Customize Soil Mixes

We all know that plants have different preferences for where they rest their “feet” (roots). Some plants preferred very dry medium, like rosemary and lavenders, while others thrived in moist but well drained mixes . Generally, plants do not tolerate having their roots soaked all the time. Thus, it is important to know how to customize soil mixes or at the very least, how to adjust ready mixes for different plants’ needs.

Seasoned gardener, Guanster Guan, shared his soil formula for dry loving plants which need very well drained soil. By this, he meant that water need to drain out very fast, it does not sit in the soil. His ratio is 1:1:1 of the following :

  1. LECA balls (small ones)
  2. Rice Husks
  3. Baba Organic Vege mix (suitable for edibles)
Customize soil mixes for different plants needs

Ratio 1:1:1 of leca balls, rice husk and vege soil mix or other organic compost

Customize soil mixes

Close up look at Guanster 1:1:1 ratio for non-water retaining soil

Guanster also advised gardeners to adjust this ratio according to the garden’s environment. For example, if  the garden is located in a high rise where it is dry and windy,  to add more vege mix (or other good quality compost) so that the medium do not dried up too fast.

Customize soil mixes

Baba Vege Soil Mix (Organic) or other good quality brands

On the other hand, if the garden’s location is humid, where the air flow is bad and stale, it is advisable to add more LECA balls which allow aeration for the roots.

For soil mixes that contained compost, perlite (volcano ash that had been dried in 1200C heat), cocochip etc, his ratio advice is not more than 30%  of each because this media will become acidic over time. Plants such as lavender and rosemary which preferred alkaline PH do not thrived in acidic soil.

On super soil mix for most other plants, his preferred formula are these with lecca

Customize soil mix

Plants which preferred more moisture – Naturegro Compost and Garden Formula Potting Mix

For edibles, add in Baba Vegemix (picture is third one from the top) for a potent formula. Another gardener, Ooi Shirley, enjoyed good harvest with this Baba Vegemix for most of her plants. Jaimie Lim used Garden potting mix for seeds and rosemary plants. Guanster used Baba vegemix to germinate seeds.

For succulent n cactus, Guanster’s formula is Baba cacti/succulent mix , volcano sand and lecca at the ratio of 1 : 1: 2

Soil for cacti and succulent

Customize soil mix for cacti and succulent

Cacti and succulent soil

Ratio 1:1:2 of Baba cacti, Volcano sand and lecca

Mix thoroughly and remove any coarse particles.

cacti and succulent soil mix

Cacti and succulent soil customize and mixed thoroughly

On burnt soil, Guanster advised this will break down into a powdery form over a year. This prevent aeration and thus choked plants’ roots. He preferred to use dried rice husks (non carbonated) which break down into plant food instead.

On volcanic soil, he felt that as it has a sticky texture, it is best to mix with volcanic sand rather than compost. Or volcanic sand with compost.

Guanster stressed that this is his preferred soil formula that he hopes to share with fellow gardeners.

Don’t have to follow 100% ! “. 🙂

There are more than one way to garden and customize soil mixes. Most seasoned gardeners have their own formulas. It is important to understand the WHY’s and use this information as a guideline for available options only.

Regarding feeding, his advice is reduce dosage and increase frequencies. Plants suffer shock when gardeners do the opposite, that is feed once a month but increased dosage than recommended. This applied to every fertilizer.

How to check plants health when buying from nurseries –

  1. Check the base of the stems (especially for rosemary and lavender). DO NOT buy if the lowermost stems are black or browning. This indicate roots rot already. Plants in this condition will die soon.
  2. Check the color of the leaves. Stressed plants showed distress in leaves as well, for example, brown and discolored leaves.
  3. Check the soil for fungus or algae.

Most of local nurseries plants came from Cameron Highlands or other parts of Malaysia. The reasons why most of these plants suffered stress are the following :

  1. Weather – our local weather is hot compared to the plants’ growing environments in Cameron Highlands.
  2. Transportation and time – Plants from orchards in cooler Cameron Highlands are packed in a) peat based media to retain as much moisture as possible during their long journey to Singapore. However, this media is not suitable for humid Singapore. b) The plants are also wrapped in plastic and packed in boxes, to prevent spill in the cargo. This increased the heat stress on the plants. 3) Long queues at customs put these plants in extreme stress conditions when they finally reached our nurseries.

