This is the the last instalment of the Root Awakening column for the month of June 2011. Answers to two questions were provided.
The first question was about why the leaves of a frangipani showed signs of drying up. This could be a sign of a mealy bug infestation. One may want to check the undersides of the leaves for an infestation of mealy bugs which suck sap from leaf tissues. They appear as white cottony masses that congregate along the mid-rib and veins of leaves. Leaves that have been attacked often become warped and deformed and they finally dry up and fall off. Control the population of such sucking pests by spraying the underside of leaves with white summer oil (organic) or any other pesticide that is indicated for treatment of mealy bug infestations. You may want to remove and discard badly infested leaves before spraying to reduce the amount of pests to be dealt with.
Another point to add is to check for infection by the rust fungus. Severely infected leaves will eventually dry up and fall off. One should make an effort to remove all infected leaves as the spores from infected leaves will go into the soil and infect other frangipani plants.
The second question was about curling and yellowing of the leaves, as well as, deformation of flowers seen in the hibiscus plant. The symptoms described may be indicating that the plant is lacking in certain mineral nutrients. To correct the problem, one may want to feed plants with a water-soluble fertiliser that contains chelated elements. Look at the ingredient list on the fertiliser’s label. The correction of a severe deficiency may take many months. The symptoms of any minor element deficiency show up on the new growth with the new and younger leaves being affected. When the deficiency is corrected, the new growth will be normal in appearance.
Note that even with a good feeding programme, nutrient deficiencies can still occur due to changes in soil acidity, organic content and drainage. As Singapore’s soil is often clayey and compacted, it is beneficial to improve the quality of soil by the addition of organic material such as good quality compost. Compost is valued for its soil conditioning value. Incorporate compost into the top few inches of soil to improve its properties.
One more point to add is to check also for mealy bug infestations in the leaves. Infestations by sucking insects will also cause leaves to become deformed.
Here’s the Root Awakening column for the second week of Jun 2011 and answers to two gardening questions were given.
The first question was about the ability to grow plants in a lift landing in a HDB apartment block. Unfortunately, there are not many plants that will thrive under the dimly lit conditions commonly encountered. Note that the ceiling fluorescent lights that are turned on at night in HDB corridors are usually not intense enough to support plant growth.
Many plants will deteriorate after some time after being located in such a condition. If it is possible, do a rotation between groups of plants to be displayed in your lift landing. After being displayed for a week or two in the dim lift landing, you can shift them to a brighter place to recuperate. Note that many sun-loving plants will quickly deteriorate when they are placed in the shade, even for short durations.
To grow a plant successfully in a given location would depend on its light requirements. Its leaves need to be exposed to the light rays of either filtered sunlight or direct sunlight for at least for 4 hours daily, as a general rule of thumb. For most apartment dwellers this would involve putting the plants just next to the parapet and raised from the floor so that they can be exposed to sunlight that streams through into the growing area.
The second question was about the existence of anti-mosquito plants. My answer is no. There is no plant that will repel mosquitoes on its own. The range of plants that are reported to possess mosquito-repelling properties do so only after the leaves have been picked and crushed to release the essential oils.
Here’s the Root Awakening column for this week where two gardening questions were given answers.
The first question dealth with the identities of two commonly encountered shrubs which are great hedge plants. One of them is Syzygium campanulatum and there are two cultivars available currently. One has orangey new leaves whilst another has maroon new leaves. Both the orange and maroon cultivars have become quite popular shrubs for landscaping in Sinagpore. They are best grown in a sunny, well draining spot to ensure the leaves put forth their vibrant colour. Some people prune the shrub regularly to promote new colourful foliage growth.
Another hedge plant identified was Baphia nitida. It is an ‘old school’ plant that has been around for quite some time and is fondly remembered for its use to screen away rubbish points in public housing estates in the past. It is a highly versatile shrub as it also thrives in shady areas.
Both shrubs are easy to grow and relatively fuss-free. But Syzygium campanulatum may occasionally get attacked by caterpillars or beetles.
