(Growing conditions) Sphagnum moss

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In my N. ampullaria 'bronze nabire' pot

I used to have A LOT of trouble growing sphagnum moss. Of course, I used to grow them over a layer of peat moss in covered-up clear plastic containers left in a few hours of direct morning sun.

Over time, the moss did grow. However, its condition varied greatly even within the container itself. The bottom, nearest to the layer of peat, became pale or brown, as if dying or drying out (even though the container’s environment was moist and humid); going upwards, the tips became messy and tangled with one another. However, they were a healthy green.

When the moss continued growing and pressed themselves all over the bottom of the container’s lid, I knew I had to do something or else I’ll probably lose the whole container of moss if insufficient light got to all portions of them.

A pot of nepenthes ampullaria ‘speckled’ I’d bought from someone came with a beautiful carpet of green, healthy moss. Inspired, I decided to heck it, and went to snip off all the healthy tips of the moss in my containers, and dumped them into all my other carnivorous plants’ pots. I exposed them to as much direct afternoon sun as I could after they had more or less acclimatized, and watered and misted them daily during that period of acclimatization.

Slowly forming the star shapes so typical of its species

Now, they are looking and growing rather well. Of course, they are not at their optimal health and growth yet – it will take more care and some more time for them to get to that stage. Nevertheless, they are doing a lot better than before, and I have a hope that they will become a lush carpet in all my CPs’ pots.

Edited to add: A person who grows nepenthes also tells me that it’s good to flood the pot the sphagnum moss is in everyday, as well as give it as much sun as it can tolerate without burning (maybe about four hours of sunlight)? He says he’s harvesting the moss every week or so.

This is the lush sphagnum moss which came with the N. ampullaria I'd bought. I hope that my own mosses will grow to become like this one

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(Growing conditions) Patchouli

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I’ve been looking for the patchouli plant and seeds for about two years or so, when my neighbor’s young son contracted an adult’s version of leukemia, and his mom asked me (knowing that I grew plants) if I was able to get it for them. I looked everywhere, including online, but nurseries abroad either wouldn’t ship out of their country, or required us to purchase a phytos cert, which would cost terribly much. The boy’s parents have spent tens of thousands of dollars on his chemo so far, and I felt bad for them; yet, I had little cash to offer in buying a plant with phytos and pay for both that and the freight.

And so…the idea went forgotten, somewhat, and my neighbors turned to drinking the infusions made by leaves of the rose cactus plants.

Out of nowhere, my friend suddenly mentioned that he had the plant, and extremely kindly provided me with cuttings. The cuttings root terribly easily – I just stripped most of the adult leaves off, plonked the cuttings into either well-draining compost with volcanic sand, or perlite, and within less than a week, the sad-looking drooped leaves came back looking perky and happy.

Websites and people claim that the patchouli plant smells earthy. Maybe my nose has some problems, or else my definition of earthy is way different from everyone else’s, because the plant just smells like fresh, uncooked vegetables to me, kinda like the daun dewa when I was first growing it.

No matter how it smells like, though, the patchouli is a very useful plant, like many other herbs are. According to the entry on Wikipedia, “In several Asian countries, such as Japan and Malaysia, patchouli is used as an antidote for venomous snakebites. The plant and oil have many claimed health benefits in herbal folk-lore and the scent is used to induce relaxation. Chinese medicine uses the herb to treat headaches, colds, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Patchouli oil can be purchased from mainstream Western pharmacies and alternative therapy sources as an aromatherapy oil.”

But uh…I haven’t yet smelled the essential oil, so I can’t say how similar it is to the fresh scent of its crushed leaf. Whatever the case, it’s a plant I’m happy to have in my garden.

Care: Not too fussy about the soil mix, but keep it on the moist side
Fertilizing: Does well with frequent weak fertilization
Sunlight: Full sun to bright shade
Propagation: Easily by cuttings

Addendum: I passed some cuttings to my neighbor to plant, and the plants seem to be quite happily acclimatizing. I hope it helps them keep their son’s body healthy.

(Growing conditions) Vitex trifolia

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I first heard about the vitex trifolia on the local gardening forum. Someone posted up some articles claiming that village in one of the ASEAN countries burned the dried vitex leaves to repel mosquitoes and that it worked very well.

Repel mozzies? I was definitely hooked, since I really hate mozzies.

I looked about here and there and everywhere, but there was no nursery which sold the plant in a size small enough for me to plant in a pot and cultivate it at home. Furthermore, the seeds was rumored to not be willing to germinate well. So, I needed cuttings.

Someone at a local nursery was kind enough to give me cuttings to start me off. I must have been an extremely strange sight holding really large twigs and going home on the bus. But ah well. All in the name of having a plant, isn’t it?

