from the North East Ė Late June 2020
After an extremely frustrating 2019 when I only grew begonias to keep my
stock going due to a planned house move that was eventually abandoned, I
was desperately looking forward to exhibiting again this year. Well, we
all know that wonít happen now but at least I am able to grow them to
exhibition standard again. One of the outcomes of last year was that I
found myself very low on stock Ė thankfully I didnít loose any varieties
but in terms of planning for succession I had fallen well behind.
The decision was made to reduce the number of plants grown to flower,
which would then increase my available space for cuttings, The result of
this change is that I now have one of my 16 x 8 greenhouses set aside
wholly for this purpose. This hopefully one-off opportunity should get
me back on track with my stock for 2021.
There are a few varieties that I will be flowering for the first time in
2020 even though I have had some of them for at least a couple of years:
I really canít wait to see this one in full bloom in my greenhouse. I
built up a bit of stock last year Ė it looks like it is quite generous
with cutting material and I had also planned to try and flower it on a
cutting, but out of the seven cutting tubers I started, four didnít pip
even though they all rooted well, which is a worry, so I ended up
sacrificing my only adult tuber to use for extra cuttings, so will only
flower three cutting tubers this year.
I donít know why itís taken me so long to getting around to growing this
variety but Iím pleased that I have it now. The two things Iím not
looking forward to are dealing with the awkward angle of the bud and the
dreaded petal marking.
An older variety that I cannot ever recall seeing on the show bench but
I can most definitely remember seeing it in full bloom in John
Hamiltonís greenhouse a few years ago. It is also one of his all time
favourites so it comes highly recommended! Cuttings seem to root quickly
and on the evidence so far it produces a substantial cutting tuber, but
since I acquired it about three years ago, it has usually lost quite a
bit of steam once itís potted up. This year however, I have two healthy
looking plants that donít look out of place among the other varieties so
my optimism is high.
Another red to add to the collection, so thereís even more competition
now for Tom Brownlee. It has nice glossy, dark green foliage but it
doesnít appear to be the straightest of plants and it also seems to be
one of those where the leaves donít grow in the same direction. This can
be frustrating when sticks and ties have to be repositioned around bud
securing time. One of my Moira Callan is growing like this as well Ė
other varieties that do this on a regular basis are Tequila Sunrise,
Fantasia, Eva Grace and Ruby Young.
Blind cutting tubers is an issue that Iíve had before, probably the
worst variety for me is Joyce Mihulka. It always produces a firm,
uniform, healthy looking tuber, but most years I can guarantee that some
of them will produce roots but no top growth. I have hung on to them if
Iím short and a few will pip at some late stage in the summer whereas
others produce nothing. Because of this, I usually grow about 50% more
Joyce Mihulka cutting tubers than I need in anticipation of this.
It really is worth getting to know your varieties and this doesnít just
apply to the flowering period. Varieties that are prone to losses
through rot such as Mary Heatley, Nichola Coates and Mrs. Dan Ramage are
worth rooting a few more than you plan to flower and I always grow at
least twice the amount of Symestar cutting tubers that I need because of
its tendency to not produce any tuber at all. The good thing is that
when they do all come good I have some extra spare plants available.
When I wrote the diary for the NBS website a couple of years ago, I was
experiencing an ongoing issue with cuttings rotting off. I struggled to
understand why at first because previous to this, propagation had never
been an issue for me. I fell into the trap of blaming too many things Ė
for a few years I had rooted my main batch of cuttings in a 5 feet by
two open heated bench. I have quite a few Stewart electric propagators
but none of them have thermostats, so I had got it into my head that
they were far too hot for delicate un-rooted cutting material so had
just about stopped using them. Looking back, I was loosing a few
cuttings on the open bench as well but in 2018 due to the extra plants I
flowered, the 5 x 2 wasnít available so I reverted to the Stewarts and
the losses increased. I blamed fertilizer in the start up compost for
the tubers the cuttings came from Ė not unreasonable as I was starting
up in M2 and rooting in it as well however a change to plain peat didnít
make any difference, but particularly I blamed the temperature of the
small propagators. 2019 gave me the chance to have a detailed think
about what was going wrong and eventually I realised that the fact was I
had been increasingly restricting water because of the rotting issue.
The cuttings were dehydrating and then when I eventually watered them
the rot was starting.
For 2020, I have a Ďnewí regime:
Back to using the Stewarts Ė including the lids to increase humidity Ė I
had stopped because they were even hotter with them on
Tubers are started in 6 to 1 peat and perlite, no fertilizer
Cuttings are rooted in the same medium
Rooting medium checked daily for water especially below the surface
Spraying with water regularly throughout the day
As a result, I have taken over 300 cuttings this year with only around 5
lost and this was probably more attributable to them not being in the
best condition rather than anything else. The compost temperature has
been around 35įC
for most of the rooting period. On warmer days, I switched them off from
late morning until early evening and the temperature remained between 25
They were rooted in 3 weeks but I left them in situ for a further week,
gradually reducing the time they were switched on then potted up after 4
weeks. I believe that they would have rooted just as well at a lower
temperature, perhaps a little slower but I know now it was the lack of
moisture to blame.
Purely for a bit of fun, I am also growing a couple of pot plants. This
is strictly a one-off but probably Ė to be truthful, because deep down
psychologically I know that I wonít have to suffer the trauma of
preparing them for and transporting them to a show! Itís also a chance
to use the bloom supports that I bought 7 or 8 years ago that have been
in the shed ever since!
Without giving any thought whatsoever about which varieties to use other
than the fact that I had three well-matched plants of each variety
available, Iím using Powder Puff and Joyce Champion. They went straight
from the propagator into twelve litre pots in late April, so in timing
terms for growing pots, I suspect it was a bit on the late side. Each
pot has three separate tubers and I am just feeling my own way with
regards to training the breaks. Iím sure that Iíll make plenty of
mistakes but Iím bound to learn something Ė even if itís just what not
What I will say is that I am starting to appreciate just how much work
goes into growing multi-stems Ė even with just two plants. Nothing can
be done quickly without risking damage so I canít image what it must be
like to grow a couple of dozen or more of them. One thing that I have
noticed is how crowded things are in the centre of the pot so I am
turning the pots through 180 degrees every morning. The greenhouse they
are in faces south so if I didnít do this, the side shoots at the back
of the pot would get very little light.
Iíll also decide soon if I am going to try a few plants grown as single
stems, as the six pot class at Dundee is something that Iíve thought
about from time to time, although I have to admit that I havenít given
any thought whatsoever as to how I would actually get them there in
addition to my cut blooms!
Iíll probably do an update around flowering time, in the meantime take
care and good luck.