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Root Awakening: Sabah Snake Grass needs more nutrients

Make sure plant soil drains properly

One of my plants has turned yellow and the other one does not look healthy. What is wrong?

Amy Ong

Your Sabah Snake Grass (Clinacanthus nutans) plants may be suffering from a lack of nutrients. It could be that the roots are unable to absorb the necessary nutrients or the nutrients have been “locked up”.

Ensure that the soil is well-draining and not compacted. Heavy soils tend to impede healthy root development and lead to poor drainage and aeration. As a result, these roots cannot take up nutrients. You can adjust the growing mix by adding organic matter and coarse, gritty materials.

Also, check the pH of the soil. Soil that is overly acidic or alkaline will lead to certain nutrients being “locked up” and not available for the plant to absorb, even when fertilisers have been added. Most plants thrive in slightly acidic pH.

Lotus’ longevity depends on cultivar; move banana trees to sunnier spot

My lotus flowers last only a few days after blooming. After all the petals fall, only the pod and seeds are left. How do I prolong the flowers’ lifespans? Can I use the seeds to grow more lotus plants or are they only for consumption? How do I harvest them?

Also, my banana trees have not fruited, though they seem to be growing taller. They are fed with compost, mulch, banana peels, chicken manure and bonemeal. How can I encourage them to fruit? The patch they grow on may be waterlogged during rain, but it drains after.

Tanny Tait

Although it depends on the cultivar, most lotus flowers do not last long. You can harvest the seeds when the pod has turned brown and the seeds have reached their full, plump size. They need to be sown soon, with the seed coats nicked to improve their germination rate.

Most lotus cultivars sold in commercial nurseries are grown for ornamental purposes. Although they are edible, the seeds and roots produced by ornamental cultivars may be small and not that palatable.

Banana trees can be difficult to identify without seeing other morphological features like the inflorescence and fruit.

Although banana trees need water to thrive, they generally do not thrive in waterlogged sites. You may want to select a sunnier, better-draining site and feed them with a chemical fertiliser that contains the full range of nutrients necessary for plant growth. The materials you mentioned will not provide all the necessary nutrients.

Bitter Leaf is a common medicinal plant

What is this plant? I was told that consuming it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Kim Choo

This plant is botanically known as Gymnanthemum amygdalinum and its common names include Bitter Leaf and South African Leaf. It is a medicinal plant that is commonly grown here.

It is edible, but in-depth studies on its medicinal properties are limited and performed mainly on animal models. More work needs to be done to better understand its effects on humans. Avoid self-medicating with plants without the supervision of a medical doctor.

Move cactus to bigger pot

My cactus has been growing well in its pot for 17 years. I notice some parts of its skin have brown spots. Should I move it to a bigger pot?

Raymond Ooi Ah Aun

The brown parts are the result of a process called lignification, which makes the affected tissue woody and more resilient.

This process is believed to occur due to mechanical injury, age and environmental stressors, such as insufficient water – especially since it is grown in a small pot – or too much sun.

The brown parts will not heal. To prevent them from spreading, place the plant in a site where it will not be injured. Move it into a larger pot and ensure the growing mix used is gritty and well-draining.

Break the pot so it is easier to handle the plant. To avoid injuring yourself when moving the plant into its new pot, wrap the plant in thick cardboard.

Money Plants need more water

I have two Money Plants which are watered once a week. A few of the first plant’s leaves turn yellow and fall a few times a month, but it is mostly green. As for the other plant, many of its leaves have turned yellow in the last two weeks. What is wrong?

Sunil Dadlani

Your Money Plants need more water. In general, this species should not be allowed to dry out and their growing media should feel moist at all times. Use your finger to feel for moisture beneath the surface of the soil.

An appropriate watering routine will depend on pot size, plant size, type of growing media used and other environmental conditions. You should add enough water into the soil so a slight excess trickles out from the drainage holes at the base of the pot. Water again when it dries out slightly.

Alternatively, you can install an automatic irrigation system or grow your plants in a self-watering pot.

Answers by Dr Wilson Wong, an NParks-certified practising horticulturist and parks manager. He is the founder of Green Culture Singapore and an adjunct assistant professor (Food Science & Technology) at the National University of Singapore.
Have a gardening query? E-mail it with clear, high-resolution pictures of at least 1MB, if any, and your full name to stlife@sph.com.sg. We reserve the right to edit and reject questions.

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