Knowing how to customize soil or media for different plants’ needs increased the survival rate for these plants. For rosemary and lavender, as we found out in earlier posts, Guanster also gave the same advice, that is change the media from nurseries’ coco peat base to very well draining media. He preferred formula is 1:1:1  (lecca, rice husks and vege mix). Other gardeners from the above 2 hyperlinks, have other formulas.

Less severely stressed plants can be treated. Once media is changed to a more suitable type, these plants’ are slowly acclimatized.  First placed plants in partial sunlight or filtered bright area (afternoon sun). The best is 4 to 5 hours of morning sun. Water as prescribed to the plants’ needs.

 

 

For Lavender Fans

Just like rosemary, the consensus is to “love it less”!

Do not over-water.

There are gardeners who grew Lavender very well in Singapore. They shared tips on how to germinate and customized soil mixes so that this plant can thrive here.

Henry Lim's Lavandula angustifolia variety, from seeds

Henry Lim’s Lavandula angustifolia variety, from seeds

Henry Lim’s lavender journey :

Began in September 2015 with a Paris Garden kit.

His lavender seeds did not germinate for a long time and Henry initially gave up on the project and re-purposed the soil for other plants.

Henry said germination can take up to 2 months and he was lucky to spot lavender shoots growing in the pots with the other plants and quickly transplant them.

Germinate lavender seeds

Henry Lim transplant lavender seedling in customized medium

Henry Lim ‘s customized lavender soil recipe :

His formula consisted of 1:1 pebbles and compost, mixed in with crushed egg shells (boiled, dried and egg membrane removed). He did not used the medium that came with Paris Garden kit. He said lavender soil need to be well drained, a customized mix of aqua-clay, compost and crushed boil egg shells work for his plants.

How to grow lavender plants indoors

Henry Lim’s young lavender seedling in his customised medium. Pot placed in area with free flowing air.

Erin Lee’s Lavender Journey :

Germinating lavender seeds need patience, they may take up to 2 months to see tiny sprouts and then seedlings grew very slowly as well.

lavender plants in Singapore

September 17 2015 – 2 weeks old lavender (sowed in July 2015)

Germinate lavender seeds

November 2015 – 2 months old lavender seedlings

Erin watered her lavender every 2 days and only when top soil felt dry. They love the sun.

Germinate lavender seeds

Jan 29 2016 – Sowed seeds in July 2015, took almost 2 months to germinate

Germinate lavender seeds

Feb 21 2016 – Erin’s “heart” work paid off ! 🙂

Shirley Ooi’s lavender journey:

Germinate lavender seeds

Aug 11 2015 – Shirley grew hers in shade and water with 2 large ice cubes at night

Lee Michael’s lavender varieties (January 2017) –

Grow English Lavender from cutting

English Lavender

Grow French Lavender from cutting

FRENCH

Michael had successfully rooted and grew various types of lavenders from cutting. He used cactus soil mix and advised NOT to add fertilizers for these plants. To encourage a bushier lavender plant, he cut off the top of lavender after the cutting had established itself.

Grow Goodwin Lavender from cutting

GOODWIN

Grow White Lavender from cutting

WHITE

Kelvin Ho‘s first attempt at germinating lavender seeds yielded 75 seedlings! First sprout spotted in 14 days (2 weeks) and subsequently more seeds also germinated. 🙂  A lavender fan, Kelvin was determined to have lavender lined his corridor and has done extensive research and experiment to enjoy this success story to share.

Lavender plants from seeds

May 15 2016 – Kelvin Ho has successfully germinated 75 seeds so far!

Lavender plants from seeds

Kelvin’s lavender seedlings!

He experimented with various soil mix to find the best one to germinate lavender seeds better. This is his recipe –

Lavender plants from seeds

Kelvin’s customized soil mix – Cactus potting soil, perlite, Florabella soil, seed compost (all mixed together).

Lavender Plant

June 16 2016 – Lavender seedlings (one month old)

Kelvin Ho is no longer a novice where lavender plants are concerned! 🙂 Slowly his lavender corridor garden dream is a reality in 2017. This is his update –

Lavender plants from cutting

Blue boxes are actually cooling units with ice packs inside to keep roots cooler

Lavender Plants from cutting

Rooting more cutting in cups and mature plants are flourishing!