The second question was about the effect of putting ice cubes on the root zone of a bamboo plant with the hope that the leaves will be greener. As far as I am aware, there is no scientific evidence to support such a claim. Excessive chilling of roots can do more harm than good. Yellowing bamboo leaves can be brought about by a variety of reasons, such as by the lack of certain nutrients, and it is best to find out the root cause and remedy it.
Answers to three gardening questions were provided this time round. The first question was about the identity of a weed. With the help from the Singapore Herbarium, the plant was indentified to be Pipturus argenteus and commonly called the ‘native mulberry’. Note that it is not related in any way to the mulberry (Morus species) that are often grown in local medicinal gardens. Pipturus argenteus grows naturally in Australia and is a host plant of the Malayan Eggfly caterpillar (Hypolimnas anomala anomala). Plants are dioecious where male and female flowers on separate individuals. It is difficult to raise from cuttings, so seeds are probably the best way to grow new plants.
The second question was about ‘local’ pomegranate plants producing small fruits. Note that most of the pomegranate plants sold in local nurseries are the small fruited, ornamental varieties. Most Chinese here regard the pomegranate plant as a ‘lucky plant’ and grow it as a potted plant for its decorative value. Edible, larger-fruited varieties are hard to come by here.
The last question enquried where one can procure Gynura procumbens which is a plant that is thought to possess medicinal properties. The best known property is the plant’s ability to reduce high blood pressure and blood glucose levels. In Singapore, one can visit and buy a pot of this herb from Hua Hng Trading Company Pte Ltd located at 15, Bah Soon Pah Road, Singapore 769962.
The Root Awakening column for the second week of December 2010 provided answers to two gardening questions. The first question queried on how to go about to start the gardening hobby and be successful in it. My advice given was to first learn more about the plants that one is interested in growing. One should start off by getting their names right and get to know about each plants’ growth requirements. A good reference to look to is the NParks’ publication entitled ‘’1001 Garden Plants of Singapore’. It is a pictorial guide which makes reference by anyone very easy.
To better grow one’s plants, it is best to follow this guideline – grow the right plant in the right location. Understand the conditions in your growing area at home and choose to grow plants that are suited for that area. One should check out and take part in the gardening talks and workshops conducted by HortPark and Singapore Botanic Gardens as these are organised with budding gardeners in mind.
The second question touched on why young fruits of the custard apple tree failed to develop fully. Most would turn black and become aborted. From what I have researched, the custard apple tree is well known to be a plant that prefers a sunny, well-draining location. The symptoms the enquirer has described seem to point to overwatering or a plant that is grown in a waterlogged location. It is advisable to the plant to grow in a location with better draining soil and allow plant to dry out a little between each watering, especially in Singapore where we are located in an area with high rainfall.
Answers to two gardening questions were provided in this weekend’s edition of the Root Awakening column. The questions pertained to problems faced in growing chillis and the bauhina vine.
The problem mentioned in the first question is a common one. Often, the first flushes of flowers in the chilli plant often fall without bearing any fruit. Chilli plants usually has little problem in setting fruits in the lowland tropics. Hence this problem should resolve itself in subsequent flushes of blooms. Otherwise, it may be a case of poor pollination. One can perform hand pollination by using a small paintbrush to brush each flower to help transfer pollen. Other causes could be due to dry air caused by windy conditions.
The second question was about the new growth in Bauhinia kockiana not growing well and tips of older leaves turning black. The enquirer mentioned about once fortnightly feeding. With the information given, the black leaf tips may be a sign that the plant is over-fertilised and hence it is recommended to follow the instructions printed on the label of the fertiliser. In general, Bauhinia kockiana is a plant that will grow better if it is grown in the ground and it is vital to keep the roots cool by mulching it with compost. Avoid trimming new growth as this is where flower buds will be formed.
Below are the answers to two gardening questions that were published in the Root Awakening column on Straits Times Life! on 17 April 2010.
The first question was about the browning of leaves and subsequent decline that were observed in palms growing indoors. Note that palms are best grown in a sheltered, semi-shaded location at home. Depending on the species, most ‘indoor palms’ are best situated in a location such as the balcony or corridor where the leaves can receive at least 6 hours of filtered sunshine daily.
