16th September 2016
Expert 1 (E1): Sandy Soh, Terrascapes LLP, www.terrascapes.com.sg
Sandy Soh started out as a plant enthusiast and hobbyist with a penchant for unique and exotic species, he soon found himself creatively inspired. His early experiments with “garden-scaping” in the homes of friends and family members birthed Terrascapes LLP, a bespoke design and landscaping firm that specialises in combining aesthetics with sustainability. His projects may be viewed islandwide such as landed properties in Sixth Avenue, Bukit Timah to Woodgrove. Not one to rest on his laurels (frequent collaborations with award-winning architects to create green sanctuaries), Sandy has now entered the import and retail market for rare and unusual plants such as succulents from temperate countries.
Q: Can I have a patch of grass even if I don’t have a landed property?
E1: Yes, basically if you’re creative, anything is possible even if you had a small balcony. Grass is easy to grow and can be grown on shallow plastic turfs that hold soil. These turfs can be joined to create a patch of grass anywhere. Just remember that grass requires full sun so a shaded area is not recommended. There are mainly types of grasses used for landscaping in Singapore, namely, carpet grass, pearl grass and cow grass. When selecting grass, choose the greenest and lushest leaves. You can even grow a grass patch on your condo’s balcony. It takes some creativity and improvisation.
Q: What about a simple tree to grow at home?
E1: Frangipani (Plumeria) trees are reasonably easy to grow but they require full sun, minimum 6 hours or more. They can be grown in a large pot and tucked into a corner to provide some shade. Their colourful and fragrant flowers add an interesting visual counterpoint to a balcony or landed garden. Frangipani can cost from $60 for small rooted cuttings of about three feet tall to $250 for small trees to over $5,000 for old and larger specimens.
Q: What are the pros and cons of growing such trees?
E1: Frangipani requires frequent watering when they are planted in the ground. They prefer a well-draining media and take note that overwatering can lead to rot. They also get infected by pests seasonally and require spraying of insecticide. Removing infected leaves will help.
Q: I heard cacti are easy to grow because they require little maintenance, is this true?
E1: Choosing the right cactus is important. Some are montane (inhabiting mountainous regions) and require extremely cool temperatures at night. It also means that they are not suitable for growing in Singapore unless you bring them into your air-conditioned room every night. The good news about growing cacti is that they require very little watering. It is easier to kill your cactus from overwatering which leads to rot. Therefore, under-watering your cactus would be the best. They do need lots of sun though and some growers even use artificial lighting to grow them, especially apartment dwellers.
Q: What are the pros and cons of growing such plants?
Cacti and succulents do not need constant watering and can survive not being watered for two weeks or longer, however, most of them do prefer lots of light. Dry-growing plants can also be susceptible to pests such as mealy bugs and scales.
Q: Are they suitable in high-res flats where it is windy?
E1: Windy environments create good air circulation which is good for such plants. The only issue is that there might not be enough light if the apartment block does not face the sun.
Q: I heard cacti don’t require fertiliser, is it true?
E1: Most cacti and succulents are relatively slow growers and some collectors/ growers believe that they should not be forced to grow faster than they should, however, I feel that occasional fertilising of these plants with slow-release fertilisers will help these plants to grow better and healthier.
Q: I also heard cacti don’t have many pests so it’s not required to spray pesticides, is it true?
E1: Some cacti and succulents do get mealy bugs or scales but these can be easily eradicated with regular pesticides.
INDOOR PLANTS – FLOWERING & NON-FLOWERING
Expert 2 (E2): Boo Chih Min studied botany at the National University of Singapore and previously worked at the National Parks Board where she co-authored the 1001 Garden Plants of Singapore book. She set up a company called Uvaria Tide which specialises in providing selection, plant supply and science-based consultancy for sustainable and ecologically orientated, multidisciplinary projects, mangrove restoration, rainforest restoration, vertical greenery, rooftop greenery of native plants in urban landscapes and forested areas. She recently co-wrote another book Plants in Tropical Cities, available at leading bookstores.
EASY-TO-GROW FLOWERING PLANTS
Q: Any tips on growing Petunias?
E2: Petunias are annuals meaning that they are not expected to last for long term. They are best grown under bright but not direct sun. When the stems of the petunia grow long (or what we call leggy), trim back to length of 5cm or so to encourage new sprout and achieve a more compact form. You can propagate your next generation of Petunia through stem cuttings before they die off. Keep the soil/medium moist but well drain.
Q: Any tips on growing African Violets and Gloxinia?
E2: Both African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) and Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa) are good for indoor and air-conditioned environments. They have hairy leaves, and the leaves are best kept dry to avoid rotting (a condition well provided in dry air-condition area). Water the plants carefully without wetting the leaves – you can do so by placing the pot plants on tray of water for the water to sip into the soil through the bottom. They do best in bright but not full sun area, like next to the window. Both African violets and Gloxinia can be propagated by leaf cuttings. Take a leaf, with leaf stalk, and insert the leaf stalk into sterile medium for seed propagation and keep it under shade. Baby plants will sprout from the end of the leaf stalk that is buried in the medium. Remove and repot the baby plant into individual pots to get your new plant. Keep the soil/medium moist but well drained.
GROWING PLANTS FOR FOLIAGE
Q: Are there any easy-to-grow indoors plants for foliage?
E2: Most indoor plants are generally selected as they grow well in shade. There are many foliage plants that require full sun but will not do well in indoor conditions. Scindapsus pictus is a good choice. Scindapsus pictus is hardy due to its thick leaves and robust growth. The common pest of indoor plans will be scales, aphids and mealy bugs. Isolate plants with pest problem away from other healthy plants, discard if necessary (once infected, it is pretty hard to eradicate the pest totally). Eradicating pests can be done through biologically, friendly and natural means such as crushed garlic infused in a bottle of water and then misting the plant. There are other over-the-counter chemicals and sprays, if you wish to opt for that but check for the hazards if you have young children at home.
Q: Any fertiliser required?
E2: Application of fertiliser once per month (or according to instruction on the fertiliser bottle) can be administered to flowering and non-flowering plants. If unsure, you can lower the concentration of the fertiliser from that recommended and adjust the concentration upward gradually and check that your plants are reacting positively to the fertiliser. Generally, plants like to be fertilised on a weekly basis with a weak fertilising solution.
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