, saline-tolerant tree of medium height with heart-shaped leaves and pretty, pale yellow ‘tulip’ flowers on and off around the year. It will also withstand periods of drought. Persian lilac (Melia azadarach), a small tree with bunches of pale blue flowers in spring, followed by orange berries, is another possibility, as is Indian laburnum (Cassia Fistula) — also known as Amaltas — with bright yellow racemes of flowers in spring.

Sago palm
Sago palm

Q. I have a small garden in which I want to grow some vegetables. Which ones can be sown in Defence, Karachi, nowadays?

A. Please refer to this column on the first Sunday of each month for advice on what to sow during that particular month.

Q. I live in a flat in Karachi and am looking for some flowering, air purifying plants to decorate the interior of my almost-sunless home. Please provide suggestions along with their common and Urdu names.

A. Spider plant (Chlorophytum), mother-in-law’s tongue (Sanseveria), snake plant, money plant (Pothos aurea) and peace lily (Spathipyllum), all meet your needs and are simple to care for.

Q. I have a 10-year-old sago palm in my Lahore garden. Last winter its fronds started curling so I put both Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) and manganese as foliar spray and soil fertiliser. The new leaves, however, are still curled. My mali says the palm is finished but I want to save it. How can I do this, please?

A. Your sago palm — also known as Kungi palm (Cycas revolute) — is, for some reason, badly stressed. The treatment you gave is, if the problem is nutrient deficiency, correct but it could be that, over the years, soil around the roots has become so compacted that drainage has been adversely affected. If sago palm roots become waterlogged they cannot take up the oxygen they need. Leaf curl can be a sign of this problem. Not knowing your garden, I cannot suggest how to improve drainage but can recommend that, at least as an interim measure, you cut right back on irrigation until a long-term solution is in place.

Q. At which time of the year do money plants like to enjoy a rest?

A. Unlike some other perennial plants, geranium and fuchsia for example, money plant (Pothos aurea) does not need to take a break, primarily because it does not expend energy on forming flowers.

Q. Can you please suggest a pesticide to remove ‘sundy’ from a lemon tree in Karachi?

A. No chemical pesticide is necessary: simply spray the tree, thoroughly, with warm soapy water each evening, towards sunset, for three days and then once a week until all signs of ‘invasion’ have disappeared.

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. Commercial enquiries will be ignored.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 20th, 2018