Second chance plants

Second chance plants

Here are some common problems with potted plants and the solutions for them

You know the story: you bring home some pretty, colourful plants; then you watch them wilt and wither. But despair not. If your plant is looking a little sickly, experts can help you out.

Problem 1

My miniature maple tree was bright red when I brought it home. Now only the new leaves have that fiery colour; the adult leaves are all green. The same happened with my purple kale. What to do?

Solution: Your plants might not have enough to eat, says Augustine To Yat-man, who runs E-farm in Fanling.

To see what went wrong, we have to go back to the basics. Chlorophyll, a green pigment found in leaves, supplies plants with food in a process known as photosynthesis, where sunlight is transformed into energy.

"When a plant doesn't have enough to eat, it'll naturally produce more chlorophyll. And more chlorophyll means greener leaves," To explains.

"If you want to see that brilliant red and lilac colour in the leaves, place your plants near the windowsill under direct sunlight."

Problem 2

The stalks of herbs such as thyme are so spindly that they can't seem to support their weight. They bend when they get taller than 5cm and then wither.

Solution: A solution is to trim a third of the plant, says Stella Chong, a plant expert at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.

She says you can also bend and bury the branches in the soil. When new shoots grow, you can replant them in separate pots.

Thyme prefers a cool and dry environment. Hong Kong's summer is just the opposite: hot and humid.

To help your plant thrive, Chong recommends placing its pot in the shade and protecting it against rainfall.

Problem 3

The stalks of my plants are getting covered with white webs and their leaves are growing white dots. I know the plants are dying. How can I save them?

Solution: Spider mites are a likely culprit, says Chong. They spin silk webs and puncture the plant cells to feed. Caterpillars might be responsible for the white dots. She says you should examine your plant carefully.

"Use a cloth to clear the webs and the pest and trim the sick leaves and branches," Chong suggests. "If the plants are not [too sick], they should be able to recover."

Problem 4

I'm sad to see a bouquet of fresh flowers wither three days after it was bought from the florist. How can I make them last longer?

Solution: It's important to remember these five general rules of thumb when taking care of fresh flowers, says Yvonne Au, founder of Divine Floreal.

1. The first thing to do when you bring your bouquet home is to remove all the packaging and place it in a clean vase filled with tepid water that contains a sachet of flower food. If you don't have that, a few drops of household bleach works the same.

2. Place the flowers in the shade and away from the air-con vent, and ripening fruits or vegetables.

3. Change the water every other day and don't forget the flower food or bleach each time.

4. Trim any wilted petals, flowers and foliage to prevent bacteria from spreading.

5. Always buy flowers from reputable florists who make sure they are handled properly before they reach customers.

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