I haven’t yet tested the efficacy of the leaves on repelling mozzies – I keep forgetting to bring them along whenever I go trekking. But there have been a few articles written about the effectiveness of the leaves, so I suppose the properties claimed are substantiated with some evidence, at the very least.

The cuttings seem to go through moods where they sheds leaves and have their twigs dry off so that many times, I think that the whole pot wouldn’t survive. But ever since I started using worm poo to feed them, the cuttings have given me new and lusher leaves.

I can’t wait for the plants to flower again, since the purple flowers are rather delicate and pretty, and helps to beautify my too-green a growing area a little bit.

Care: Not too fussy about the soil mix, but keep it on the moist side
Fertilizing: Does well with frequent weak fertilization
Sunlight: Full sun preferable
Propagation: Easily by cuttings

(Growing conditions) Tea tree

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Very tall plant in a small pot

I love the tea tree plant, but I have mixed feelings about how easy (or difficult) it is to grow. I suppose I should divide the growing process into two portions: by height.

I’ve never propagated the tea tree successfully using cuttings, whether it’s through the use of growing tips or not, or making the cutting have a heel or not. For me, vegetative propagation has never worked with this plant.

So, all the tea trees I’ve grown over the years have been grown from seeds. The seeds are terribly fine, almost like coarse powder. It is hard to separate them too finely, and when I sow them, I tend to sow about four or five seeds together, also for a just in case the seeds don’t sprout.

However, it’s not the sprouting of the seeds which poses the main problem. The seeds germinate readily and easily without much effort; it is the period between when the seedling has just sprouted, and the time when it has grown at least three pairs of true leaves, which is the most problematic.

During that stage, the seedlings are terribly tiny. I would estimate them to be about 3mm in height. They are extremely delicate. Logic almost dictates that with a root and stalk system that weak, one shouldn’t touch the seedlings to transfer them to pots which would serve as their more permanent homes. But, if one doesn’t, and the seeds were sown in a closed container, then they rot extremely easily.

The leaves and stalk

If one has done in situ sowing, the seedlings prove to be just as finnicky. I have a

few experiences of sowing about five seeds in a pot, having all the seeds germinate, water all the seeds carefully with a syringe, and having most of them dry up, with barely one or two surviving.

So, I think that extra care is definitely needed to protect the seedlings from extreme conditions at this stage. I think that I’d suggest partially shielding the seedlings from wind which would move them even the slightest bit, from hot sunlight (provide bright shade for this period), and from excessive watering or excessive dryness.

If you squint, you can see a slight color difference on the stalk - some portions have peeled off

Once the seedlings grow to a height of about 4cm and have grown about three to four pairs of their adult leaves, the critical period is over. I find that, beyond this stage, the plant seems to have grown resilient to most of the conditions one can give it. I’ve been rough in transplanting the plants at this stage, and they have happily grown; I’ve given them anything from part shade to direct sun, and they are perfectly fine; I’ve severely pot bound them like my current plant, and they will happily grow extremely tall and healthy.

I suppose the real kicks in growing this plant is the thought that I may use the leaves in fashions similar to the essential oil this species is grown for; that I have experienced and learned from the challenges from germination to adulthood and succeeded in growing them well; and that I simply love how the outer bark peels off to reveal the slightly silverish bark beneath it, just like the paperbark trees of its relatives.

Care: Not too fussy about the soil mix, but keep it on the moist side
Fertilizing: Does well with monthly or bi-monthly fertilizing
Sunlight: Full sun to bright shade
Propagation: Easily by seeds; cuttings are hard to strike
Special care: Extremely easy to die off from seedling stage until it has grown its third/fourth pair of true leaves

(Growing conditions) Shiso

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I’m not quite sure why all the websites I researched from on Google claim that the seeds are hard to germinate (or were those just old seeds?), or that people who have grown it have told me so as well.

In fact, the seeds sprouted so readily for me I saw green leaves within two days of sowing!

It’s certainly one of the most fuss-free germination I’ve done.

The plant isn’t terribly fussy as well. I have the green ones in a soil mix of normal black soil with volcanic sand for drainage and the red ones in pure worm poo, and give them about four hours of direct sun, and they grow happily. Even at heights of barely four inches, their stems are already hard and pretty sturdy for their sizes.

The red shiso seedlings are beginning to color up =3

I’m waiting for all the plants to grow to a much greater height before harvesting the leaves to create an enzyme to drink.

Care: Not too fussy about the soil mix, but keep it on the moist side
Fertilizing: Weekly weak fertilizer
Sunlight: Bright shade to full sun
Propagation: By seeds (rumored to be reluctant to germinate if not fresh) or cuttings

(Growing conditions) Comfrey

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I’m currently of two minds about the comfrey plants I’ve grown from seeds only one or two months ago. On one hand, I like its uses; on another, I hate the irritable bristles.

