Ask the Experts – Issue 17

The first question in this new series is from the writer of the article 'Growing Sunflowers: a Journey of Discovery'. Read the article in the Lifestyle section of this issue.

Question: I tried growing sunflowers, but they all died after a week or two. Why did my sunflowers die? Is it because I did not put them in a bigger pot or add fertilisers when they have gown bigger?

- Nickolas Yip

Dear Nickolas,

Growing plants are easy once you understand their needs. I applaud you for your determination, don’t lose heart!

Your first tiny seedling likely flopped over as the soil was not firm enough. In preparing for sowing, fill your pot up with soil and press down lightly (tamp) on the soil to make it slightly more compact. Make sure to sow your seed about 1 inch into the soil and again tamp the soil around the seed before giving it a generous watering. Tamping will help to firm up the soil around the growing seedling and provide a more solid hold for young roots to grasp. This will help to support the sunflower’s upright growth. If this step is done right, seedlings will not need to be staked.

Your green instincts were right! It is important to handle young seedlings very gently as they are very delicate (like tofu!) – overwatering, too much sunlight and staking too tightly can cause damage. To prevent overwatering, test if the first inch of soil is moist, if it still is moist, there is no need to water yet. Place your seedlings in a semi-shade condition with good airflow – it is best to avoid direct sunlight until they are a bit older. If it becomes necessary to stake your seedling, it is important to use a non-abrasive material and to tie it loosely (slightly larger than the stem) to allow space for the seedling to grow and move.

Young plants are the favourite food of bugs and pests, so be sure to check that your seedlings are healthy and to nip off any bugs before infestation takes hold.

Hope this helped and good luck to your seed-sowing adventure!

- Soh Weijing

Ask the Expert team is made up of NParks horticultural and gardening experts. If you have any questions on plants or plant-related subjects, please send your question to Ask the Experts at

Total Comments: 2

Li-San 7/23/2013 8:18:14 PM

Hi KK, Cockroaches are common household pests and do occasionally find their way into compost heaps or bins, as these are conducive hiding places for them. The soil should still be fine to be used for your plants.

Ong KK 7/16/2013 4:24:36 PM

Hi there, I am doing decomposing at home in a Styrofoam box. Lately, while I was scoping out the soil (already composed), I found some cockroaches in the box. May I know, do the cockroaches help in decomposing, can I make use of the soil for planting?

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