Gardening Interview – Sharon’s Hoyas 

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

Sharon Debattista is a popular gardening figure in Malta, with a large following on social media. She mainly specialises in the cultivation of the Hoya genus and has over the years helped numerous people in Malta grow their gardens. On her social media channels, she also shares the cultivation techniques, strategies and tools that she acquired. I sat down with Sharon to discuss where her love for Hoyas originated.

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

Name and Surname?

Sharon Debattista

Speciality?

Cultivation of the Hoya genus

When did the passion for gardening and Hoyas start?

My love for gardening began at a very young age.  As a child, I always admired the old Hoya Carnosa in our neighbour’s garden. I didn’t know what it was, just a waxy flower bunch that I kept staring at. Over the years I gathered a whole collection of them, with different leaf shapes sizes and different flower colours.

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

That is how my Hoya adventure started.

Today I have a greenhouse full of only Hoyas with hundreds of different species.   

Once I got my own house, I started with some house plants like everyone else. I had no Internet access at those times, we’re talking about the late ’90s, so it was all about trial and error. 28 years later I own so many Hoyas in the greenhouse I lost count, and still keep some houseplants as well in the house. 

Explain Hoyas in your own words?

It’s a whole genus of tropical plants with showy star-shaped flowers in loose clusters on trailing stems, with different shapes and sizes of both leaves and flowers, most flowering with amazing fragrance.

How many types or varieties exist?

No one knows… I follow a couple of Hoya professionals that as of today are still creating hybrids. Also, In the wild, there’s many yet to be discovered. 

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

What is so special about the Hoya plant?

They bear the reputation of having extremely strong-smelling blooms. Some blooms are very fragrant and potent. However, the smell and strength of their blooms are as varied as their foliage. 

Do Hoya plants need a lot of sun?

Hoyas do best in bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight can scorch and damage leaves. 

Why is Hoya so popular?

Hoyas are easy to grow, they don’t like to be pampered. Besides that, many are attracted to their flowers that sometimes vary in colour even in the same plant. Personally, I’m super attracted to the different scents they produce, from lemon to cocoa to sweet candy.

Where does the hoya plant originate?

Hoyas originate from tropical Asia, the Pacific Islands and Australia.

Are Hoyas rare?

Some species of Hoya are rare. Some are very expensive to buy. 

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

Do Hoyas like small pots?

They like being pot bound and you’ll get a better blooming if you leave them be for a few years. 

Can hoyas grow in low light?

Hoya needs as much indirect sunlight as possible. Some species can thrive in a lower lit environment, but the majority require bright light to grow. That being the case, Hoyas are used to receiving a lot of heat and dappled sunlight. Many Hoya species thrive the most in humid environments.

Can hoyas be outside?

As long as they are sheltered from the elements. Speaking locally, here in Malta, we should shelter them from the scorching summer sun and the cold draught and rain in winter. 

Do Hoyas like to be misted?

Some like to mist the leaves to increase high humidity and cleaning the leaves. In this case, misting is fine. Do not mist your Hoya if budding or in flower.

What time of year do Hoyas flower?

Most Hoyas flower in Spring and Summer, when the hoya plant is most active. There’s a small group that flowers in Autumn as well. 

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

What is the most expensive hoya plant?

There’s quite a few! But let’s start with Hoya Nova Ghost which is my favourite at the moment. 

How do I know if my hoya needs water?

A good rule of thumb is to water when the leaves start to pucker just a little bit. However, letting the soil stay too dry for too long can damage the Hoya.

Note that Hoyas don’t like their roots to be consistently moist or it will cause root rot.  

What is the best fertilizer for Hoya?

Liquid fertilizer or fish emulsion would be best. 

Fertilize using a balanced liquid food, once per month during the spring and summer growing season.

Can you describe the tools and equipment you’ve used to help you with your gardening work?

Nothing special, good, sterilised scissors, a small trowel, hose pipe, a small watering can and my hands. 

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

What steps would you take to get rid of a garden infestation problem? 

The most common 3 pests are:

Aphids tend to be a common occurrence in our gardens. They especially love to target new growth, and they can easily spread from one plant to another. 

Once aphids start to attack the plant, it can lead to further issues such as fungal disease and ants, this is because after they have fed off a plant, they leave a sticky residue behind that gives a free invitation to every fungus and insect around.

To get rid of aphids, all you have to do is wipe away with a mixture of alcohol and water (70% – 30%). After this, spray with a good pesticide as well even under leaves. Repeat as suggested on the pesticide label. 

Mealybugs are also another common occurrence. To look out for them, keep checking every corner of your plant as they tend to hide well.

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

Mealybugs feed off a plant by sucking out its sap. This then causes the plant to turn yellow and curl up. To get rid of them, simply rub some alcohol/water (70%/30%) on the infected areas. Also, spray pesticide and repeat as suggested on the pesticide label. 

A large variety of plants become victims of red spider mites, and they tend to target every plant they lay their eyes on. Once they have infested one plant, you will notice that they seem to be everywhere, and this is why it is important to take care of the plant before it can even get infected by red spider mites.

You will know if your plant has been infected by a red spider mite. Often, the plant starts to look unhealthy and dusty. This dust is red spider mites, and if you observe the dust closely, you will notice that it is moving around.

They tend to make webbing on the underside of the branches and leaves, this is why it is hard to spot red spider mites with just your eyes. If you wish to observe more closely, then a magnifying glass will do the trick.

The best way to control and get rid of spider mites is by using natural predators such as ladybugs or use pesticides or insecticidal oil and sprays.

Fungus gnat is a common occurrence in plants that are kept indoors. This is because usually, indoor plants have higher humidity and moisture levels. You will notice their presence once you see the adult fungus gnat is flying around near your window or plants.

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

The best way to fight off fungus gnats is by not overwatering your plant. This is because they tend to thrive in damp soil, especially during winters.

You can use a combination of peppermint, cinnamon, and sesame oils to create a nontoxic insect killer which will get rid of the fungus gnat.

How often should you water a garden and why?

It all depends on the type of plants you have. Some have succulent or cacti gardens, others have evergreens, others have seasonal and so on. You water on the specific plant requirements. 

How to make the most of a garden if on a limited budget?

The most important thing is to buy plants depending on the environment you can provide. Buying plants that can’t survive in your home because you don’t have enough light for that specific plant or buying plants that can’t survive under the scorching sun in your garden is a waste of money. Always do your homework before buying.  

Make gardening friends and swap cuttings. In Green Corner Gardening we give away or swap cuttings between us, sharing is caring. 

Where do you go when searching for information or when you have a question?

I have read so many blogs during the years, had long discussions with professionals, follow the best plant growers on YouTube. Years ago, I created Green Corner Gardening on Facebook, and now there’s also Hoya Club Malta where local growers gather up, ask questions and give advice.

Sharon's Hoyas, Flowers in Malta
Sharon’s Hoyas, Flowers in Malta

How do you deal with failure, for example, a dying plant?

I cry over it if it was an expensive or rare one and there’s nothing else I can do 🙂 

But first I inspect the roots and stem and see if I can salvage a piece and start again. 

Where can people contact you or follow your journey?

One can find me on Facebook in Green Corner GardeningHoya Club Malta and Sharon’s Hoyas.

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