Care of Tulasi-devi, Part 3
May 18, CANADA (SUN) Part four of a seven-part series on worshipping and caring for Srimati Tulasi devi.
Generally speaking, if She is receiving correct water and sufficient sunlight, in a pot of the correct size and with a suitable type of dirt, Tulasi will flourish. The only necessity is to be sure to protect Her from wandering insects. Flies are a botheration and must be avoided as they are very dirty. Best to use screens and always be sure to shut doors. A fan also helps to get rid of them if it has an outside sucking vent which will draw them out. Good air circulation also helps Tulasi to grow.
Always keep Her in an area that is screened and continually check the underside of Her leaves for insects. The primary concern in the United States is the ever-present spider mites, so that will be the main concern. Specifically, her most lethal attacker is red spider mites. These rascals live on the underside of Her leaves and lay their eggs in the dust next to the ribbing or veins of Her leaves. When the eggs hatch, the young mites suck Her juice. The beginning symptoms are pale and limp leaves with brown tips. The leaves become specked with small pale green dots and begin to curl in.
As She becomes weaker and weaker, whole branches will just turn yellow, curl up and drop all their leaves. The stems become pinched and brown. If you observe very carefully, you will see small spiders, no bigger than the head of a pin, scurrying around on the underside of Her leaves and in the topmost clusters of branches and leaves. Hold Her at different angles in the light, and you will see fine spider webs crisscrossing the various branches. Finally, you will see small white eggs on the underside of Her leaves and the whole of Tulasi will be yellow and limp.
Fortunately, Tulasi can be saved from spider mites. There is a very simple process which, if used on a regular basis, will keep the spiders at a very minimal level. This will allow Srimati Tulasi to flourish and bloom. First, never use any sort of poison. Tulasi is meant for offering to Krishna, and how can She be offered if She is covered with some spray!. She is also contaminated by the use of systemic sprays, as they work their way through Her system and ultimately deposit their poison in Her leaves. Ladybugs are often offered as a solution, but they may be of little help.
The real cure for spider mites is the bathing process. Actually, the eggs of the spiders are stuck on by some sort of natural adhesive and will not be washed off. They hatch at their will, so regular bathing and periodic sprays with fresh water help keep the spiders and mites at bay. The needed paraphernalia for bathing is:
- one large plastic bucket with a mouth 2 ft. across
- 1 bar of soap (Spiritual Sky herbal or non-scented is the best (be sure to use a very mild soap).
Use a vegetable soap rather than one containing animal products
- a hose with fresh water
Bathing is best done in the morning or on a cloudy day, as it is a taxing endeavor and
the sun is an added strain. Water first, as this will help to keep the soil in the pot. First, dip the Tulasi in the soapy water, swish Her around carefully, then rinse off with fresh water. The soapy water coats the leaves and smothers the spiders. The clean rinse washes the soap off, along with the spiders and their webs. If done regularly twice a month, your Tulasis will survive nicely.
The water should be drawn the day before and handled just as written in the "Water and Feeding" section. This way it is not too cold for Her. Rub the bar of soap in the water until it turns a shadowy white, not solid white like milk, but more of a translucent white. If the soap is too concentrated it can do some damage. Add
a 1/4 cup of honey to 6 gallons water as that will also help coat the leaves.
Cut pieces of cardboard to fit inside the various sizes of pots, to keep the dirt from sliding out into the water (or your whole Tulasi from falling out). Work in an area where there can be water spilled in large quantities, but work where you are protected from the wind, dogs, and other alien factors. Be sure that it is done in a reasonably warm place so She won't catch cold.
Get an assistant to help you hold Her pot, and using the cardboard to hold
Her soil, tip Her up and submerge Her in the solution. Don't be timid, but do be gentle. It is either this, or the slow
death by the spiders. Swish Her around softly, cautiously agitating the water by raising and lowering her in the bucket, like a pump swirl against Her. The whole time spent in the water, once submerged, should be no more than 5 seconds.
One danger point is when She is removed from the water. Just like after you
wash something that absorbs water, Tulasi will have a greater weight due to the added water that has been suspended on Her leaves and branches. If you just pull Her right out, the added water will cause Her to
droop over and be unable to support Herself. If you grab Her right out there is
every possibility of breaking roots and also tearing branches. As you pull Her
out, simultaneously grab hold of a strong part of Her stem towards the base,
several inches above the ground. By holding on to the stem in this way, it gives
added support to Her and also you can very gently shake off the excess water
(Like the Boar incarnation, shaking off the water after saving the world from
the filthy place.)
The next step is to hose Her off with fresh water. Wash the old soap off Her leaves and also finish off those spiders who were shaken loose by the bath but were not completely removed. By placing a finger over
the nozzle you can make a jet-spray-- there must be force enough to knock the
spiders off but not enough to tear or rip Her leaves. Be sure to get the
underside of the leaves, as that is where the spiders hide out. The main concern
here is the possibility of flooding Her pot with the excess water, so turn Her
pot on one edge, tilted to one side, and in that way you have a clean shot at
the underside, and the excess water just travels right on by. Also, you
could cover her root ball and the earth at the top of the pot with a sphere of
plastic or something like plastic wrap. Now very carefully shake off the water,
and unfold Her leaves. Remove any of the old yellow leaves that may be caught in
Her branches. Have a sacred throw away to take care of the unoffered leaves. You
may have to prop up a branch or two for a day or so-- use a stick, being sure
not to crush any buds or leaves. She maybe a bit limp (be very careful when you do this, have an assistant and think
it out thoroughly before acting), but you will see Her perk up by morning. Over time, the water soaking into Her stems helps to generate healthy fibers for carrying fluid. During the summer months, spray Her with water twice a day,
once in the morning around 10:00 and again the afternoon about 2:30. She loves it, as manifested by Her green effulgence.
