Well the Christmas flowers are all packed, the office is now closed and the staff are all off for the Christmas holidays, however there is no rest for me. As we go out celebrating the festive season friends are often surprised that I am still in my greenhouse and not putting my feet up indoors. The truth is that there is always something to do. At the moment it is mostly keeping the plants happy and preparing for coming spring.
I spend a lot of time tidying up plants, removing finished flowers and old leaves. I also remove a lot of the big leaves on our mother plants to let air and light circulate around the stems. Removal of the old leaves and flowers on the Pelargoniums is a must as if left unchecked it can be the host of ‘Botrytis’ or the commonly known name of ‘grey mould’, this fungal disease can be problematic if left unchecked, but with regular removal of finished flowers and leaves and good ventilation around the plants it can be controlled and potentially eradicated.
Botrytis thrives in humid conditions so greenhouses are the perfect hosts, it is an ubiquitous fungus, whose airborne spores are always present, it thrives on dead organic material but can also infect living plants under the right conditions, for example on green plant parts a wound or other stress is usually needed for infection, but on flowers and fruits it can infect without wounds.
Picture below on left shows flowers & leaves if left on the plant can form ‘grey mould’. Picture on the right, shows plant tidied up and all old plant growth and flowers removed, leaving nice healthy stems.
Watering is another of my top jobs, whilst they don’t need much water at this time of year they do need some to keep them happy. especially the plants on the propagator as they do dry out being on the heat. With the propagator benches I tend to water a little and often, keeping a general moistness to the soil – this can be tricky at this time of year due to the light levels and cooler temperatures and you don’t want the leaves getting too wet and forming any rot.
The mother plants are treated slightly differently I like to give them a good drink and then leave them to dry right out again rather than regularly giving them a ‘little’ drink of water.
Ventilation, I cannot stress the importance of this!! Unfortunately our main greenhouse doesn’t currently have the modern gizmo of automated ventilation, so all opening & closing the windows/doors is down to me, but it does have the added bonus of using common sense – something a computer cannot always master, though these systems are getting better. I daily open and close the windows during the day, and subject to what the weather is doing they can be at full open or just a crack, but the ventilation is paramount to good healthy plants – this isn’t just important in the winter but throughout the year.
Heating – this is something that all depends on what you grow, when we were just a Dianthus nursery we didn’t need the hassle of heating as most of the Dianthus plants are frost hardy or can go dormant during the cold months, but now our range has expended and we stock Pelargoniums and Succulents, both of which require the greenhouse to be heated. Our main greenhouse stocks our propagators, Pelargonium and Succulents and is fully heated, the heaters are on thermostats so they come on automatically when the greenhouse temperature drops to 5c. This is warm enough for the plants to be happy. Any warmer and it increases the heating costs considerably without benefiting the plants very much.
Our Pinks stock is grown in a unheated environment, we try to keep them in as natural an environment as possible as we find it gives us better cutting material and also the young plants don’t need hardening off before they are posted.
We are now very busy taking cuttings for the up-coming spring months, once it has been decided what is going to go in the spring catalogue it is the nursery teams job to ensure the cuttings are taken and in the volume we need. We use heated propagating benches to encourage rooting, we currently have 3 hot benches, each measuring 50ft long by 6ft wide, they are made up of 2″ thick polystyrene base with 2″ of sand on top, this has electric soil warming cables pushed into it, which are controlled by soil thermostats that aim for a soil temp of 70c (21c). We find our cuttings are happier with warm bottoms and cool tops.
We use hormone rooting powder to help our pinks and carnations to root, but find our pelargoniums & succulents are happier without it. Whilst rooting takes a bit longer at this time of year, due to the volume of plants we sell in the spring we have to start propagating in October to ensure we have enough rooted plants of what people want, though it can sometimes be a guessing game and we don’t always get it right or the mother stock decides not to produce enough cutting material which can cause us problems – the fun of growing plants!
Once the young plants are rooted they are taken off the hot beds and moved to standing benches, We continue propagating daily until March, this enables us to have a constant succession of plants rooting ready for us to use.
Our new Spring catalogue is due out Mid January and has several newly listed varieties alongside some of our best sellers and top performers, for a sneak peak on what’s coming out check out our website.
So as you can see, it might be Christmas but there is always something to be done.
Thanks for reading and we look forward to supplying you plants in 2019.