Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tibouchina madness

I have a crazy plan, and please don't tell me not to do it because I've already gone ahead and done it. Caution and craziness are total strangers around here. The craziness is my plan to save my little, struggling Tibouchina 'Groovy Baby', which I originally blogged about here, in April last year.

Poor thing, it's battling to survive, and as far as I have heard from others growing it, it's not just me who is having trouble. Let me explain, and I'll start with a nice photo of it back in happier days.

Not long after planting it in April, it began to flower, and it kept on flowering all the way through to September. I now suspect this was mistake number one. Instead of settling into its new home, all it did was produce flowers, and not new roots.

After the briefest of breathers it began to flower again in early summer, and at first I thought "what a marvel". And then the foliage started to yellow (as you can see in the photo above, taken in midsummer). Some light fertilising with an organic food, combined with a seaweed emulsion, didn't have much effect. By autumn all the flowers were gone, lots of leaves had dropped or turned yellow, whole branchlets (well, it is a tiny thing, only about 30cm tall) had died off. I cut off all the dead bits and kept up with the applications of seaweed emulsion (Seasol, which isn't a fertiliser but is a tonic for stressed plants that helps root growth).

And now for the crazy plan, which I implemented about a month ago. I pulled off all the flower buds. And I'm keeping at it, too. After I took this photo I spotted a few more flower buds, and off they came.

I see this poor little plant as being like a precocious child stage star, forced to perform for the public at far too tender an age. In the non-plant world the human child stage star becomes a burnt-out drug-addicted has-been by the time they reach 18, if they're still alive. In the plant world the plant just dies young.

And so, my crazy theory is that my little Groovy Baby needs to have a happy childhood doing nothing but growing its little leaves and roots and settling in until it gets to its full size, which is a very modest 60cm (two feet) tall and 80cm (two and a half feet) wide. Only then will this recently-reformed strict parent allow it to flower. Well, that's the theory!

So far, I am sure that it's looking healthier already (parents are so optimistic about their youngsters). It's putting on new growth, and so I am very lightly feeding it once a month with half-strength organic liquid food, plus a half-dose of seaweed tossed in for good measure.

Only time will tell, so this time next year I am hoping to be able to announce an exciting new teenage flowering sensation, 'Groovy Baby', is ready to dazzle the world with its purple-powered show. Wish us luck!


Mrs Catch said...

I love Tibouchinas, but have never been able to keep them alive beyond 12 months. I wait with bated breath...

Elephant's Eye said...

Tough love. Looks as if it is working well!

Kris said...

You sure are crazy... crazy like a fox! I've crossed my fingers for your success. :-D

Shivangni said...

I think your plan will work. Its heartening to see your successful and opposite of success stories. Even the one about busy lizzies was inspiring (where you replaced it with bromilaid). I now know what to plant in my wall pot.

I hope this comment reaches you, all my other ones were blocked because I am asked to create a blog site!!!!

NancyU said...

From the photo it looks like you are on to something here. It makes sense to get it to grow big and strong, and not waste energy on flowers for now. I wonder if there isn't an animal that eats the flowers in the wild.

Anonymous said...

I had similar trouble W Cassia fistula in California. Saved it by picking funny "lichen-like" things off the bark, & potting it in a peat + coco fiber mix + ?*, as recommended by a grower. Can't find source, but I know that coco fiber is becoming the new "peat moss". (* Sorry to be vague, but I do think it's worth researching. My tree that was surely "dead", is thriving & blooming.)Hope it is relevant to your problem & helps in some way. ~(:-)