If the plants are kept healthy and are regularly bathed, there should never be a need for insecticides. While sulfar is an organic control, and can be washed off before leaves are offered, you have to have very hot sunshine in order to activate its working. It is better to rely on bi-weekly baths with soap (every 14 days) and spraying Her off every other day.
In the event that Tulasi already has a serious spider mite infestation when you begin caring for her, a different plan may be needed. If the finely meshed webbing can be readily seen throughout her branches, you may have to remove the sick limb. In worst cases, it is better to remove the worst places and let Her concentrate on that which has potential to be saved. Once the leaves are yellow with browning tips and
covered with the webs, there is little hope. Best to remove by following the tip
down the stem to where She still remains healthy. Cut above a pair of healthy
buds ( see section on collecting seeds). Contemplate the move first, and cut off as
little as possible while still doing the job. It is better to just cut Her once than to do
many small cuts. This may seem harsh, but having done the initial cutting (better to cut once than to let Her go the slow
way with a blanket of spiders) the regular bathing and spraying keep Her in the
peak of health. (Note: 'It is a great offense to cut Her lotus branches', replied
Srila Prabhupada to Radhaballabha in a letter. He also spoke just prior to His leaving about this subject, saying:generally plants are pruned before winter but Tulasi-devi is not ordinary. Sachidevi.) Tulasis that have been tended in this way have made a comeback and are now serving their Lord nicely, so one must follow their heart, judge by the results, and take all circumstances into consideration.
If Tulasi's leaves become speckled with a brownish pattern it is called mosaic or
tobacco worm. Sometimes it is caused by a fungus and the best method is to
bathe Her and remove the contaminated leaves with sharp scissors. Another of the
same type is called a mosaic worm, which tunnels in between Her two layers of
skin in the leaf cells. They look just like they sound-- that is to say, the
first sign is a white or tan line across the leaf which looks like someone dug a
small tunnel. Just like a gopher, this little worm will weave all over Her leaf
until it looks like a mosaic. They live on the inside of Her leaves, but one can't use insecticide to kill them. The easy and effective control is to simply nip the leaf containing the worm and be sure to remove it from the
area. These worms do not spread at a rapid rate, so removing a few leaves should be all that is required(by Krsna's Grace). As a general rule, always separate the healthy from the sick, and keep it that way until the danger has
sufficiently passed away.
Small white insects which look like tiny, white flies or moths, come when
the air is stuffy and moist. Too much incense in an enclosed area which is damp
will bring them. They are of no real danger, and will leave as soon as there is
fresh air. Leaving Tulasi out at night, if steps are taken to protect Her, is first
class, especially on moonlight nights. Always be sure She is protected by
screens as summer brings out the bugs, and they are especially fond of Her.
Many abnormalities which appear to be symptoms of diseases may actually be caused by
changes in Her natural conditions: too much water, too much sunlight, not enough
fresh air, too much cold, etc. All these can cause discoloring and mutations.
Symptoms and Cures
Too much nitrogen in the soil will cause all of Tulasi's sap to leave
Her leaves and stems, and concentrate in the roots. The result is that She
will go limp and die. It is a gradual process occurring throughout the entire
plant. (This will distinguish it from a virus which can hit just one branch and
leave the rest of Her in tact.
Cure: Decrease watering, but don't starve Her. This will keep more of the
nitrogen from being absorbed at such a rapid rate. When She appears stronger,
then carefully transplant Her in to fresh (nitrogenless) soil. Cow manure
is good to use - in fact, it is the safest of all possible plant foods. Is
there any doubt as to why the cow is so worshipable?
Fungus come from tiny seeds (spores) in the air which grow on Her leaves
or in the soil. Once inside Her system, they work like a cancer and spread throughout
Her system. A whole branch can just wi1t up and be gone while the rest of Her
stays in tact. Apparently healthy leaves drop off in large quantity or branches
wilt and die.
Cure: Separate infected Tulasis immediately. Keep in dry place. Water as
little as possible. Spray with the fungicide spray Benlate immediately. Do not
offer the leaves for four weeks thereafter. She should be segregated as fungus will travel to the other Tulasis by contact. Be sure to keep all your utensils clean and wash your hands after touching the infected ones. The doctors say to give Her
sunlight, and this is confirmed in Bhagavad-Gita, "The sun-god can be
worshipped for improved health."
Nitrogen Burn: Too much nitrogen in the soil can also cause the tips of Her
leaves to turn brown. Yellow will creep in from the side rims, and the whole
leaf will fade.
Cure: Follow the same procedures as for too much nitrogen.
Adapted from several publications, including "The Tulasi Handbook", "Care and Feeding of Talasi", and "The Art of Caring for Srimati Tulasi Devi"