Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Repotting Succulents, Aloe Vera and Avocado Seeds

For the first time in months, I found myself with time to relax and chill at home on the weekend. So with time on my hands what did I do? I slopped on some sunscreen and got my gardening gloves on. I don't even really have a garden. I have a balcony container garden which you can see by clicking here, here and here.

Peanut and I were joking around about a mango tree growing competition and next thing you know, we had mango juices dripping down our cheeks over the next few weeks in the attempt to accumulate mango seeds to grow. Well, they're growing and the balcony is heaving with plants.

Buying pots and plants can really get expensive really fast. That's when my gardening tips are useful. Afterall, a farmers daughter should know something aight?!! After growing plants in containers and pots for a few years now, I've learnt a few things along the way which I'd like to share with anyone who loves gardening. It's been a long journey and for each lesson learnt, I've lost a plant or two along the way.

As I found out with shocking results, container and balcony gardening is vastly different from normal plant-directly-into-the-ground type of gardening. If your plants are in pots or containers and if you also live in an apartment and plan to have a balcony garden then these tips may save you from killing your plants and crushing your gardening spirit ^.^

16 Useful Gardening Tips

1. Learning to grow from propagation, cuttings and seeds will save you heaps of money. The trick is learning which plants can be grown from cuttings and which needs seeds or grafting.
  • Some herbs such as the Cambodian/Vietnamese mint and watercress can be grown by stripping off the lower leaves, plonking them into a jar of water and leave in a sunny spot by the window and within a few days they'll be sprouting roots crazily. Plant them in wet soil. 
  • Succulents can be grown from a simple leaf.
2. If you want to grow mango seeds, avocado seeds and any large seeds, you can sow them direct into the soil and cross your fingers and pray or you can start them off by wrapping them into damp paper towels, place into a clear plastic bag and leave on the sunny window sill until they crack and grow roots. The damp paper towel technique has worked for me 99% of the time. The 1% fail rate is because sometimes I'm so busy that I've forgotten about them and when I get around to remembering, they've rooted madly but have gone slightly mouldy.

3. If you want to grow succulents such as Echeverias from their offsets 'pups', wait until the pups are large enough to have air roots (roots that grow off the baby offset) and/or have some roots making soil contact- they're then ready to cut off and repot into their own pot
  •  If growing succulents and newly repotted- give them one week to recover from transplant shock and then water very lightly once a week only. In Winter, once every 2 weeks. 
  • If growing anything else except succulents, they must be watered everyday when newly transplanted until they are larger

4. With repotting Aloe Vera pups, if the pups don't come off with a tug, repot the whole Aloe (mother and pups) until the pups are larger. When they're large enough, they will easily come off with a strong tug with their own independent root ball. You can visit my archive, 'Container Gardening: Aloe Vera, Pups, Repotting and Healing'

5. Irrigate/water your plants at the soil instead of hosing down their leaves. If you water them from top down, you risk subjecting your plants to fungus/mould/rotting/diseases. Some plants need water from the top/leaves down but these are rare (eg bromeliads).

6. If your plants will be in a very sunny or windy location, mulch heavily to prevent moisture evaporation.

7, If you have tried many times to grow plants and have failed, go for the hardier succulents which requires minimal care and watering, or go for the drought tolerant type of plants, or go for the varieties that are 'resilient' (you'll see them at the nursery ~ these are usually hybrid and bred to be resiliant to pests and a few other botanical problems).

8. Buy good quality potting soil. They have water crystals and retain water for a lot longer. I've bought both, the expensive ones and the cheap ones to test whether there is any difference. Result? Yes there is a huge difference! The cheap ones dry a lot quicker, are poor at retaining moisture, tend to dry and then harden into clumps, lack the rich, deep brown composted soil, lack nutrients and will affect the quailty of your plants' growth.

9, The soil will eventually run low and lack nutrients so fertilise. In normal ground soil, the debris and leaf litter usually breaks down and decomposes into nutrients. In container gardens and balcony gardens, there is no plant debris and leaf litter so the potted soil eventually runs out of nutrients. The horticulturalist at Eden Garden recommends using Blood and Bone fertiliser alternated with Dynamic Lifter every three months ~ they're considered as soil conditioners. You can also use liquid fertiliser when the plant is fruiting or flowering ~ considered as plant conditioners. If you are repotting, transplanting or had a shockingly hot day and find your plants heavily wilted ~ Seasol will hydrate and sooth your plants.

10. Fertilise lightly ~ frequently is better than heavy applications. Heavy applications can lead to burning the plants (leaves dying or going black after a bout of fertilising are symptomatic of too much fertiliser).

11. If your plants wilt heavily in summer, there are a few options: repot into larger pots, raise the pots off the hot tiles/concrete/ground by using pot feets, add water storing granules or wetting agents to your soil mixture, use large ceramic glazed pots (ceramic glazed are cooler than terracotta which are cooler than plastic pots).

12. For container/balcony gardens ~ large pots (eg 40-50cm in diameter) are better than lots of little ones because they keep the roots cooler and are better for moisture retention

13. Plants reliant on good drainage ~ you can fill the pots with a shallow layer of gravel before filling with potting mix giving you great drainage

14.  Plant sickness, disease and/or infections. Keep an eye out for plants that are yellowing (too much or too little watering), having white mildew on the leaves (fungicide), going brown on the tips (too much or too little watering), missing chunks of its leaves (caterpillars or bugs are eating your plants), white fine webs on the plants (spidermites).

15.  If your plants' health are deteriorating and the weather and your watering patterns have been consistent, there may be other larger problems on hand, such as pest infestations. Lean in close to your plants and *stare* at your plants leaves, under the leaves, at the shoots and at the base and you are likely to find pests such as caterpillars, aphids, spidermites and leaf miners eating your plants and slowly killing your plants.

16. If you go away on holidays or trips, get someone to water your plants regularly. I went away for Christmas only to return and find all my plants heavily wilted, distressed and requiring water. Even two months later, some of the plants still haven't recovered. I probably should have watered them with Seasol but I've been very busy with other things.

Phew. What a mammoth post!! Good luck with the gardening and trying to grow your plants. If you managed to read to the very end, share your gardening tips if you have any. Advice is most welcome.



  1. I absolutely love the way avocado seeds sprout, and they are surprisingly hardy in my experience

  2. They are very hardy but the downside is having to wait approx 10 years before they fruit...

  3. Hi Nea,
    It's hard to comment whether you have nematodes on the roots or not when there's no pictures to look at. Avocadoes are very hardy and the problem with rooting them in water glasses is that the roots are more prone to damage when you repot them. (Mine was damaged too when it was repotted but they're very hardy so it's still happily growing).

    You should move your seedling to a pot, submerge the roots and seed in the dirt and leave the plant stem out of the soil so that it doesn't rot. Water daily for up to 5 days until the plant is happily established and then you can cut back your watering to when the soil feels dry-ish.

    Hope that helps.