GARDENING: ‘PLANT BUGS ARE BITING US’

Published November 14, 2021
Recycled crates for growing plants in | Photos by the writer
Recycled crates for growing plants in | Photos by the writer

Q. I live in Karachi and I’m searching for some things to recycle that are suitable for growing plants in. Can you give me an idea where to find these things?

A. Wooden or plastic vegetable and fruit boxes are often available from the bazaars and outside wholesale markets. These items, lined with old newspaper, are ideal for growing numerous kinds of plants in. You can also ask your local tin/ bottlewallah to keep his eyes open for useable large tins and other discarded objects that can be used to grow plants in. If he can earn an extra few rupees by selling such usable items to you, he will be more than happy to keep you supplied until you have to tell him to stop!  

Q. In our home in Karachi, our bedroom window opens on to the balcony, which has 20 to 25 plants of different varieties. We have noticed insects smaller than ants crawling on the bed. They bite, causing pain and itching. We are sure that they are coming from the plants which we don’t want to get rid of. What can we do to resolve this problem?

Fragrant oranges
Fragrant oranges

A. Presuming that you already have mosquito mesh on your windows and doors, you need to ensure that the balcony is kept scrupulously clean. Make sure that there is never any water lying around even in a plant saucer, as these biting insects will use it to breed in exactly the same way as mosquitoes do. Again, just like mosquitoes, they will also breed in/on damp or overly wet soil and underneath any fallen plant debris which offers them shade and protection. Keep plant hygiene at maximum level, remove all fallen leaves and other plant debris on a daily basis and be careful to give your plants only as much water as they need and no more. If all else fails, invest in a can of bio-friendly fly spray to use inside your bedroom as and when required.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. My covered courtyard in Karachi has a big skylight in a 22-ft high ceiling. Inside the courtyard is a plant bed big enough to house a tree. The courtyard is normally ventilated through exhausts at the top, but we air-condition the space in extreme summers. Is it possible to plant an orange tree there? If yes, how can I do that and how do I take care of it?

A. The courtyard area sounds delightful but, unfortunately, not as far as an orange tree is concerned. Orange trees struggle in Karachi at the best of times, although lemons and even grapefruit can do quite well. The major problem though is the use of air-conditioning, because only a few trees might thrive in a growing area in which the temperature and humidity range from hot and humid to distinctly chilly and dry at the flick of a switch.

An old teapot makes a perfect plant home
An old teapot makes a perfect plant home

Q. Can amla (Indian gooseberry), shikakai (soap-pod) and reetha (Chinaberry) be grown in Karachi? If yes, in which season should they be planted?

A. I cannot say for sure that these will grow in Karachi. But if you can track down seeds or even seedlings, they are well worth trying. I have heard of amla and shikakai being grown in Punjab and believe that reetha grows there too but, honestly speaking, I have no personal experience of their cultivation.

Q. Whenever we go to the Murree hills, we pick what the locals call grainday. These are sweet, black berries that grow on bushes. What is their botanical name and can they be grown in Islamabad?

A. Berberis lycium is the botanical name of grainday, the fruit-bearing berberis species growing in the Murree hills. The soil and climate in Islamabad is not suitable for the cultivation of this hardy upland species of shrub.

Q. I want to plant some fast-growing trees in the Sehwan Sharif area. The climate is harsh and it is not possible for me to water the trees every day. Please suggest some kind of tree or trees that will tolerate such conditions.

A. Salvadora oleoides, acacia nilotica, prosopis cineraria, tamarix aphylla and ziziphus mauritiana are all tree species meeting your requirements. They must be watered at least twice a week for the first six months of their lives to help them get established. To make watering easy, I suggest you utilise the matka (clay pot) irrigation method, which has been written about in previous columns. g

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, November 14th, 2021

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