If one is growing it deep indoors, attempt to rotate the palm plant with another plant in a brighter location. A plant grown deep indoors will not receive sufficient sunshine and will decline over time. Avoid disturbing the plant’s root ball too much when you attempt to move it to another pot. Mishandling can bring about excessive damage to the roots can cause a plant to experience transplant shock. A newly transplanted plant should be moved to a shady place protected from excessive winds for at least a week to help recovery.
The next question was about the growing of the cat’s whiskers plant and how to get it to bloom. Note that the cat’s whiskers plant is a sun-loving plant. It grows best if it is grown in a sunny area with at least 6 hours of direct sunshine. Check the duration of sunshine that one’s plant is receiving. Prune plant back abit after flowering as this has been noticed to promote the production of new flowers. Next, do feed plants with a fertiliser for flowering plants. Avoid feeding plants with fertiliser rich in only nitrogen as that will promote the production of leaves over flowers.
In this week’s Root Awakening column, answers to three gardening questions were given.
The first question was about the lack of growth observed in begonia plants. Note that begonias demand a cool, bright, moist but well-ventilated area to grow well. Begonias that are grown in a high-rise apartment can have their growth affected adversely if they are grown in an area with direct sunshine or too windy. Locate them in a semi-shaded area that is protected from winds as winds can dry the plant out.
The second question enquired about the lanky growth of the devil’s backbone (Pedilanthus tithymaloides). Note that this plant likes to be grown in a sunny location. When grown in the shade, plants tend to become straggly and lanky. You can trim back the plant and locate it to a sunnier location to regenerate. Use the tip-cuttings as propagation material. The white milky sap is poisonous, so avoid contact with the skin.
The last question dealt with the method of propagation for the Crown of Thorns plant. This popular houseplant is easily propagated from tip cuttings. Take stem tips of about 10 cm in length and it is essential to allow the milky sap flow to stop before you proceed further. You can dip the end the cut end in water until the flow of sap stops. After that, allow the cuttings to dry in air for another three to four days. Then coat the cut end with a rooting hormone and stick it into some well-drained soil mix. The mix should be kept just slightly moist and not sodden. Stem-cuttings should root within a month.
Below are answers to three questions for the Root Awakening column published on 3 April 2010.
The first question asked why the leaves of mint and basil started to curl with the presence of ants around the plants. Note that the curling of these herbs’ leaves is a sign of aphid or mealy bug infestation. When leaves are distorted, they cannot regain to their normal look and form again. What is recommended is to trim the affected parts away to the nearest node on the plant. The plant will regenerate with new growth with application of fertiliser. Control the population of ants and look out for any remaining infestations. Spray plants thoroughly with dilute soap solution, white summer oil or neem oil. Mint demand a sunny location with soil that is kept moist at all times to flourish. The hot and dry season with winds can cause plants to dry out quickly. Check that plants are not pot-bound as this will restrict their uptake of water and nutrients. Water plants well to keep them hydrated during this time.
The second question was about the growing of the recently introduced ‘lucky’ plant called the ‘Little Bird Plant’ which is a drought-tolerant plant from Central America and one should avoid overwatering it. Soil should be well-draining and kept barely moist at all times. It likes a sunny spot to grow well and situate it in a location with direct sunshine for at least half a day. For more information, look up via its botanical names – Pedilanthus coalcomanensis or Euphorbia coalcomanensis.
The last question was about the growing of a durian seedling. The reader described that the seedling started to turn brown after transplanting. What the reader did probably disturbed/damaged the roots of the durian seedling when you are trying to transplant it into a larger pot. The seedling can experience transplant shock if the operation was not done properly. Seedling should be well hydrated before transplant and if possible, the entire root ball should not be disturbed and transplanted whole into its new pot. After which, the plant should be located in a cool, bright and windless place soon after transplant for the plant to recover for at least 2 weeks. Also, soon after transplant, avoid adding fertiliser right away and this can be done about one month after transplant. When applying fertiliser, avoid placing the pellets too close to the plant’s roots and stems as they can burn the tender plant tissues.
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.