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Frilly hollyhocks
Frilly hollyhocks

Q. My father and I are passionate about gardening and have a small piece of land, in Barahkahu, Islamabad, solely for growing our own fruits. We have been successful with everything except our three pomegranate trees. We planted them four years ago and they flower and fruit but the fruit bursts open when ripening. We have tried various solutions, but in vain. Can you please help as, having planted them with our own hands, we do not want to cut them down? We love our trees.

A. The problem is water-related and is common with pomegranates, though it can happen with oranges and other citrus too. The young fruit, when setting their outer skin, have not received the amount of water necessary for healthy growth and development. They are thirsty. Typically, the soil around the tree roots dries up before being watered again and perhaps watered heavily. The thirsty tree suddenly gets access to water and greedily sucks up as much as it can, as fast as possible. As this water floods into the ripening fruit, the outer skin — which has already set — cannot cope with this sudden influx of moisture and bursts to release pressure. This sudden bursting can also happen after rainfall.

The trick is to ensure that the soil around the tree never dries out, at any point, when fruit is developing/ripening. A heavy mulch, perhaps four to six inches thick, around the base of the tree trunk but not in direct contact with it, will help retain soil moisture for a longer period of time than bare soil. However, regular watering is essential if fruit bursting is to be prevented.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. I want to plant fig trees in my Karachi garden and maybe replace the Conocarpus trees I planted outside the boundary wall with them. Please guide.

A. Figs, especially the large ‘Turkey figs’, do well in Karachi and the fruit is — it must be netted against hungry birds — delicious. Fig trees have an extensive root system and if this root system is allowed free range, the bush/tree is liable to produce lots of leaves but few figs. Restricting the roots is recommended to obtain good crops of fruit. This can be done by planting in naturally rocky soil, by planting in a specially constructed underground concrete tank or by growing the tree in a very large container and pruning excess growth back during December/January. The latter is the easiest and most cost-effective, where natural rocks are absent. Growing fig trees directly in the ground can be problematic as, left uncontrolled, roots will damage building foundations, boundary walls and service pipes.

Fig trees are best planted during late winter when local nurseries may have them in stock. In an urban location, dwarf fig trees are a better bet than large ones. They enjoy plenty of sun and well-drained soil, but will need regular watering until fully established, after which watering twice a week in Karachi is ample. I would recommend figs inside your garden only as they can have quite a spread and could interfere with footpaths/roads if planted outside your boundary wall, which they may also damage. Remove the Conocarpus by all means but, after renewing the soil, plant something such as Lagerstroemia (Crepe myrtle) instead.

Crepe myrtle
Crepe myrtle

Q. Where can I get the following seeds in Karachi: Tagetes, cosmos, rudbeckia, gaillardia, tithonia, gompherena, gerbera, coleus, balsam, matricaria, hollyhock, dahlia, antirrhinum and kochia?

A. All of these seeds should be easy to find in your local garden supply shop or Empress Market, during their sowing seasons.

Q. I am interested in growing thyme and need advice, please.

A. Much depends on the area of the country in which you live. If in Karachi, seed should be sown very thinly in well-draining compost, in early autumn and the seed trays/pots should be kept just moist and in partial shade. Transplant seedlings in clumps when large enough to handle, and plant out in partial shade or in pots/containers out of the full sun.

Q. I have a jamun tree about seven or eight years old in my Chiniot garden. It has not fruited this season. This may be due to over pruning last winter, salty soil or salty water. What can be done to encourage it to fruit again?

A. If the tree has been over pruned you need to wait for it to regrow to fruiting size once again. As it has happily tolerated saline soil and salty water for so long, this should not adversely affect it now. Please be patient and simply wait for your tree to regrow as it wishes.

Q. I want to start a vegetable garden in Hyderabad, Sindh, but have no idea how to start. The garden area gets sunlight for about two hours and there is very little breeze. There is also an issue with water-logging.

A. The water-logging issue needs to be dealt with before you even think of starting a garden of any kind but, frankly speaking, two hours of sunlight is not enough for the vast majority of vegetables to thrive. Aside from some green leafy ones, most vegetables need an average of at least six hours of sunlight each day.

For general gardening advice, please continue reading this column and submit queries whenever they come to mind. Good luck!

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, EOS, August 11th, 2019