Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, March 7, 1997

ByKen Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Pikake, the plant, is hardy and easy to grow.
Pikake, the flower, is a bit more difficult to turn out,
requiring proper pruning, fertilizers
and pest control.

Concentrate on flowers,
not lei

THE upside to growing pikake in your garden is that the bush is fragrant, flowery, hardy and drought resistant. But if you are thinking of stringing pikake lei from your backyard produce, it won't happen unless you put in dozens of bushes. It takes about 125 buds to make a single strand, and a single lei of pikake is a manini (read "cheapskate") offering unless you combine it with ti or maile.

So let's think of pikake as a specimen in your garden and not as a lei source. Despite the fragility of its flowers, the bush itself can tolerate fairly harsh conditions as long as it gets full sun. Keeping the plant alive is simple, but getting it to flower is the challenge.

Sunlight is the key to abundant flowers, which is why you are growing pikake in the first place. It prefers well-drained soil, but will accept a heavier mix. Pikake should be watered once or twice a week, allowing the soil to dry out between watering.

Pikake is part of the jasmine family, and there are several distinct flowering varieties. The one that is cultivated commercially and is most commonly used for lei is the single flower about 1/2-inch to an inch in diameter. It produces the most flowers of all the varieties.

Pikake can be propagated from cuttings. Mark Takemoto of the Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service recommends:

"Plant only from mature wood, never from green cuttings. Take the cutting from the lower portion of the plant, where it grows in a tangle of branches. Find one rising from the base of the plant.

"Remember that plants grown from cuttings tend to retain the character of the branch, so if you choose a drooping branch, the plant will droop. And sometimes, if you are growing the pikake on a hillside, a cascade is what you want."

ByKen Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

Takemoto advises dipping the cut end into a rooting hormone such as Dip-N-Gro, Rootone or Hormex to speed the rooting process. "You can take a pikake cutting, stick in in the ground, and it will grow, but it will take longer," he said.

"If you have one long branch, you can cut it into 6- or 8-inch lengths and plant each one of them, but be absolutely certain that you plant the bottom of each cutting or they'll never root. Bury about one-third of the cutting in clean potting soil and keep the cuttings in the shade. Mist them daily.

"You can plant several cuttings in the same pot. They'll root in three to four weeks, and then you separate them and transplant them into your garden. Plant them about two feet apart when you put them into the ground."

They should be planted in an area where there is full sun and good air circulation. Pikake does better in a wide open area rather than next to a wall or between other plants. It will flower with as little as 6 hours of sun, but does best with 8 to 10 hours of sun.

Pikake plants should be pruned in the winter when they are not producing flowers, and may be pruned again during the flowering months to increase the number of blossoms. Pruning promotes flowering because the flowers are produced only on the terminal ends of new growth. After pruning about 4 to 6 inches from the new growth, you should see flowers in a month.

Takemoto recommends a 16-16-16 or 8-8-8 fertilizer because the higher middle number, representing the phosphorus percentage, is not as necessary as the other elements. The nitrogen and the potassium feed the roots, but a high phosphorus level can build up in the soil and yellow the leaves. Fertilize in late summer and again in January.

Pikake does attract pests: white flies, mealybugs, red spider mites, thrips and various other bad guys. Takemoto recommends a rotation of different pesticides rather than continued use of a single one.

Choose from the ones labeled "For use on ornamentals." If the label specifies certain plants but does not list pikake, don't use it. Don't spray when the plant is flowering because it will damage the blossoms.

There is also a viral disease, infectious chlorosis, which creates a yellow mottling on the leaves, but does not affect the flowers. There is no known control for the disease, so never use infected plant material when propagating new plants.

Pikake should be harvested before 10 a.m. when the flowers have their maximum fragrance. The buds must be white when picked or they will not open. You will probably continue to rely on a lei stand for your pikake lei, but a cutting in the house releases the unique perfume of the flower. It will revive happy memories of those major occasions when only a pikake lei can convey a message of happiness.

Green tips offered
in tours, classes

Lyon Arboretum, 988-7378: Edwin Mersino talks about growing flowering plants in containers, 9:30 to 11:45 a.m. Saturday. Costs $15.50 plus $2 supply fee. Registration needed, limited enrollment.

Janice Ito offers tips and starter plants for a small-space kitchen garden, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Costs $15.50 plus $2 supply fee. Registration needed, limited enrollment.

Also, view Mary Cooke's Hawaiian garden in Manoa, 9:30 to 11:45 a.m. March 14; $8.

Urban Garden Center, 453-6050: Gardening series classes 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays, 962 Second St. Topics include: lettuce, Wednesday; cabbage, March 19; air layering and grafting, April 2; dendrobium orchids (honohono), April 9; cucumber, April 16; plants for lei making, April 23; and sweet and hot peppers, April 30. Costs $5. Call to registrater.

Wahiawa Botanical Garden, 621-7321: Hands-on gardening, 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays. Free.

Send queries along with name and phone number to: Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802. Or send e-mail to features@starbulletin.com. Please be sure to include a phone number.

Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin. © 1996 All rights reserved.


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