(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

(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

(Growing conditions) Sweetgrass

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Looking like wild grass =)

I used to use both sweetgrass and white sage for my spirituality, especially for space cleansing and to invite good energy into my boundaries. A dried sweetgrass braid of about one meter costs around $12 in holistic/new age shops locally, and to me, that’s really too costly.

So when my friend offered me a pot of sweetgrass, I jumped at the chance. Especially since I thought I could gather my own dried leaves and use them in my smudging rituals.

Many shoots growing in just one pot

I’d bought a dried braid to try burning before, but the grass, surprisingly, doesn’t burn well, even if research said that some (all?) Native American tribes burn them in their fires. Well, maybe the grass burns better in a large bonfire type of fire, than the typical small flames we use to light things at home. Whatever the case, I loved the subtle vanilla scent of the grass, and started growing it.

This plant grows like a weed if you don’t like it. For myself, I love how it sends up side-shoot after side-shoot in very short periods of time. One can never kill sweetgrass easily, it seems.

Although I rarely smudge my boundaries anymore, I still love this plant for its scent, and for its versatility in growing and propagating itself. I mean, from one pot to more than ten pots in less than half a year – that’s quite amazing and prolific. And, the only reason why I have so few pots now is because I don’t dare to propagate it any further – it might overtake my space otherwise!

One shoot has even grown out from the bottom of the pot!

Care: A moist soil mix; sweetgrass likes the soil moist to wet
Fertilizing: Does well with frequent weak fertilizing
Sunlight: Bright shade preferable; water more frequently if exposed to full sun
Propagation: Easily by divisions; seeds have a notorious reputation of having extremely low germination rate

(Growing conditions) Lavenders

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Propagated lavender cuttings from World Farm

I never used to be able to keep my lavenders alive years ago when I bought them back from the nurseries. True, I was extremely new to gardening then, and while I didn’t fully understand the requirements the plant needed, partial blame has to be put on the nurseries (or their suppliers) since the growing media the plants came potted in were usually (if not always) horribly mismatched to the well-draining mix this particular species needed.

Of course, my dad didn’t help to keep these plants alive. I’d placed them in my balcony in the past, where my dad has the tendency to use the hose to water his plants, and thus spraying water all over mine in the process.

So, with a combination of water on their leaves, compacted and too-wet soil, “I” have killed more than ten pots of lavenders. That discouraged me greatly and I stayed away from them for more than a year, turning my interest to other plants which could take wetter conditions. It wasn’t only until recently that I gained the courage to try this species out again.

I started off my lavender pursuit as a fellow gardener and friend gave me a plant she had propagated from her own, brought back from Turkey. I’d only cleared the soil from that plant, and repotted it into a mixture of Tref and volcanic sand. It was smaller then, and needed watering only once every two days. But as it grew, I had to water the plant everyday, or its leaves would wilt. This changed my knowledge on lavenders and my perspectives on them – they were water guzzlers only if their roots were able to breathe due to the well-draining soil. As long as the soil is loose, one can water it everyday and the plant will survive happily.

The next step is to try propagation. Again, I’ve never had much luck propagating lavenders. Perlite, vermiculite, a mixture of both, a mixture of those with soil…nopes. All the cuttings died on me, or grew fungus on them.

Propagated lavender cuttings from my mother plant from Turkey

Yet again, it was only recently that I dared to risk this step, knowing that it’s the trying again and again, armed with more knowledge of the requirements of this plant each time, that would let me succeed. And succeed I did, without much effort at all. All I did was to cut about 8cm of each stalk, strip the lower portion of leaves so that watering won’t lead those leaves to rot (and thus leading to the whole stalk rotting), and plop them into a well-draining soil mix, watering once every two to three days.

Of course, some stalks didn’t make it. I’d expected casualties. But they were far fewer than my past experiences with them.

The cuttings take root quickly, sometimes as quickly as a week. And, true to their type, they need less water now, but I expect that their thirst will increase soon enough.

Care: A moist, well-draining soil mix; allow soil to dry out between waterings
Fertilizing: Does well with frequent weak fertilizing
Sunlight: Full sun to bright shade
Propagation: Easily by cuttings; by seeds

(Growing conditions) Black-eyed susans

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The rudbeckia is one of my favorite plants, mainly because of its leaves, which hold fine hairs that turn slightly more bristly with age, but which are like soft down when the leaves are young.