Grow lavender plants from cutting

Roots spotted on a cutting!!

Grow lavender plants from cuttings

Lavender Flowers , a most beautiful sight for lavender fans!

Other Observation  – Perlite with peat moss did not work well for lavender seeds. None of his seeds have germinated in this mix so far (May22 2016, Kelvin Ho) . In addition, Florabella soil is not suitable for lavender.

Cher Keng Heng‘s Lavender Germination method yield results in 2 weeks instead of 2 months! The lab where Cher Keng Heng grew his plants are 22 degree Celsius, 24/7, very ideal cool temperate environment ! 🙂

Sowed lavender in seed compost and covered it for maximum humidity which aids germination

Sowed lavender in seed compost and covered it for maximum humidity which aids germination

Grow Lavender

April 12 2016 – Germination in 2 weeks instead of 2 months!

Lavender from seeds

May 3 2016 – Lavender updates

lavender seeds

May 3 2016 –  To speed up growth, lavender seedlings are placed very near to LED lights for 24 hours. Any options can also be considered as long as plants received light and not heat.

May 14 2016 - Lavender from seed

May 14 2016 – Lavender from seed

May 10 2016 – As Cher Keng Heng grew (and experiment) most of his temperate plants in ideally cool controlled environment, I was completely shocked  when he shared pictures of  his lavender plant from a local nursery –

Lavender Plant care in the tropics

May 10 – Newly bought lavender in distress!

More than a few gardeners had shared the same tale. Lavender plants will wane and start dying one week after purchase. On closer examination, the source of the problem seem to be root rot.

Lavender Care in the tropics

Suspected the soil (some rot in the soil) as the cause of the problem once fly is seen hovering around the plant!

Initially we thought that changing the soil immediately may prevent this from happening but if the rot had already set in, it may not helped the plant much.

The best solution seem to be starting afresh with propagating clean (not brown or black part) stems for rooting. For nursery plants, do prepare cutting ahead instead of waiting till problems appeared.

Lavender Care in the tropics

May 11 2016 – Clean stem cutting work better (right)  vs. the brown stems.

Lavender Care in the tropics

May 11 2016 – Sit the stem in water, mist the leaves and cover (to prevent water loss)

Lavender Care in the tropics

May 11 2016 – Seems ok, stem did not turned brown.

Lavender cutting

Day 4 – The water is not murky, stem is not brown, no sign of root rot. Remained same on May 19 2016! Keeping fingers crossed…

Grow lavender from cutting

May 22 2016 – Rooted!!!!

Helen Tan advised to change water every 3 days or when water is murky to prevent root rot during propagation.

Day 4 - This is not good. Water is murky, stems are brown. Lesson learned - Best individually rooted.

Day 4 – This is not good. Water is murky, stems are brown. Lesson learned – Best individually rooted.

lavender cutting care

May 19 2016 – Important to know where to cut the stems for rooting

Second method (rooting in soil) –

Lavender Care in the tropics

May 11 – Rooting powder on stem before planting. Use clean stem

Lavender Care in the tropics

May 11 2016 – Mist leaves, cover ‘pot’ to prevent water loss (Plant in soil, rooting powder used)

Lavender care in the tropics

One day after – Lavender seems ok, not turning brown or limp.

How to grow lavender from cutting

Day 4 – look ok but …

Lavender Cutting Care

May 19 2016 – Stem start browning. Not a good sign 🙁

I chanced upon Sthh Sthh‘s lavender cutting success on May 17 2016 from Urban Farmers (Singapore) group and very kindly, he agreed to share his tips again :

lavender plants

Sthh Sthh’s 3 weeks old lavender cutting

Sthh Sthh’s method

  1. Cut 3 to 4 inches of green soft stems, just below leaf nodes
  2. Remove lower 1 inch of leaves
  3. Plant in well drained sterile soil (no compost or organic stuff)
  4. Water deeply once, check how he does it in the rosemary post!

    lavender plants care

    This is how dry Sthh Sthh’s soil gets before he water it deeply!

