Tuesday, January 5, 2010

All my pot plants die!!

The mint, three months after re-potting. My friend hasn't seen it yet!

A friend expressed her concern to me today that she can never get a plant to survive and that whenever she got a pot plant it soon died. Because indoor plants are more dependent on us for water and food they can be notoriously famous for coming home with us from the supermarket or where ever we grabbed them and then going out in the bin within a month. But plants are far more resilient than we give them credit for. I came home from university one year to find that my mum (without meaning to) had forgotten to water my plants in my room for the ten weeks I'd been away for semester and they were all on the point of no return. Two things were in their favour for survival - I'd left them healthy and my room was cool and not bright at the time. So I just started watering them and talking to them again and they were fine by the time I left. This time though I took them out and put them where Mum would see them regularly. That had been my mistake the first time. They were up on top of a shelf in my room where they went un-noticed.
So, if you have a plant that is near death make sure it is in a place that suits it, but which is also frequented by you. This means you get to enjoy it as it is where you are, and it also benefits as you get to see it and remember to water it. If it has any dead or diseased leaves, remove them. New Zealand Maori believe that brown and diseased leaves take from the plants resources without giving back. The plant spends too much energy trying to 'fix' the ill parts of the plant and can't give enough energy to the well part and thereby gets sicker. Never fear about pruning back severely if necessary. Maori also have a lovely way of explaining what should always be left behind for the plant to regenerate. They call it the parents and child. The 'child' is the newest shoot and the 'parents' are the two closest surrounding leaves which can feed the shoot as it grows. For branched plants ensure there are nodules that can leaf out and create new branches (I will try to get a photo to show this).
If you can't water it as often as you would like for whatever reason, then re-pot your plant and put silicon balls in the soil where the roots will go. Soak your plant for up to half an hour or so for the silicon balls to absorb the water and then if you can't water it for four or five days at a time, it will survive better. Remember to give it extra when you do for the silicon to absorb extra water too. This is also useful for thirsty temperate zone plants that we like to attempt to grow here. A friend asked me to look after her plants for her while she is away for four months and I almost killed off her mint plant in the first week!! In fact to look at it, you'd thinnk it was a goner; all the leaves were dead and had fallen off. I re-potted it with the silicon, gave it extra attention until little green shoots came out and now I can water it as often as the rest. I also have it out of full sun until late afternoon.
Just as a warning, don't just put extra water in the saucers as here in Malaysia it just breeds mosquitoes. A major woe of pot plants.
The main thing to remember is that even though the plant may look dead, it can regenerate. Don't give up on them. Use them to soak up your rice cleaning water or when you rinse or soak anything without soap and don't want to waste the water. Keep them somewhere in view and enjoy them.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Top picture: New Leaves
Second picture: Full bloom and buds

Gloxinias are often found in garden centres and the supermarket fresh flowers and plants sections here. They are very beautiful with lovely luxurious bell flowers in striking rich reds, pinks and purples. A colourful addition to your balcony. Yet many people get frustrated that they seem to rot, lose their leaves and flowers and collapse very quickly; leaving nothing but an empty pot of dirt behind. If this is you, don't worry as gloxinias are amazingly resilient.
Firstly, don't throw that seemingly empty pot away. Gloxinias have a tuber root system and if you periodically water it, after about four weeks it will put out new leaves and new flowers again quite quickly. Once it puts out those little leaves, stop watering it from above. This also goes for those who want to preserve a fully flowering plant they haven't lost yet. Gloxinias don't like water on the leaves and flowers directly. This causes them to rot very quickly. Instead, every two to three days soak the pot in a bucket of water 3/4 of the way up the gloxinia pot for 15 minutes. How much water they need depends on the season. The hotter and drier it is, the more they need. I have two gloxinas that have re-flowered for me about five to six times in this way. After they have flowered, they die down again and then come back up a month or so later.
They are also great because they don't mind direct light and they are happy in shaded spots too. In fact, you can bring them into the house while they flower and put them back on the balcony during their somnolent periods.


Hi. Welcome to my new blog on small container gardens in the tropics. I've moved to many different homes over the years and so I have often carried my garden with me. Most of the time I have lived in temperate zones and there is a lot of information for plant lovers that cover plants in that area. However, for the last six years, I've lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in a tall apartment building with a small balcony. Malaysia is a beautiful tropical country with many different types of fauna. Most of it is native, but you can get temperate zone plants here too. In my blog I want to introduce you to different plants you can have in pots, how to care for them and how to get the best out of them. I will also include photos of beautiful balconies I come across and I'd love to hear your ideas too.

So, welcome and let's getting planting...