Strawberry fruits in 100 days
Rajbir Singh

STRAWBERRY is a temperate fruit crop, but can be grown in sub-tropical and tropical regions. Its commercial cultivation is limited in the North by the extreme climate and lack of adequate knowledge about its cultivation. It is the only fruit that starts paying back in 100 days of planting. The plants are susceptible to frost and low temperature. Hence, it requires protection from frost and cold winds during winter. The growth of the plant is also affected during summer due to high temperature, which hinders runner production. Extreme climatic conditions can be countered by plasticultural techniques like mulching, use of low plastic tunnels and micro-irrigation systems. Low plastic tunnels and mulching during winter help in reducing the impact of cold. Micro-sprinklers help in maintaining proper micro-climatic conditions in summer.

Strawberry plants should be raised on beds for proper drainage and easy intercultural operations. Beds 25 cm high and 1 m wide can be made 50 cm apart. The runners should be planted in the second fortnight of September at a spacing of 25 x 25 cm, with four rows of plants per bed. About 35,000-40,000 runners are required in one acre.
During early growth, irrigation should be done through micro-sprinklers, which facilitate early establishment of the plant. During the reproductive phase, micro-sprinklers are replaced by drip irrigation, which helps in uniform and timely watering and facilitates fertigation.

The plants demand a lot of nutrients throughout the fruiting season. Water-soluble fertilizers should be applied through the drip system, at an interval of 15-20 days for higher nutrient use and better fruit size. Mulching is an important practice as it helps in keeping the fruit clean and prevents rotting of fruit due to soil contamination. Black plastic mulching is considered best. Mulching should be done before flowering. Holes should be made in the plastic sheets to keep the plants above the sheet and the drip system below. During winter, the plants should be protected from wind during night by putting up plastic tunnels over the bed with the help of wires. The plant starts fruiting in three to four months after planting. The fruit should be harvested carefully and placed in shallow plastic trays. By following proper cultural practices, 8 or 10 tonne of fruit can be had from an acre.

Strawberry is usually propagated from runners produced on established plants. After the reproductive phase, mulching is removed from the beds and the plants are allowed to produce runners on the beds. Apart from fruit, surplus runners can also be sold to generate additional income.


Drape your Garden in a riot of colour
By Satish Narula

AT certain times of the year, gardens display a riot of colours, mostly contributed by seasonal or annual plants. But the bonanza is short-lived, and there is a long gap thereafter. However, to fill the void, there are shrubs with their glorious display of blooms that last for a longer period and, if judiciously selected, put forth blooms one after the other.

Unlike the plants that flower in summer and winter, the shrubs are planted only once, and are least demanding. These are hardy in nature, and take pruning well if the need is to contain them. This character of some of the shrub species has been exploited to create excellent topiary. The more you clip or subject such plants to pruning, the denser they become. Since shrubs are also favored for ornamental foliage, they are a source of great pleasure to the planter. Some of the shrubs are a favorite with Ikebana lovers for there is no dearth of material for decoration as these shrubs are found in plenty.

A list of such shrubs is too exhaustive and far beyond the scope of this write up, but besides bougainvillea, mussaenda, Iscora, poinsettia, Euphorbia etc., there are others that have not been exploited.

Calliandra is liked both for its graceful foliage and beautiful powder-puff-like flowers that appear in abundance. They come in crimson, red or pure white, and completely envelope the shrub twice a year. The one with pinkish powder puff-like flowers does well even in slight shade.

If you are looking for a shrub that bears flowers in abundance, and almost throughout the year, then go in for Caesalpinia pulcherrina, commonly called ‘gulmohri’. The shrub grows to a height of two to three metres, and bears scarlet or orange red flowers. Since its flowers appear at the top of the twigs, the plant is also called ‘peacock flower’.

There are certain hedge plants, which are associated with the hills. They usually grow in Solan or Chail, but with a little care you can grow some in the plains too. Hydrangea is one such shrub. It bears pink or blue flowers. Those who understand the ways to derive the best out of this plant prune it in such a way that it forms a ball on the ground. When flowers appear it looks like a big ball in bloom. In the plains, it should be planted at a place where it gets only the full morning sun. Otherwise it should be under the shade of a medium high-crowned tree.There are shrubs like Cassia-alata, which bear bright yellow flowers at the ends of its twigs.  Bunches stand erect and are the gardeners’ delight.


Plants get neglected in Off-Season
Satish Narula

WE generally forget a plant once it has borne fruit or flowers till the time it is again slated to bear fruit the next year. The result is that poor quality of fruit or flowers are borne in the next cycle.

After a tree bears fruits, it gets exhausted. During the rest period, it recuperates to prepare itself for the next cycle. Any setback at this stage tells upon the health of the plant, which starts declining, leading to bearing of poor quality crop.