I got this plant to replace echinacea so that I could use the roots when I got the flu or cough. But then, I grew so in love with the leaves and the flowers I couldn’t bear to use it at all. So now, here it is, sitting prettily in my room.

The Plants for a Future database says this: An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of colds, dropsy and worms in children. A warm infusion of the root has been used as a wash on sores and snake bites. The ooze from the roots has been used as drops to treat earaches.

This plant prefers bright shade to direct sunlight as long as it has grown a little older. If its shoots are still young and tender, strong sunlight tends to burn the leaves.

It is advised to cut off the first one or two forming flower stalks when the plant is still too young so as to channel the energy into growing the plant first.

Care: A moist, well-draining soil mix; allow soil to dry out between watering; drought tolerant once established
Sunlight: Preferably one hour of morning sun, and bright shade the rest of the day; once the plant is established, then as much direct sunlight as possible
Propagation: Easily by seeds and root division
Resources: Plants for a Future database

(Growing conditions) Lemon verbena; addendum

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Just to add on to my previous post on growing lemon verbena, propagation can also be done with growing tips, preferably no more than three or four leaf nodes down from the tip, placed in pure perlite, and then bagged up, allowing a small opening for some air circulation.

Roots formed in about two to three weeks; this picture shows the stalk in my fish tank, after I'd transferred it there

(Growing conditions) White sage

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My various attempts to germinate the white sage seeds spanned more than a year, from some time in 2009 until now.

To date, I have tried a few methods, all of which did not produce any results until my latest attempt:
1. I have tried my traditional method of heating/warming the seeds up in a metal container filled with vermiculite, and placed on top of an aromatherapy burner, but the seeds didn’t germinate;

The pink paper is the seed primer, filled with the chemicals found after wildfires, which helps with wild plants' germination

2. I have sowed the seeds into transparent containers filled with pure vermiculite and maintained the humidity of the container at a level suitable for most other germination of seeds; this method sometimes made the white sage seeds sprout, but they always rotted within a day or two after that if not quickly transplanted; and even if they were transplanted at this stage, sometimes the seeds dried up in their new environment anyway;

3. I have bought seed primers and soaked the seeds in the chemically-infused water, to no avail;

4. This is the method which has finally worked, and I came upon it through laziness and a mistake: I soaked the seeds in water which came up to about twice their height, and I left the seeds for 36 hours. For the first time, because of my laziness (I’d originally intended to soak them only for 24 hours), the water level evaporated until the seeds were only moistened, but out of the six I’d soaked, two had sprouted. I sowed all of them, and another seed sprouted a few days later.

The rightmost seedling is the one which looks like it has a rotting stem

A few days ago, I tried this method again. I soaked all the seeds for two days, and then sowed them into a well-draining soil mix, and then covered the mouth of the pot up with clear plastic bag. For now, one out of six seeds have sprouted.

Since the white sage is a desert plant, I mix soil with a lot of volcanic sand, and water the seedlings sparingly every day. I’m still experimenting with the amount of water to give, since there is one seedling which, though growing, seems like it has a rotting stem close to the soil’s surface, while the other two are more or less fine.

Once the plants grow to larger sizes, I intend to treat them like I’m treating my sole white sage plant now, by giving them the full morning sun, and watering only twice a week.

(Growing conditions) Lemon verbena

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I love the lemon verbena plant. Oh yes, I do. Sure, its leaves smell exactly like any other plant with the citral component in them to give them their lovely citrus flavor, but other than loving to grow plants, I also like some challenge in increasing my skills and knowledge in propagating a plant which seems reluctant to reproduce through stem cuttings alone.

Like many other plants which grow in the tropics, the lemon verbena isn’t hard to grow. Just give it a well-draining moisture-retaining mix, and some occasional fertilizer, place it in a spot with at least four hours of direct morning sun, and water it everyday. It will shoot up to almost half a meter tall within less than two months, healthy and happy.

But like I said, the challenge comes in propagating this plant. I’ve had a friend who used cuttings in water, but succeeded only rarely.

The methods I’ve found which propagate this plant easily are through either air-layering, or marcotting. However, one should always use the growing portions instead of the woody portions, since the latter parts will not root, however long you wait.

Care: A well-draining moisture-retaining soil mix
Sunlight: Preferably full sun; however, it can grow well with four hours direct sunlight
Propagation: By marcotting or air-layering

(Growing conditions) Nepenthes species

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I have little experience in growing nepenthes. Well, okay, not really little. But the larger part of my experience consists of killing many plants instead of them flourishing for me. Of course, any competent grower goes through the same learning process – killing many plants, coughs coughs – but still.

