Take care of your festive plants

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 11, 2014. 

Life! asks landscape specialist Er Hiang Yao from Sing See Soon Floral & Landscape and Gardenasia's director Kenny Eng for tips on how to care for Chinese New Year plants.

Kumquats

This hardy plant is popular during Chinese New Year because its orange citrus fruit symbolises gold or wealth.

Place it away from direct sunlight and water it daily without flooding the plant. If it is placed in the sun, water the plant until the water drains out from the bottom of the pot. Do this frequently as it will take time for the roots to absorb the moisture.

New shoots, usually in a lighter shade of green, form at the tips of the plant and below the main branches. Prune them to ensure that maximum nutrients reach the older leaves and fruit to prolong their lifespan.

Also, most kumquats will attract insects because of the fragrance of the fruit and leaves, so spray insecticide according to the instructions on the label.

Phalaenopsis

To prolong the life of these pretty blooms, place them in shaded, cooler areas of the house.

This plant, known as hu die lan in Mandarin, is a popular festive plant as its petals resemble the wings of a butterfly, symbolising happiness, spring, vitality and longevity.

Water moderately about twice a day. If the flowers or petals discolour or turn translucent, it means the plant is overwatered. When this happens, stop watering for a few days or reduce the amount of water used.

To keep the plant healthy, use fertilisers with a high phosphorus and potassium content once a week. To maintain the glossy look, apply leaf- shine aerosols to the plant's leaves.

Pussy willow

Pussy willow signifies the start of spring. Also known as catkins, this plant with furry buds needs a change of water twice a week if it is in a vase. If it is potted, water twice a week. Fresh water ensures that the pussy willow lasts longer and prevents mosquitoes from breeding in stagnant water.

As Singapore's climate is hot, it may be difficult for the plant to grow new shoots after it blooms. It is best to place it in a shaded area.

Chrysanthemums

The plant is said to symbolise longevity, which makes it an auspicious choice during this festive season. It grows well when placed away from the sun or in shaded areas. The trick to growing it well is fertilising it properly: Start when the plant is ready to bloom and stop when flower buds are formed.

Water twice a day till water flows out from the bottom of the pot. Avoid watering directly on the flowers as the blooms are fragile. The climate here hinders this seasonal plant from growing new blooms once it has flowered.

Kalanchoes

With their colourful flowers, kalanchoes are said to bring wealth and prosperity.

The plant, whose flowers are in a cluster, is best kept indoors. Although it can tolerate various lighting conditions, it grows best in indirect sunlight.

Water about once weekly, but make sure the plant is not sitting in wet soil as this will cause its roots to rot.

Add pre-mixes of plant insecticide, such as cypermethrin or malathion, regularly to keep pests away.