When my friend first found out that I had interest in the comfrey because of its potential and use as a green manure and compost activator, she gave me some seeds. I was extremely excited and sowed quite a bit of them, since they’re not known for being very willing to germinate.

I tried various methods, and it seems as if the seeds are impartial to the media in which they’re sowed on for germination. However, the trick seemed to be keeping them constantly moist (which also makes them susceptible to fungus growing on the seed case, and in which case they won’t sprout), and also to keep the germinating temperature as hot as possible (I place the covered container under full afternoon sun for about four hours a day).

a) One of the smaller comfrey I have right now. I suspect it's the yellow-flower variety; they seem less eager to grow fast

Right now, I have about four to five plants after giving a few away, of both the purple and yellow flower varieties.

Once the seeds germinate, the hardest part is probably over. The plantlets will happily grow in moist soil and full sun to part shade. They rarely die from root rot or over-watering. All in all, the comfrey is an unfussy plant to have.

They grow extremely quickly though, and the bristles all over the leaves turn sharp and irritable to the skin quickly enough, so that there is a need to handle them with the utmost care, or with thick gloves to protect the skin. The root system is also very prolific and invasive, so making sure they are pot bound and kept off the ground soil is important if one doesn’t want a garden of comfrey and nothing else.

However, since I live in an apartment and can grow plants only in pots, I have no problems keeping them in check.

b) The root system of the plantlet in the picture above

For now, I’ve been using small pieces of shredded leaves to activate my pre-composting bin, and that’s about it. I plan to grow a few to flowering stages just for the flowers, to add to the colors of my garden. I’ll probably have to upsize their pots soon, though, since their root system can grow deeper than one meter down.

Care: Not too fussy about the soil mix, but keep it on the moist side
Fertilizing: Rumored to do well with high nitrogen fertilizers
Sunlight: Full sun preferable, but it will tolerate some bright shade
Propagation: By seeds (rumored to be reluctant to germinate); root cutting is preferable
Special care: Be careful handling the plant – bristles can be painful and irritating to the bare skin

(Growing conditions) Lemon eucalyptus

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My first lemon eucalyptus; it grew to over 2 meters tall

I’m not new to growing the lemon eucalyptus.

My first try at growing this plant was when someone in the local gardening forum conducted a small mass order from a lady who was growing this plant locally. When I received it then, it was only about 15cm tall at the most. Somehow, I managed to grow it until it reached about two meters before I had to prune it down.

This plant is one of the most unfussy and unassuming plants I’ve grown. Give it a moderately moist soil mixture, about four hours of direct sunlight a day, and daily watering, and it’d grow and grow and grow happily for you (maybe it’d grow so happily until one doesn’t know how to handle it as a tree).

The callousing of the stalk to become a trunk; even with hard pruning, the plant will continue to grow

I’d placed a thick wooden stake to support my first plant, and tied cable twists and twine around the stalk to support the then-young plant. I promptly forgot all about the cable twists and twine, and as the plant grew, the stalk thickened, and the twists and twine cut deeply into the growing stalk, callousing the plant in a supposed-bonsai technique (my bonsai expert friend told me about this), and thickening the stalk until it became a small trunk of about an inch thick. I think that through this mistake, my plant’s trunk was the only one amongst all the people who had joined the mass order which had grown so thick.

The plant was sturdy, and very useful when one needed some citrusy-soothing scent, or apparently in an attempt to repel mosquitoes.

However, there was one issue: after about a year or so, my lemon eucalyptus plant started dying. It wasn’t the hard surface pruning my dad had given it twice. But the leaves and stalks gradually turned brown and died, one by one, until I had to kill the whole plant.

My current plants grown from seeds

What went wrong? I checked the trunk – it was sturdy and very hard, so it definitely wasn’t rot; the leaves were browning in the sequence from new growth to old growth, before completely dying off; sunlight shouldn’t be the problem as it had gone through two cycles of the typical climate and sun-shifts here.

I decided to Google a little, and came upon this blog post at The Herb Gardener. Then I realized – my plant’s roots had effectively strangled themselves in the very large pot (but still a pot, nonetheless) and committed suicide through a lack of my own knowledge.

So, I’ve learnt that the lemon eucalyptus is a little like the mint plants, which do well with a yearly root pruning.

Some plants take well to being pot-bound; others don’t – the roots grow so compacted the plant strangles itself to death. The lemon eucalyptus is one of those which definitely requires some maintenance on its roots.

The plant and leaves grow readily and easily

Currently, I’ve grown two small plants from seeds, and they are in a small pot. I don’t intend to really upsize the pot, but from now on, I’ll remember to give it a root-cut now and then.

Care: A relatively moist soil mix
Fertilizing: Does well with frequent weak fertilizing
Sunlight: Full sun preferable, but it will tolerate some bright shade
Propagation: By seeds
Special care: Do yearly root pruning

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