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Special Growing Instructions for cultivation of Chinese Clivia for Leaves and Veins

There are a lot of different Chinese clivia types out there that are well known for their veining, such as MaLians, Engineers, Painted Faces, etc etc. Joan Chan posted a very interesting post on proper growing habits for these plants, and as they are VERY different from what we would normally do to grow for flowers, We are posting the majority of the article here on Clivia USA. Note the huge difference in the mixture used especially and the use of almost no fertilizer.

Again this isnt information we have used, but we felt it was really useful and important information for people trying to grow to Chinese growing standards.


Happy Chinese New Year everyone! I'd like to take this occasion to discuss some of the experience I have with growing Chinese clivias under Western conditions.

First thing first, the media.

In China, the most important growing media is leaf mold. These are mainly from oak leaves and they MUST be composted, aged for at least ONE year before usage. In the United States, it is very difficult to get a good reliable commercial source for oak leaf compost.
The temptation is to go around the yard, look for some oak trees, and scoop the soil at the base of the tree and treated as compost. DO NOT do that. I did that once, and I have major insect infestations, along all sorts of vermins coming out of the pot, forget about it.
You can try to bag the oak/Maple leaves during the fall, put in a composter or a black plastic bag, moisten it lightly, and let it compost under the sun, the hot summer will compost the pile. It will take at least one year to do that, and the compost should be fairly clean from
insects, and all sorts of worms. You may want to screen the compost with a wire mesh say (1 inch X 1 inch). This seems to be a lot of time and work, and it is...

so...it is much easier to go with the commerically available potting mix. In the US, the major brand I use is from Scotts-MiracleGro. Here is one problem I notice with these potting mixes from SMG. They are TOO FERTILE with too much nitrogen in it. If you try to grow a painted face in these mix, I guarantee you will have problems, like the disappearance of the beautiful veinations. Too much nitrogen also promotes very fast growing, especially the leaves, and this gives to problems of crinkle leaves, folding leaves, leaves with different widths
(even on the same leaf), all not good when you apply the Chinese judging standards on these plants.

If you are like most gardeners, to give more water, more fertilizers to the plants, esp. in these mixes, you will have one heck of a fast growing plant, and yet lose all the attractive features on the leaves a Chinese clivia. With these potting mix, you will never need to add any more fertilzers, esp. those quick dissolve ones.

Since the potting mix is very fertile, to simulate the much lower levels of fertilizers in mixes used in China, I make my own mix with 50% SMG African Violet mix (if not available, the Citrus/palm mix will do), 15% pine needles (you can buy pine straws commercially, but you need to shred them to about 1 inch long pieces), 15% perlite (or Ag grade small size charcoal), rest in bark (I use fine grade Orchidta) or small size well washed coco husks will do. The mix is slighly more dense than the typical mix used in China, but still lose, airly enough.

Another problem with these potting mix is the pH. The soil mix used in China are mildly acidic - from the leaf compost, pine needle compost they use, pH level could be as low as mid 5s to 6.0. All the SMG mixes out there have pH around 7.0, the only mix that has lower pH is the African Violet mix, with a pH of 6.5 (which is still on the high side). So one solution for this is garden sulfur. In the US, you can buy these sulfur pellets from Espoma (those to use to make Hydrangeas blue pellets). Two tablespoons for an 8-inch pot, away from the crown, along the rim of the pot, mix in with the soil. It will take about 3-4 months to begin to lower the pH of the soil, and will maintain the low pH for at least 12-18 months. If you have very hard water, or with water softeners, the high pH of your water pH as hig
as 8.0) will neutralize the sulfur more quickly, so you need to know what's the pH of the water you use. A slighly acidic media is a necessity to grow painted face plants well.

Two additions items the Chinese growers like to use in the mixes are - oil seeds (Mazi) and bone meal.

1st - Mazi - these are basically Hemp seeds. In the US, you can buy roasted (and unfortunately SALTED) hemp seeds from organic food stores..the salt content is a minor problem, but you can still use them like the way the growers in China use them in the pot.

I later on found on a cheaper and just as good alternative - the black sunflower seeds - use for feeding wild birds. You can buy those cheaply. BUT you have to roast them in a 375F oven for about 15-20 minutes. If you dont roast these suckers, you will end up with a big pot of sunflower seedlings. After the roast, and the seeds are cooled, you can use them whole or like me, slighly crush them between two paper towels, through a rolling pin, like you would with a pie crust dough. It will break the shell, and release of the oils, and they are HIGHLY fragrant - very tasty to DOGS and RODENTS, even to little humans!! so these crushed seed meal MUST BE used as bottom pot fertilizer. NEVER put at the top of the soil mix or the squirrels, dogs will dig your pot with very bad outcome for your plants.
Check out the articles in the 1st two links, and they have instructions on how to do a bottom layer of fertilizer. These seeds are great and useful for plants with high shine leaves.

Another good alternative w/o any process work need is unsalted Hemp Hearts. Again, available from organic food stores, and VERY expensive.

The high oil content of these seeds will act like a compost starter, and GREATLY accelerates the break down of the potting mix, totally enhance the fungi, bacterial content in the mix.. so you dont need to use much (1 tablespoon or so in an 8-inch pot), once a yr, is enough.
I dont apply these when the weather is hot because it will promote big time root rot. So, do the application that during the repottings every spring.

2ns ia Bone Meal - some people like it, some growers really swear by the usefulness of these. But you have to be careful here again. Make sure you get the cooked bone meal; raw bone meal with meat and crap in it will kill your plants. Only to be used as the bottom layer fertilizer. Never ever allow the meal to touch the roots or you will have big time rot (Bone meal wll react with water and release ammonia, very very high pH, will burn the roots with direct contact).

If you top dress the meal, put the pots outdoors, you will see how many dogs would like to jump into your yard!! Keeping these indoors, and water the plants after the application, you will find out what burned zombies smell like (and I can tell you that Ammonia smell is totally unforgettable..) so my recommendation is use them unless you really have to. I dont use them in my mix these days.

Final tips - treat these plants like Bonsai projects. You dont need 20-50 bonsai plants in a home, grow a few well and appreciate. The slow, the steady will ALWAYS beat the fast runner in appearance. No need to rush with strong fertilizers, good amount of water etc. The beauty will come with age, those nice looking indentations on the leaves look so much better with maturing plants. Have a consistent watering
schedule, keep the plants on the dry side - they are good houseplants.. inside a home, with mild temps during summer under AC, once a week watering is plenty.. During winter, if they are not in cold space for the dormancy, then water lightly once every 2 weeks. The only thing you need to baby these guys is the rotating of the plant to keep it a nice fan shape. Good strong roots (white fleshy thick ones) are needed for a a good looking plant with nice shiny leaves. So if your plant has root rot, even after the roots have regenerated, it will take some time for the plant to regain the former glory. So, keep everything go slow and steady/ They are really pefect houseplants in a way that they really do well with less poking, less loving, and less watering..


A big thanks to Joan for allowing us to copy this information to the site. the original post can be found here:


And includes some nice photos of her plants as well.