Q. I live in Kirto, district Sheikhupura and have problems growing potatoes. Please provide some tips.

A. From what I recall, the soil in your locality is liable to be heavy clay, which sets like concrete when dry. It may also have a high saline content. Neither of the aforementioned is good for potatoes. To grow them successfully, you need to prepare a special bed containing a very high mix of preferably organic compost, old, well-rotted manure and river sand (not sea sand) with a suggested mix of 25 percent each of these and just 25 percent of the natural clay soil. Excavate the bed to a depth of at least three feet, using the extra clay soil for something else and fill in with the new mix. Alternatively, and this may be easier, dig potato planting trenches, three feet deep, as many trenches as you wish, at a distance of three feet apart, fill these with the recommended soil/compost/sand/manure mixture and plant your potatoes six inches deep in these, earthing the potatoes up as they begin to make leaf. Keep weed free and well-watered and harvest once flowering has finished and the plants have naturally died back. Make a different potato patch each growing season and, in time, you will have improved soil conditions for growing other vegetables throughout your garden.

Q. I planted a desi lemon four years ago and the tree is now full of fruit. The problem is that most of the fruit have rust-coloured spots on them. Can you advise the reason for this and explain what should be done to get clean, healthy fruit next season?

A. Citrus rust is very unsightly and is caused by a minute bug that is difficult, almost impossible, to see with the naked eye. The best, chemical-free, solution is to spray the entire tree, taking care to spray underneath as well as on top of the leaves, immediately after harvesting and before new flower buds start to form. Make up a spray using two tablespoons full of 100 percent pure neem oil, one tablespoon bicarbonate of soda and one gallon of water. Spray in the evening once the sun is off the tree. In addition, ensure that the ground around the tree is kept clear of fallen fruit and other debris, as this could harbour pests/eggs. Hygiene is very important around all fruit trees, as prevention of problems is preferable to curing them.

By the way, the rust-marked lemons should be perfectly clean inside so they can still be used for juice, etc.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. I am a Lahore-based senior citizen and fond of indoor plants. One of my plants with large leaves has a disease, whereby the leaves get rolled up and then die. Is there any treatment to help stop the plant from dying?

A. Without knowing the name of the plant it is difficult to give correct advice. Could it be that the plant is a shade-lover and is currently being exposed to too much direct sunlight and rolling its leaves closed in an attempt at protecting itself? Or perhaps some kind of insect is ‘gluing’ the leaves together and breeding inside. I suggest that you cut off and carefully unroll one of the leaves to see if insects are present. If so, take the plant outside, remove all rolled up leaves, disposing of them in the bin — not in the compost — spray the rest of the plant with warm, soapy water, stand in partial shade and wait to see if new growth appears. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful but, without the plant name, I am stuck.

Q. What are the benefits of raised beds? I am currently reorganising my garden in Multan and am considering including some.

A. Unless your land is subject to water-logging or is highly saline, raised beds are not recommended for the dry, exceptionally hot, climate of Multan as the soil dries out too rapidly. Consider creating sunken beds instead — these were written about here a few weeks ago — as these retain water rather than encouraging it too rapidly to drain away.

Simple to grow from cuttings: Rosa Golden shower | Photo by the writer
Simple to grow from cuttings: Rosa Golden shower | Photo by the writer

Q. I am keen to learn about kitchen gardening as I want to grow lots of vegetables and potatoes. Please give some advice.

A. Read this column each Sunday and also go through the back issues, which can easily be found on the internet.

Q. I am a beginner in gardening. Please guide me as to what seeds I can sow this month in District Charsadda, near Peshawar. My favourite plant is coleus; can I sow the seeds now and can roses be grown from cuttings?

A. A seed-sowing guide for February was provided on the first Sunday of the month and is provided in this column each month throughout the year. Coleus seeds are best sown towards the end of March or in April in your locality. Coleus also grows well from cuttings which root, very quickly, in water. Brought indoors over the winter months, coleus plants can be kept going for quite a number of years as long as they are kept trimmed back — this encourages them to bush out, and flowers are nipped out as soon as they appear. Roses are simple to grow from cuttings.

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, February 24th, 2019