GARDENING: ‘HOW CAN I PROTECT MY PLANTS FROM ANTS?’

Jun 28 2020

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Cassia nodosa | Photos by the writer
Cassia nodosa | Photos by the writer

Q. I have a ficus plant in a pot and it is under attack by an army of ants. I have already lost one star ficus plant due to an ant colony in its pot. What do you suggest I do to get rid of them permanently?

A. The ants are not attacking your plants but simply nesting in the relatively soft soil of what is, to them, a conveniently provided ‘safe home’ in beneficial surroundings. Unfortunately, plants and ants cohabiting in the same plant pot do not, as you know to your cost, get along. Encourage the ants to move out by mixing one litre water with one teaspoon washing up liquid (an eco-friendly one is best) and pour half of this on to the soil around the plant. The ants should immediately begin to move home, so best to perform this operation somewhere outside. As soon as this first half litre has drained through the pot, pour in the rest and leave the pot to drain for a day or two, by which time the ants should have gone. Keep ants out of your plant pots by sprinkling pure peppermint oil around them or, if you cannot obtain this, try sprinkling cinnamon powder around the pots as this generally drives ants away.

Q. I intend to prepare soil for a lawn as well as for a four feet green belt by the roadside outside our new house in Rawalpindi. Please advise what type of soil should be used, and up to what depth should it be laid. Kindly also advise trees and plants for both.

A. For the lawn, four to six inches of soil is sufficient and, for the greenbelt, eight to 12 inches is required. The ideal soil mix, for both, is 40 percent river sand, 40 percent top quality soil, 10 percent organic compost, 10 percent old, well-rotted, manure all mixed to a fine tilth with any visible roots, stones and other debris removed. It is not possible to recommend specific tree species — but do opt for indigenous ones please — without knowing anything about the location as a whole: for example, the presence of underground/overhead cables, etc. As for other plants, it depends on the size and shape of the planting areas, how many hours of direct sunlight they receive and whether you prefer perennial (permanent) or annual (seasonal) flowers and shrubs. Please submit full information about these points so that relevant suggestions can be made in a future column.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. Please suggest some summer flowering trees, native to Pakistan that will grow in the harsh environment of Federal B Area, Karachi.

A. Amaltas, Cassia nodosa (Pink mohr) and Poinciana regia (Gul mohr) are the first three to come to mind.

Q. Is there any way at all that I can grow an olive tree in my Karachi garden. If so, where can I obtain a sapling?

A. Olives are being grown by a few dedicated gardeners in Karachi and Malir and, reportedly, they are fruiting too. I suggest that you ask your local nursery to source saplings for you during the planting season next winter.

Raat ki Rani
Raat ki Rani

Q. Can olives be grown in the Potohar region?

A. Yes, they can, with the correct soil preparation, soil maintenance and irrigation.

Q. What is Elderberry called in Urdu and where can I get plants?

A. I believe it is called Bazuraga in Punjabi if that helps. Plants can be found in nurseries around Rawalpindi but, as you haven’t mentioned your location, I do not know if this is suitable for you. More information about elderberry bushes is in the issue of the magazine published on February 16, 2013.

Q. I love foxgloves and lupins. Can you guide me how to grow them in Karachi please?

A. I adore them too! Sadly, however, they are not suitable for growing in the Karachi climate.

Q. I live in Karachi and my garden has sun for most of the day. In this month, can I plant any shrubs or flowering plants such as allamanda or Raat ki Rani or hibiscus? Or is it too hot to plant anything.

A. As long as the plants are pot-grown in the nursery (not being grown directly in the ground), you can buy them now and either enjoy them in their pots until next winter and then plant them, or take a chance and plant them out, being extremely careful not to damage the roots, during the summer monsoon season.

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, June 28th, 2020