At times, the damage caused is irreparable as in the case of citrus fruits where a condition called ‘citrus decline’ sets in. It becomes difficult to rejuvenate or revive the affected trees.

Plant diseases are of so many kinds and appear at different times of the year. Though we tend to take care of the problems that appear during or just before fruit bearing, we become oblivious to the problems that the tree has to brave during the off-season. It is necessary to keep in mind that the plant build-up during the off-season is responsible for its bearing quality fruit the next year.

Not many people know that the main diseases in grapes appear after the harvest in June. Though diseases like cercospora leaf spot, Anthracnose or die-back, etc, get carried from the diseased parts during the growth and bearing stage, these get aggravated during the rains. There should be no negligence in plant protection. Any neglect tells upon the health of the vine, which manifests itself in premature leaf fall and damage to branches. The incidence of die-back is so high that during pruning most of the potential fruit-bearing branches have to be removed and there is hardly any branch left on the vine.

To prevent this, spray Bavistin (1 gm in a litre of water) during mid-July, mid-August and mid-September. The spraying will also take care of downy mildew, which also assumes serious proportion after the rainy season, causing premature defoliation.

Similarly, in case of mango, Anthracnose or twig die-back have to be kept under check after fruit bearing. Branches that show spots of canker or dead branches should immediately be removed. You can spray Captan (2 gm in a litre of water) during August.

It is not only in fruit trees that such precautions are taken, the flowering plants and shrubs too need similar treatment. Let us take the example of one of the most common plants in a garden — the rose. The black spot on leaves appears sporadically throughout the year. Its incidence is more during summer and the rainy season when we usually forget this plant. Black spot with a yellow ‘halo’ appears on leaves. The fungus responsible for this emits ethylene, causing enhanced ageing of leaves and premature leaf fall. Even during the flowering period if the foliage shows black spots, it lowers the commercial value of the bloom. Moreover, who would like to keep a disease-infested bloom in a vase?


Care for Roses
Satish Narula

SOON enough, one fine day, your mali will very proudly tell you that he has done a ‘good job’ of exposing the roots of roses for ‘feeding’ and ‘exposure to the sun’. But this may cause damage to the plants.

This is the time when pruning of roses is carried out. The first step in this process is removing of the earth around the plants which is then kept open for about a week. Later farmyard manure is stuffed around the plant roots and watering is done. Nothing could be more damaging for the roots than subjecting them to such a treatment. In this process, the feeder roots, that are very thin and delicate and confined to the upper soil layer get either completely severed or damaged. The injured roots get the soil-borne pathogen infestation and die later.

The roots do not need exposure to the sun. By nature, these are photo-negative and move towards deep soil and darkness. Moreover, there is no need to spoonfeed the plant by placing manure or fertiliser near the roots. All fertilisers and the nutrients present in the manure are water soluble and are taken up by the plant roots from the soil. Damage to the roots year after year leads to slow decline of the plants that start dying one after another.

For the purpose of pruning, retain four to five skeletal shoots near the base and then the outward going shoots or buds, near which cutting can be done. Cut the higher old shoots, leaving three to four buds on each. Do not forget to apply disinfectant at the cut end. In case of standard roses, the first shoot in which case starts at a height of 1m, the principle is the same but the emphasis is also on the balance of the plant which should be uniform.

It is difficult to get roses by their name as most of the nurseries keep the plants with no distinction. The only way they can be identified is by the colour of the bud which at times appear at the nursery stage.

In case you can get the plants by name, ask for red Christian Dior, Mr Lincoln, Friendship, Super Star, Raktima, American Heritage, for yellow blooms, Golden Giant, Buccaneer, for pink flowers, Queen Elizabeth, First Lady and First Love, for orange blooms Folklore and Elite, for white blooms Summer Snow, Iceberg and Evening Star, for bicolour blooms Kiss of Fire and Sea Pearl are good. The only one nearest to blue is Blue Moon which is pigeon blue or ice blue and nearest to black is Oklohoma.

Immediately after pruning, feeding is done. For this purpose add 5 kg of farmyard manure along with 300 gram superphosphate and 150 gram muriate of potash in an area of 1 sq m. Split the nitrogen dose by adding CAN (kisan khad), 1 tbsp now, a similar dose one month later and repeat the same dose two months later.

Rose is essentially a sun-loving plant and should be planted in a sunny location. Immediately after procuring the plants, put them in pre dug, filled pits of two feet dimension. Keep the distance between plants at 2.5 feet and 3 feet.

This time we give you an interesting assignment. Do the budding of roses on unrooted rootstock (culm) while sitting in your room and plant them in polybags, keeping the soil moist. Insert the cutting two-thirds into the medium. You will see that the roots and the bud grow simultaneously and you get the plant ready for planting within a few weeks.


