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Q. My needle-leaved croton plant or codiaeum variegatum has flourished for over a year now, under the shade of a tree, in my garden in Lahore. Recently, I noticed that, although still green, its leaves have started to droop. I removed some dracaena varieties growing close to its roots but that hasn’t helped. What can I do to help my croton recuperate?

A. Something has stressed out your croton plant which is why its leaves are drooping prior to falling off. These sensitive, tropical plants need bright light for at least 6 to 8 hours a day, including 2 to 3 hours of direct sunlight. Possibly, the tree under which it is planted, has grown to block necessary light or maybe a sudden change in temperature, from the warmth of autumn to winter chill, is the culprit. The dreadful atmospheric pollution in Lahore is doing the plant no favours either and the density of the smog this year will certainly have adversely affected the quality of light. Crotons hate being moved or having their roots disturbed, so moving the dracaenas may actually have done more harm than good. A dose of nitrogen and potassium-rich, organic fertiliser may help, but the cold of winter is liable to counter any beneficial effect this may have. Sorry to be so negative, but when a croton plant becomes stressed, it is next to impossible to revive it. Feed it, protect it from cold winds, but otherwise leave it be and hope for the best.

Garden peas

Q. I have planted vegetable seeds, in large pots, on my Karachi rooftop. The seeds have germinated, but I can see bugs appearing on the leaves of okra plants. Please advise how to handle this. I do not want to use synthetic fertilisers but I do have an organic composite fertiliser. Can I use seaweed fertiliser on my vegetable plants?  

A. Spray the seedlings with a mixture of 1 soupspoon full of liquid soap/ washing-up liquid with 1litre warm water. Spray underneath as well as on top of the leaves. This gentle treatment should, if repeated 2 to 3 times a week, irradicate the bugs. Spray in early morning, rather than in the evening chill, and keep spraying until the bugs completely disappear. If the soapy water spray fails, upgrade to garlic spray and, if that also fails, then try chilli/ hell-fire spray. Recipes for both of the aforementioned have been given in the column on numerous occasions. Organic seaweed fertiliser is fine for your plants.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. I was recently thinking of growing a pea plant. I read in a children’s magazine that if left in a jar full of water, it will sprout roots. Can I grow this in Peshawar and should I give it compost?

A. Growing a single pea plant in water is an interesting experiment, but if you want to grow peas to eat, it is much better to plant quite a few of them directly in the garden soil. You could also plant them in large pots/ containers of good quality soil mixed with organic compost, or organic animal manure. Soak some dry peas in water overnight, and the following day, plant them in prepared soil/ compost/ manure, at a depth of about 5cm. Allow 5cm between each pea and plant in rows about 30cm apart. Keep them watered but do not flood them. The plants will need long sticks or netting to climb up. If you plant them right now, you should have lots of delicious peas to eat in the spring.

Sun-warmed peaches | Photos by the writer

Q. Is a hop shoots plant a vegetable, or a shrub, and can it be grown in Gilgit Baltistan? How is it propagated and in which markets are its seeds or plants available?

A. Hops or humulus lupulus is a perennial vine and its shoots are eaten as a vegetable. Hop shoots are a very expensive delicacy in some parts of the world. The vine develops tuberous roots which, in time, can be divided up into lots of new plants. It can also be grown from seed and, having originated in cold, northern climes, it should do well in your location. Unfortunately, I have never seen or heard of hops being cultivated in Pakistan and I suspect that you would need to import the seeds. You could try asking the Agricultural Research Council for assistance with this.

Q. I have a 10-marla (250sq-yards) plot in Gujrat which I want to turn into an orchard and a vegetable garden. Please suggest suitable tree species. I am a complete beginner and would appreciate advice from you.

A. Citrus trees do well in your locality as long as there aren’t problems with irrigation or soil salinity. Other fruit trees to consider, in the absence of soil salinity and with reliable irrigation, include: Mangoes, ber (jujube), peaches, apricots, mulberries, guavas and pomegranates. For vegetable-sowing times, please refer to this column on the first Sunday of each month.

Q. I want to create an orchard on a piece of land adjacent to the Super Highway, about 70 kilometres from Karachi. Which type of fruit grows best in that area?

A. If there is plentiful irrigation, mangoes and guavas are your best bet.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to [email protected] Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 12th, 2021

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