The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 2, 2000
Garden Life

Know your plants
By Satish Narula

MOST peole grow plants at home but are still ignorant about proper gardening practices. Though they are able to find answers to most of their queries through their own experiences, but some remain unaddressed as they are neither answered by experts nor contained in any book.

Let us start with the example of a papaya tree. Though it is difficult to be sure about the gender of the tree yet an identification of male trees is essential as letting a number of male trees grow is a waste. Do not, however, underestimate the importance of male trees. While sometimes both male and female flowers grow on the same plant or both sexes may be present in the same flower, but there are those trees that have only female flowers and need a male plant nearby. Sugh plants help increase productivity.

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A male papaya treeHowever, most people cannot distinguish between male and female trees. (See the accompanying picture). Male flowers are borne on long, wire-like twigs, whereas female or hermaphrodite flowers are attached near the mainstem, either singly or in tows or threes. These are also bigger in size than their male counterparts. One male tree is generally sufficient for 10 other trees, the rest can be cut.

Another frequent complaint is that the kinnow fruit is of poor quality. This is hardly surprising considering that most kinnows are plucked raw. Kinnows tend to change colour very early, i.e. in late October whereas it is ready for harvesting only in January. The ripened look is deceptive and you should be careful not to pluck the fruit until it is ready.

In the case of chiku, too, the gardener may find it difficult to decide when to pluck the fruit. It does not ripen on the tree and has to be kept wrapped in newspapers for three to four days. The stage for plucking is masked mostly by the size of the fruit. Compare the size of the fruit on the tree with what you see in the market. Another way is to scratch the skin a little to see the colour of the flesh underneath. If it is yellowish it means that the fruit is ready for harvest, if it is green, then you should wait a little. Tasting the berry at the tip of a bunch of grapes will tell you whether the rest of the bunch is ready or not.

I am often asked whether goat blood makes grapes red or broken bricks give colour to anar. No, never. The colour of fruit is genetically determined although the extent of pigment development may be influenced by the climate.