Cultivation & Care
Growing Tulasi From Seed
To grow Tulasi from seed can be very rewarding. It is said that Tulasi will grow where there is devotion. However, the most common problem I hear from devotees of Srimati Tulasi devi is, “Why will Tulasi devi not come to me?” – “What am I doing wrong?” – “Is it me?” – “Am I just not devotional enough?” – and so it goes! If you have the same anxieties, then lets stop for a moment and consider just how merciful Tulasi is and from this state of grace how we can receive new insights. Instead of confusion, let’s look at some of the practical sides as to why it can be difficult to grow her from seed.
Tulasi seeds will germinate quite nicely if they have been stored in an air tight container and kept in a cool dry place. The life expectancy of seeds can vary depending on how they are stored. I have successfully grown seeds over four years old. Seeds will deteriorate if left out in the open or in a greenhouse as they would be subjected to both unfavourable temperature and humidity levels. Other factors are due to seeds becoming damaged in transit – sown too deeply, imbalance in moisture, light or heat or the wrong choice of soil.
If the seed is good and the correct growing conditions are established, add a dash of love and Tulasi will flourish. Ask yourself these questions when sowing seeds do you have enough space, height/width for Tulasi to grow on to a mature plant? Will she receive enough sunlight and humidity? For home worship it is best to sow only one or two, unless you have adequate space to grow her.
Development Of A Manjari From Flower To Seed
A Tulasi manjari first starts to develop from a small bud with two small leaves, one either side of the bud. Once this bud starts to grow up into a point of about 2cm the individual clusters, or whorls which will develop from buds into sets of six flowers, can be seen more clearly as the manjari grows. As Tulasi devi’s flowers contain both male and female parts, she does not need a pollinator as they self-fertilise. Once the flowers have reached full bloom the petals fall away leaving a green coloured pod called a calyx. This pod will eventually swell slightly and become harder. It is at this time that the ovary inside the flower pod is developing into four tiny yellow nutlets, which will in time mature into brown seeds.
If you wish to collect seeds, wait for the whole process to complete before taking the manjari off the Tulasi. If you look down into the pod (calyx) and observe you will see the tiny yellow nutlets. Allow them to turn brown. If the manjari is taken off before the process is complete, it will not have had time to ripen the seeds to full maturity. When it’s time, carefully take the manjari off and store whole in an air-tight container in a cool dark place.
There are many brands and soil types available on the market today. For healthy plants it is important to have the correct pH level. The pH levels in soil range from pH7 which indicates “Neutral”. Above pH7 level indicates “Alkaline” (sweet). Below pH7 indicates “Acid” (sour). As Tulasi is related to the basil family, her requirements are for pH5.5 – 6.5.
The best soil recommended for growing Tulasi on the commercial market in England has the brand name “J. Arthur Bower’s John Innes No 2 Compost”, which is sterilized, has good drainage, a good pH level and is also completely free of animal by-products. Tulasi will grow strong and healthy and also grows from seed in this brand type.
Soils to avoid are those which contain sawmill by-products (poor drainage), sludge (a by-product of sewage treatment) and any which contain bone-meal, fish blood and bone or hoof and horn. Soil straight from the garden may contain disease spreading organisms.
For those who wish to make their own soil:
2 parts potting soil
1 part compost
1 part mason’s sand – to improve drainage
1 tablespoon of pulverized phosphate rock
1 tablespoon of potash
Mix all ingredients well
Planting The Seed
Always use clean containers as there is no point in using sterilized soil if it is going to be put into a container which isn’t itself free of possible sources of plant disease. A small propagator is really worth the money as they come with their own lids and air ventilators.
Whether using a propagator, seed tray, plastic bag or peat moss cups (which have been soaked first in water) place in seed compost and press down gently to firm in. Water the soil using a watering can with a fine rose cap and leave to drain through. Soil needs to be moist but not soggy. Next place the seed on top of the soil and cover lightly with very fine soil which has been passed through a sieve. The seed needs to be just barely covered so that it does not get lost under too much soil. Using a very fine mist spray, gently spray the top soil once or twice. Then, if using a seed tray or peat pots cover with glass or clean polythene bag. Place in a warm position with some sunlight; avoid really strong sun as it could burn the germinating seedlings. Wipe condensation from the underside of the glass daily and leave a small gap for air to circulate.
Once germination has taken place, which can take as little as 4-5 days or as long as 3-4 weeks depending on time of year sown, remove the glass or bag and place the Tulasi in a warm position where she will receive gentle sun. Once Tulasi has grown three sets of leaves, she will be strong enough to transplant on to her own little terracotta pot. (See illustration on page 11)
To Prune Or Not To Prune
When growing any shrub, bush or small tree, it is common practice to cut them back for a number of reasons. These can range from strengthening or thickening them out, or if overgrown, to reduce height and width. In cases of disease, cut down the foliage almost completely. In ornamental gardening the natural shape and beauty of the bush, hedge, or tree is lost altogether to make way for whatever design suits the fashion of the day. However, when growing Srimati Tulasi devi this practice is not used.
Once the Tulasi has germinated, she will continue to grow in an upward direction developing two new sets of leaves every 2cm or so, until she forms her first manjari. As this upward motion is continuing, smaller buds will develop at the stem next to the two sets of leaves which will form side branches. On removal of this first manjari the side shoots down the main stem, and also at the top of the stem, will develop into the new branches. This can make the main base stem quite tall, resulting in further growth of the top side shoots. If she receives the right growing conditions and providing there’s no problems with disease or pests, the end result will be a beautiful tall Tulasi tree, with a life expectancy between five to fifteen years. This is why it is important to plan ahead.
Do you have a big enough space to support this growth? If not but you still wish to grow her, then perhaps consider whether you have enough width for a low bushy Tulasi.
The only form of shaping which is allowed on Tulasi devi, without causing any offence, is to pinch out the apical growing point at the top of the stem. This will reduce her growth upwards. The small shoots at the side of the stem will grow into two separate branches. Once these branches have produced 3 or 4 sets of leaves, you can pinch out the apical growing points again and this will result in two more branches. Tulasi devi will then grow to become quite bushy. Tulasis which are very tall with a single stem measuring two or three feet in height, with foliage at the top, can be the results of not pinching out the apical growing point at the beginning stages.
If the Tulasi shows signs of disease on one side of the branch and the wood is dead, as in “Die-back”, then it is appropriate to remove the affected branch to save the rest of the foliage. (Die-back is the result of disease in the root system, which causes the leaves to suddenly go limp and wilt, starting from the top of the foliage and working its way down the branch).