  5. Place under morning sun
  6. Observe for one week
  7. Soil base is same for rosemary and thyme ( or use Cactus soil)

Sthh Sthh think that his variety is Goodwin Creek Grey, (Lavandula dentata x L. lanata) and this variety is more hardy as they are able to withstand a bit more humidity and heat. Characteristics are silvery-grey, toothed-edged leaves, and long flowering stalks.

Once the stems have roots and for future lavender plant care, Regina Fok suggested the following guidelines for lavender plants in the tropics.

Lavender Treatment

Recovered Lavender Plant!!!

Tips on Lavender Plants Care in the Tropics – ( advice from REGINA FOK, USA)

  1. Water once every 3 to 4 days, only when top soil felt really dry or when the whole pot felt really light weight. This is how to tell when its time to water lavender plant.
  2. Use a syringe, filled with maximum 30 ml of water for lavender plant. Around the sides of the pot, dispense 5ml dose in 6 parts.
  3. Exposed to morning sun only
  4. Air-conditioned nights if possible
  5. DO not use ice
  6. Do not let lavender pot sit near where it can be rained on
  7. Cactus soil mixed with perlite and some compost can be considered as an ideal medium
    How to care for lavender plant

    Regina Fok’s cactus soil and perlite for her lavender in the USA. Leaves touching soil but not turning brown

    Where Regina lived in the States, her summer time can be as warm as 38 degree celsius, with high humidity. At night, the temperature will slipped to 25 degree celsius (our normal air- conditioning environment).

    How to care for lavender plants

    Thank you , Regina!!!

Disclaimer – While the solutions above suggested by Regina Fok, work for most lavenders suffering from heat shock or transplant, it may not be a solution that cured all ills for lavenders in Singapore. After all, there are many reasons why lavenders failed in Singapore. An example is fungus from our high humidity which also adversely affect its well beingThere is no cure for this, gardeners can only try to prevent this from occurring.

For a comparative study of how lavender seeds germinated in a cooler climate versus Singapore based data, Regina Fok has once again volunteered her time and data with us.

Lavender plants from seeds

March 23 2016 – 2 weeks to see first sprout! Grown indoors as outdoor is still winter, below 0 degree C (USA)

Lavender plants from seeds

April 8 2016 – lavender is 2 weeks old (USA), looks bigger than Singapore’s seedlings

Regina Fok (USA) decided to test how young lavender seedlings fared in the natural outdoor environment. She planted one pot outdoors and one pot indoors. Her temperature outdoor ranged from 29 degree Celsius daytime and 15C at night. From the observation here, it seem lavender grow better outdoors than protected from all elements indoors :

Lavender plant from seeds

June 2016 – Compare – Grown indoor (3 months old) USA

Lavender plants from seeds

June 2016 – Compare – Grown outdoor (3 months old) in USA

Regina Fok, based in USA, shared how lavender thrived in their natural environment. Hopefully, this knowledge from a hands on gardener, will helped us adapt our environment for these lovely plants.

How to take care of lavender plants in a tropical climate

Oct 30 2015 – Regina ‘s lavender garden in USA.

4 Tips to grow lavender well (Regina Fok) 

1. Lavender  hates high humidity but love the sun and heat.

2. Soil should be sandy, loamy  and well drained.  PH level needs to be neutral to alkaline.

3. If possible keep the plant within 20C to grow well. With a lower temperature, the plant can tolerate drought and the chill keeps the humidity out.

4. Its very important to keep the top soil dry to prevent root rot. Water only when top soil feel dry to touch.

Lavender plants retain its fragrance during winter

Jan 30 2016 – Regina’s lavender over-wintering outdoors still carried its fragrance, but the scent is stronger in the summer season 🙂

My 2 cents worth of advice, do consider rosemary soil and care for lavender as well. In addition, to line the pots’ base with rocks or pebbles to drain water out quickly.

Terence Low from Naked Greens and Sharon Eng  advised to add more sand to soil. This aid drainage.

Guanster Guan‘s tip on how to choose healthy lavender from nursery and customize ideal soil mixes.

As lavender germination and growth are very slow in our weather, many gardeners do give up after a few months. For lavender fans, its never a question if they are willing to wait and try numerous times until they learned how to grow lavender in Singapore.

Its a quest worth seeking, as lavender smells wonderful, and if we get to harvest fresh ones at doorstep, in spite of the many challenges, why not? 🙂