There are various media the nepenthes plants can be grown in. These range from live sphagnum moss (LSM), long-fiber sphagnum (LFS, known also as fried sphagnum), and peat, either all purely used in their own states, or mixed with draining media like river sand, or perlite.

Most of the growers I know live in landed properties, which means that in general, their nepenthes get long hours of sunlight. Since it is essential for the roots and media to not dry out, these growers mostly use 90% of LFS with the occasional sand or perlite mixed in.

However, I find that that growing media causes a huge problem for me.

Since everyone must take into consideration the growing conditions at their place, and I live in an apartment where my carnivorous plants growing area gets only four to five hours of morning sun, many nepenthes have actually died on me due to root rot, even if they like their roots moist-to-wet. Many a time, sheer laziness in changing the media they were grown in have resulted in their demise.

It took many tries to finally get a good combination of media for me: 50% volcanic sand (from World Farm) and 50% peat moss from the Horti brand. There is a reason for this success: while most other growers may have little need to pay attention to how wet their media is (as long as it remains wet), with a lessening amount of sunlight, complications will occur.

It is a lot easier to handle how much water a plant needs if a relatively well-draining media is used. If it dries out, one can always simply water it. Easy-peasy. However, if the media is too wet, the plant might suffer instead. To rectify that, one must take out the whole plant, and either use newspaper to soak up most of the water from the media (which might not work to the fullest effect), or halve the original media, adding in new and dry media. What a trouble.

With this combination of potting media I’ve found out, none of my nepenthes have died on me till date. It has been a lot easier for me to judge how much water to pour into my tray a day using the tray watering method. And each day, the media of my plants dry out just the tiniest bit, enough so that the roots can breathe, and they get fresh, new water each morning to keep them through the day.

(Growing conditions) Plantain

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When a local gardener posted about ‘plantain’, I was a little awestruck. A banana is a herb?

Upon more enquiry and research, she was referring to the plantago major, the greater or common plantain, which is a plant so reputedly resilient to almost-all growing conditions that the Native Americans called it the ‘white man’s footprints’ because Europeans brought the seeds of the plantain along with them when they colonized many places, and America was one of them.

According to a general Google search, plantain does well in any kind of soil, even in very compacted ones. It grows from a rhizome, but can be propagated very easily from seeds. Also, it seems to take any sort of conditions from bright shade to full sun very well.

Within less than three to four months of sowing the seeds, my plantain is now about 10cm tall, and is sending out flower stalks, upon which I can already see seed heads forming.

There are many uses to the plantain. One can use the raw leaves as part of a salad (however, the older leaves can be rather tough, bitter and fibrous); the leaves can also be used as a compress for insect and snake bites; and it can also be used on open wounds as the plant and leaves contain a chemical which acts as a powerful coagulant.

One website even suggested this healing salve: “In large non-metallic pan place 1lb. of entire Plantain plant chopped, and 1 cup lard, cover, cook down on low heat till all is mushy and green. Strain while hot, cool and use for burns, insect bites, rashes, and all sores. Note: used as night cream for wrinkles.”

Care: Any type of soil mix
Sunlight: Preferably full sun; however, it can grow well with four hours direct sunlight, and do slightly less well in constant bright shade
Propagation: By seeds

(Growing conditions) Roman chamomile

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The Roman chamomile is a soft but rather versatile plant that has been used, like the German chamomile, to cure various physical ailments from menstrual cramps and stomach discomfort, to using them for scenting such as in potpourris. The Roman chamomile is known especially for having a sweet apple scent that soothes the mind and body.

Personally, I much prefer the Roman chamomile as compared with the German one for one reason: the former is a perennial which, if taken care of well, grows small plantlet offshoots which one can use to divide and propagate; the latter is an annual which, although it regrows faster after pruning, gives a bit of inconvenience due to the yearly resowing of seeds.

I find that for any Mediterranean herbs, the most important factor is the media which the plant is in, and the amount of sun it gets, especially for a high-rise setting. I was given three pots of Roman chamomile by a friend on Christmas eve of 2009. Two pots have died. Those two pots have had their soil media changed to a well-draining one of volcanic sand and Tref potting mix. However, those two pots were placed in my room, which receives about three hours of direct morning sun. Soon, they browned very quickly, became lanky and unhealthy looking, and prone to pest attacks. Scales took the chance to cover almost every inch of those two pots.

