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Budding green fingers Hands-on tips for your potted plants


hink Mother’s Day, think gifts in the midst of spring, and you’re very likely to find yourself heading to your local plant shop. Unfortunately for the plants, however, some of us can barely distinguish a rose bush from a weed. Ahead of this month’s MCAST Agribusiness Institute Open Weekend, VIDA meets lecturer and leading Maltese horticulturalist Dione Caruana, to get a few tips on how to make the right choices and what to do to avoid turning your floral investment into lifeless pots.

Whenever we’re tempted to introduce a touch of green into our homes, our first thought is to stop at the plant shop and take home the most striking plants we set our eyes on. After years of experience in the horticultural industry, Dione Caruana insists that growing plants in our homes is not as simple as it seems. “Growing plants is a discipline, just like looking after young children. You can’t have a child and choose to delay when to give them food and drink to suit your convenience. Luckily, plants are not as time-consuming as children,” he smiles, “but if you want your plants to survive and grow strong, you need to dedicate a few minutes every week to attend to their essential requirements, such as watering.” Knowing where the plant you’re about to buy will be placed during its growing life is the first consideration to keep in mind before visiting a plant shop. Colourful flowering plants look marvellous in the shop, but unless you have a spot with abundant direct

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sunlight, they’re not likely to last long. Dione explains that in places with little direct sunlight it would be safer to go for foliage plants like ferns, spatiphyllums, marantas or cissus. If you do have the right amount of light, this month is a very good time for flowering plants. “These plants should be bought during the warmer part of the year, as it is easier to provide them with ideal growing conditions. In winter, most flowering plants will react to the adverse conditions by aborting their flowers.” Once you’ve decided on the type of plant you wish to buy, you can look up the plant on the Internet (or in a gardening book) to learn more about its characteristics. “This will help you avoid basic mistakes,” Dione maintains. Armed with this information, your next step is to go to the shop, locate the variety you decided upon, and choose one from the lot. “Go for the biggest plant within a variety. If it is a flowering plant, choose the one whose flowers are still in


The MCAST Agribusiness Institute Open Weekend Students and staff at the MCAST Agribusiness Institute are getting ready to welcome Maltese families to this year’s edition of the Agribusiness Open Weekend between Friday 25th and Sunday 27th May at the Institute’s premises, including its animal husbandry and farming facilities in Luqa Road, Qormi. This popular annual event aims to promote the different career opportunities offered by the Institute’s full-time and part-time courses, while highlighting the importance of agriculture in our daily lives. The public is invited to attend this event, where they can even bring their own pets for grooming and seek advice from the Institute’s lecturers. ‘The Farm-to-Fork Cycle’ is the main theme of this year’s Open Weekend. The process which food and drink products go through before reaching our tables is a crucial aspect of daily life that we rarely think about. Through this three-day event, the students will be inviting visitors to explore this important process through various enjoyable activities. These include tours

tight bud form, so that you can enjoy them as they bloom and have a longer flowering period. Beware of plants with many fully-opened flowers as they are often past their prime.”

safest time for repotting is during early spring and autumn, but if you manage to keep the root ball as one whole without breaking it up, you can repot all year round.”

Dione explains that once you buy the plant, it is important not to keep it in a car with closed windows for a long time. “Take it home as quickly as possible. On a sunny day, it gets very hot inside a car and most plants may not recover from such suffering.” When you bring it home, stand the plant in good light, but away from direct sunshine for the first two or three days. You may then proceed with placing it in its final position, where you intend it to stay. Don’t move the plant from one place to another too often. This will increase the air movement around the leaves, making it wither. “Use good quality rainwater, rather than tap water, to water your plants. Water from air conditioners and dehumidifier condensates is a good alternative as well.”

To learn more about how to care for your plants, you may also consider taking a short course in plant growing, which will give you a balanced dose of basic scientific principles and cultural requirements.

Repotting a plant in a bigger pot soon after you take it home is also recommended, especially if the plant came in a very small pot. “A good indication that a plant needs repotting is when the roots start to emerge from the holes at the base of the plant. The

MCAST offers various evening short courses related to plant growing and other practical horticultural disciplines throughout the year. “I strongly recommend these courses because they give you a wealth of knowledge, coupled with practical experience,” Dione says, “and by meeting other course participants interested in this field, you’ll also share ideas and make new friends.” “One last word of advice; when you get your plants, whatever happens, don’t give up. Try to keep track of all that you do to a plant, and when something goes wrong, retrace your steps and find out what can be improved. Some plants will undoubtedly fail you. This is not a problem. It is a natural part of a complicated process...called life. Happy gardening!”

of the Institute’s animal husbandry units and fields, including the exotic animals room, displays of fish aquaria, interactive presentations related to animal welfare, veterinary care, beekeeping, viticulture and winemaking, organic farming, rabbit and poultry keeping, herbalism, displays of fresh products with information on their production stages, olive oil tasting, presentations by local NGOs, as well as talks and workshops on other agricultural issues. The event will even include a sale of local food products, herbs and plants produced by the Institute throughout the year. The students will also be presenting an exhibition of artistic photography portraying animals and local landscapes. Opening times are on Friday from 10:00 to 14:00, on Saturday from 09:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 20:00, and on Sunday from 09:00 to 18:00. For more information, contact the Agribusiness Institute on or 2125 7006.

What’s my plant? • In places with little light, go for sansevierias, aglonemas and chlorophytums. • If you’re a newbie plant grower, start with yucca, ivy, ficus, begonia, aspidistra, euonymus, ferns, hypoestes, monstera, geraniums, clivia, impatiens, kalanchoe, chrysanthemum, vinca, or capsicum. • If you know your stuff, try an exotic species like orchids, azaleas, kentia and anthuriums.

May 2012 | Issue 29 |


Hands-on tips for your potted plants  
Hands-on tips for your potted plants  

Think Mother’s Day, think gifts in the midst of spring, and you’re very likely to find yourself heading to your local plant shop. Unfortunat...