Winters are Dahlia days
Satish Narula

WINTER offers a range of gorgeously coloured, long-lasting (vase life) and free blooming cut flowers. Among these easy-to-cultivate flowers is the dahlia. This flower is available in the single or double variety and is brilliantly coloured.

Dahlia is suitable for both bed planting for mass effect and for pot cultivation. Of late, dwarf varieties have also been available that can be used for edge planting. The plant has a range of flowers like the anemones, the formal decorative, informal decorative, showy or double dahlias, pompon dahlias, double cactus, paeony flowered and single dahlias.

The propagation of dahlia is mostly through cuttings grown in sand like any other plants and they have a good success rate. It is also propagated by tubers which one can buy from nurseries. The tubers are sprouted by keeping them on sand or wrapping them in gunny bags. After they get ‘swollen eyes’ or have sprouted, they are cut in pieces , retaining at least one eye or sprout and planted in a bed or pot individually.

Do not forget to treat the cut pieces with bavistin dissolved in water (1 gm to a litre of water). Keeping the tubers dipped for about half an hour in this solution will ensure their survival. Using seeds is another method of planting dahlias but be ready for a surprise if the bloom is not the same or turns out to be single. There may be improvement in the bloom size as the fleshy roots develop over a period of time.

Dahlias need sandy loam soil enriched with a good amount of manure. It should be well-drained when you put the plant in the pot. Add a handful of sand at the base. The pots should be kept in full sunlight. But as the plant grows it has to be kept at a place away from the wind, else the shoots break. Keep removing side shoots. As the plants grow to a height of about 25 to 30 cm they should be staked. Water frequently and liberally.

Do not let the plant sag for want of water. The plants should be planted at a 50-cm distance from each other. When the plants have established themselves, you can add 1 tbsp of CAN (kisan khad) around the stem of each plant. Do a little hoeing to mix it with the top soil and give water. Add a similar dose a month later.

The dahlia remains comparatively free from pests. However, as the effect of the flower and pot depends upon the foliage supporting the bloom, even the basal leaves have to be protected.

Thrips live in the folds of petals or emerging foliage. These insects feed on the sap, cause curling of leaves and shorten the bloom’s life. The leaves thus get distorted. Aphids also cause similar symptoms on leaves. Spraying rogor or metasystox (one millilitre to a litre of water) controls these pests. Repeat after 10 to 15 days.


Short cuts to caring for cut flowers

PICK flowers early in the morning or in the evening — they will last longer. Avoid picking flowers in full bloom. Half-opened buds are the best.

Carry cut flowers with heads down and, if possible, enclose the stems in a plastic bag to keep in the moisture.

Plunge flowers in water Freshly picked or bought flowers (still in their wrappings) will keep longer if they are plunged in a bucket or sink of water right up to the flower heads. Leave for at least one hour, longer if possible, overnight is ideal. Avoid crowding the flowers together.

For a handy flower holder, use crumpled wire or a cut potato. You can even use a few large hair rollers.

Keep flowers water sweet by putting a piece of charcoal in the water.

Standing in hot or boiling water is particularly recommended for woody stems, and for roses, bluebells, clematis, hollyhocks and hydrangeas. Protect delicate petals from the steam: put the hot water in a bucket, cover with tissue paper or newspaper and punch holes in it. Insert the flower stems through the holes and fold the paper over and pin into place. Limp flowers may revive if you trim their stems by 1 cm/1/2 inch and then plunge the stem ends into boiling water. A soak under hot water will stiffen most foliage. Leave overnight then drain on newspaper. Do not soak grey-coloured foliage.

Buying flowers: Do not choose any that have been standing in the sun. Stems should be freshly cut, not slimy or dark in color. Avoid buying spring flowers such as tulips, if the petals are a little transparent, and avoid any flowers if the pollen is dropping.

Keep vases scrupulously clean: Sterilize them with a weak solution of household bleach. Water in glass vases becomes foul more quickly, than say china, because sunlight hastens bacterial activity.

Strip leaves off before arranging flowers; leaves under water in a vase will make it foul.

Wild flowers: Only pick from places where they are plentiful. Use scissors to cut the flowers do not tear the stems. Shake off any moisture and place heads first in a polythene bag. Blow into the bag and do up with a rubber band. Alternatively, wrap the flowers in a newspaper, covering the heads. When you get home, trim the stems slightly and plunge into tepid water up to the heads.

Flower arrangements should be kept out of the full sun, away from fires and radiators. Never place flowers or plants on top of your television—they don’t like the heat and the water is dangerous. Also avoid strong lamps (because of the heat) and draughts. Some flowers such as carnation do not like being near fruit. Spray flower arrangements at night, or cover them with damp muslin. They will last longer if you change the water regularly.


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 (Articles culled from Online edition of "The Tribune", courtesy  respective authors.)