GARDENING: ‘WHY DOES MY DATE PALM DROP ITS FRUIT BEFORE IT IS RIPE?’

18 Oct 2020

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The more trees the better | Photos by the writer
The more trees the better | Photos by the writer

Q. I have a date palm located in Jaswal, District Khushab. The problem is that each season it drops its fruit before it is ripe. What could be the reason for this? Is it overwatering, the climate or something else? Also, please suggest some vegetables suitable for growing in this area as we are not having much success on that front either.

A. If it is a single date palm, it could very well be that hand pollination of the flowers is required in order for the fruit to set properly and be able to remain on the tree long enough to ripen. Alternatively, please keep in mind that whilst newly planted date palms require watering at least twice a week, a mature date palm does not need watering at all. Date palms are, basically, desert palms and dislike being irrigated, rained on and even periods of high humidity.

Lack of success with vegetable growing is likely down to poor soil conditions. Improve the soil by the addition of copious amounts of old, well-rotted, manure and humus-rich, homemade, compost, irrigate as necessary and you should have results. Your location is ideal for a wide variety of vegetables and I suggest you study the seed-sowing guide, provided here on the first Sunday of each month, for guidance.

Q. Please suggest ornamental plants suitable for growing in pots and borders at our school in Islamabad. These ornamentals must last two to three months at least. Also, we want to plant fruit trees, directly in the ground too and need guidance on varieties and when to plant them.

A. For large pots and back of the borders, you may want to consider putting in perennial plants/shrubs for lasting, year-round, interest. These include: Hibiscus, Aralia, Allamanda, Bougainvillea, Eranthemum, Frangipani, Russelia, Ixora, Jatropha, Justica, Kamni, Plumbago, Poinsettia, Chandni, Raat-ki-raani, Thivetia Nerifolia and a selection of roses. In front of these/around these and in pots/borders where small, colourful flowers are preferred, visit your local nurseries and make a selection from the purely seasonal, flowering plants they have on offer: these vary depending on the time of year but there is always something beautiful to be found. Fruit trees are best planted between December and the end of March in your locality and there are many to choose from, with the following being prime examples: peach, nectarine, pomegranate, apricot, plum, persimmon, fig, orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime, kumquat, loquat, guava and mango. It is good news that such planting is being undertaken on school premises and, one hopes, that the opportunity is taken to teach the pupils the art of, preferably organic, gardening.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. In the case of dioecious plants — on which male and female flowers are on different plants — how can the fruit bearing, female plant, be recognised? It is difficult when purchasing species such as papaya and date for example, to know which are male and which are female plants when both are necessary for the female tree to bear fruit.

Seasonal flowers for a colourful display
Seasonal flowers for a colourful display

A. Telling the difference between a male and female papaya tree is quite a simple matter if, that is, you see them when they are flowering. The flowers on a male papaya are borne on thin stems a few inches long which stand out from the main stem of the plant/tree. A female papaya tree bears flowers on very short, thick, stems, close to the main stem/trunk. Date palms are more difficult but, generally speaking, a young female date palm of, for instance, three years old, tends to have a slimmer trunk and taller growth than a male date palm of the same age: the male will have a visibly thicker, shorter and more overcrowded growth habit. Each dioecious tree species has its own peculiarities so, unfortunately, there is no general guide.

Q. I have a five-year-old sharifa tree in my Lahore garden. It is quite healthy, about six feet tall, is watered twice a week in winter and thrice a week in summer. The problem is that it hasn’t yet flowered. Please advice.

A. Custard apple usually fruits after about four years, but it can take a year or two longer. Continue caring for it as you do and keep your fingers crossed that it fruits next year.

Q. Have tried to grow rose apple in Defence Phase 8, Karachi, twice and failed both times. I am now wondering where I am going wrong. The leaves go brown and then the trunk also goes brown and dies. Watering is controlled and the soil is sweet earth mixed with compost. A friend, living in Sea View, bought a sapling from the same nursery as I did, and their’s is flourishing and fruiting now.

A. Plenty of water in summer and very little water in winter is ideal for this tree. Soil/compost sounds fine. One reason could be that your tree is more exposed to wind than your friend’s. Maybe that tree could, if not on the actual sea front, be protected by the buildings around it. This species is not at all happy with wind.

Q. Which trees are suitable for planting on the streets of Faisalabad, Punjab?

A. Kiker, amaltas, arjun, kuchnar, sumbal, pipal, rangeela, okan, sukh chain, bair, toote and jand are all indigenous trees which may suit your purpose but, please ensure that you have obtained all necessary permissions before undertaking any tree planting programme this winter/next spring.

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, Octoberr 18th, 2020