At the same time, the current surviving pot which was placed in my balcony, which received up to five/six hours of hot afternoon sun, and which is planted in the same media as the other two, thrived very well, even after an initial bout of scale attacks.

Garbage enzyme was sprayed liberally on all three pots. However, due to the sunlight factor, only one pot survived, and is now overflowing the pot.

As the Roman chamomile is a small plant which reaches barely four inches high, is fairly maintenance-free, I recommend it if you live in a high-rise apartment with at least four hours of sun daily. With these factors, even if you water the media thoroughly everyday, the plant will not suffer from rot, if the media is well-draining enough.

Care: Well-draining and rich soil mix
Sunlight: As much sun as possible; preferably at least four hours of afternoon sun
Water: Once a day
Propagation: By seeds, or reputedly through cuttings

(Growing conditions | Hydroponics) Something most sites don’t say

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In all the hydroponics websites I’ve Googled up, only one (sadly, I’ve lost the link to that one. If anyone comes upon a site which has information like what I’m writing in this post, please let me know the link!) has ever brought up the effect of hydroponics on a perennial plant (or at least, not a cut-and-grow-again plant) with regards to unequal nutrients uptake.

It wasn’t until my chocolate mint which was growing extremely well in hydroponics died, that I went to Google again and found out the very possible reason why: unequal nutrients uptake, with a wrong method of replenishing the hydroponics solution in the bottle of mine.

What happens is this.

The plants absorb nutrients from the hydroponics solution at different rates. With that in mind, it means that over the course of say, a few days to a week, the remaining solution (if any) contains nutrients in varying amounts: some are in excess; some are in severe lack.

If, assuming there is still remaining solution, and over a long period of time, one only keeps topping up the solution, then over that period of time, some nutrients will accumulate in great excess; others in great lack. Your plants will suffer and will die off rather quickly.

I’ve learnt to always pour away any excess solution at the end of each week, and then pour in new solution. Or, if I’ve grown familiar with how much solution my plant takes up in a day, I can make sure that I top up the empty container at the end of each day.

Forget to do that, and well, what you’ll see is gradual yellowing of leaves and those yellow leaves falling off in great batches everyday, until your plant kneels over and die a watery grave of sorts.

Note: my healthy mint in the setup in the picture lasted only about four to five months before dying.

(Planting media | Growing conditions) Of planting media and growing conditions

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This post might be slightly useful for people who are new to growing plants (perhaps moreso herbs and edible plants).

I’ve noticed that people new to growing plants will commonly ask a few questions: what type of media should I use? How much should I water? How often should I fertilize the plants?

I shall just deal briefly with growing media today.

There are many types of growing media, broadly divided into two types: water-retaining, and non-water-retaining.

For the first category, in growing herbs, the most common I’ve seen people using are Tref potting mix, compost, Indonesian burnt earth (IBE); peat and such like.


Compost | Source: Google Image.

For the second, common draining media include perlite, vermiculite, IBE, volcanic sand, coco husks/chips, river sand etc.


Vermiculite | Source: Aquarium Sand

It isn’t really what type of media you buy. Not totally, at least. It is understanding the growing conditions of your garden, and tweaking the media you buy to suit your growing conditions, and the type of plant you want to grow.

For example, a person who has land is able to grow mints (for example) in 100% of poor quality IBE and water the plants twice a day without the mints suffering from intense waterlogging problems, even if they are plants which much prefer moisture to dryness. However, for apartment dwellers who perhaps get only four to five hours of sun a day, a much looser and aerated soil mix is definitely needed. In this case, for myself, I use 50% of Tref potting mix, and 50% of volcanic sand mixed thoroughly for good aeration. I can water my plants twice a day without worrying about waterlogging. Another person who perhaps only receives bright shade for his plants might need an even more aerated mix, with perhaps 35% of water-retaining mix with 65% of aerated mix.

So, to really know what mix to use, it is part trial-and-error, and part knowing that it’s not exactly what media you use, but how you use them to find a combination which works in your growing environment.

Of course, if you are growing carnivorous plants, you should use media which contain absolutely no minerals, and aerate them as you would for other types of plants, especially since you will be able to control watering and the amount of moisture retained with a better aerated mix.

It is really a lot easier to create a more aerated mix and to water more frequently (or to use a water tray) than to have an overly moisture retaining mix and have to deal with root rot.

I will attempt to write about the different types of growing media in slightly more detail in my next post.

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