Below are my responses to 3 gardening questions published in the last instalment of the Root Awakening column for Mar 2010.
The first question asked why the flower buds of a new pot of African violet had turned brown. Note that newly imported African violets from a cooler area may be shocked when they arrive in hot, tropical Singapore and this will cause its flower buds to turn brown. Also, avoid wetting the flower buds and locate the plant in a bright and well-ventilated area at home/office. Remove dead flower buds promptly by cutting the flower stalk at the base.
Plants are often potted in a peat-based substrate and that can retain too much water. You may want to carefully transplant the plant after all flowers have faded by first removing the soil around the roots and repotting it in a better draining soil mix. You can buy a commercial African violet mix and combine 1 part of this mix with 1 part of perlite and 1 part of vermiculite to enhance drainage.
African violets often rot when they are over-watered. You can water them via the saucer method and water only when the soil mix feels dryish and you can do this by poking your finger into the soil mix to feel for moisture.
The second question was about the care of a potted pussy willow plant bought during the Lunar New Year. The reader reported that water flowed straight out from the pot when he tried to give water to the potted plant. Water probably flowed out as the root ball has dried and caked up and hence does not permit water to infiltrate it. In such a case, one would need to soak the root ball in water to thoroughly moisten it. Since the root ball is wet, withhold watering for the next few days and situate the plant in a well-lit and well-ventilated area. Don’t allow the root ball to dry out totally again. Note that pussy willows are trees belonging to the temperate climate. They won’t do well in Singapore and are not rewarding to grow here. It is best treated them as festive plants for decorating the home for Lunar New Year which can be discarded when they start to decline.
The last question asked how one can propagate the torch ginger plant. The part of the torch ginger plant that is sold in the wet market is its unopened flower buds which are used for rojak. That cannot be used for propagation of the plant. Rhizomes of this plant are not used in food and are hence not sold in the market. One can visit any large nursery to buy a young plant to grow. Remember to grow this plant in a semi-shaded area in the ground with soil that is fertile and kept moist at all times. Avoid a windy area. Plants should flower in 1 to 2 years if well-taken care of.