How I grow my Zonal plants
The late John Ecclestone wrote a booklet on growing pelargoniums which I refer to regularly, it is available from the British & European Geranium Society, it is called Growing your own Perfect Pelargoniums
I do not follow it religiously but I have adapted it to suit my growing conditions and with the dates of the shows I enter, which you should do if you follow the booklet. As I don't use much heat in the winter I like to take my cuttings a month or so earlier than suggested in the booklet,then the plants are a good size by september/october as they don't grow much after this. I was finding that I didn't have much growth to do the 4th. stop. I am about 4 weeks ahead of the booklet
APRIL / MAY
My first task is to take fresh cuttings from plants I have grown especially which I call mother plants and are young healthy and have non flowering shoots. The base of the cuttings are painted with Tippex to seal them,(they seem to root quicker with no stem rot) they are then put into 2 inch pots which are only filled just over half way with cutting compost or polystyrene cells which are filled to the top as they are smaller and they are placed onto a bed of damp sand in a propagator set at about 65 degrees. I take several of each variety and will eventually select the best three of each variety for showing.
By now the cuttings should have roots so they are ready to have their growing tip removed, this is called stopping it makes the plant send out side shoots, otherwise the plant would grow tall with a couple of branches with just a couple of flowers , the more branches you have the more flowers you get so I try to give my plants 4 stops in all but there are a few exceptions like very free branching varieties which may only require the first and last stop.
Soon after the small growing tip is removed they are potted up, basics go into 3.5 inch pots, dwarfs and miniatures go into 2.5 inch pots, from now on we remove any buds that form, this dis-budding goes on till the last stop in late January and February determined by the show date in June . All the plants will be turned regularly (once a week) throughout their life to keep the growth even.
first stop stopped and tippex applied
flower bud bud removed tippex aplied
The plants should now have some side shoots ready for stopping as they grow quite rapidly this time of year, this will be the 2nd stop, I always make a note on the back of each label when it was stopped,so by the end of the season I have a record which I put into a note book for future reference.
new growth after 1st stop new growth (dwarf)
The plants are knocked out of their pot and the roots should be on the move beginning to wind around the pot, if they are not I wait until they are, then they are potted into larger pots, basics go into 4.5, dwarfs into 3.5 and miniatures into 3 inch pots.
SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER
Winter will soon be here but I only heat the greenhouse just enough to keep the frost out,
I line the inside with large bubble plastic and I also like to keep it well ventilated so the air is constantly changed even on cold days. I use an electric fan Heater and I will constantly use the fan without the heat on to get the air circulating.
I like to stop the plants as soon as they are ready, nipping off the tiny growing tip with the pointed end of a sharp penknife but with some of the more vigorous shoots being cut back to keep the plant compact and the growth as even as possible. I use a very sharp and clean blade when cutting back and dust the cut with sulphur powder or I have started to use TIPPEX with good success to help stop die back (only needed from October to March). I inspect my plants regularly to make sure they a not suffering from any diseases, removing old stipules and yellowing and damaged leaves, if left they rot and can give you all sorts of problems ruining all your work. I start to spray the plants this month with a systemic fungercide to help stop botyritis
old brown stipules Removed and sulphur applied
This month I start staking the plants as the shoots do not grow the way you want them to, I try to move the shoots so when you look down on the top of the plant the shoots are equally spaced, this is done in stages so not to break any shoots off. I often tried to move a shoot in one go and often break the shoot off, sometimes the shoot would crack and this would not show up until a month later which is time wasted, these plants would end up in the garden so not wasted. For stakes I use split cane and put a drinking straw over it, this stops dampness rising up the cane and causing damage to the plant. When moving a shoot I try to put the canes behind a leaf stalk on the shoot and not the actual shoot. Stakes can be re-arranged or removed after three weeks or so.
canes sleeved with straws pulled in with wire
I spray again this month but I wait for a dry bright day.From the middle of the month I start to pot the plants into their final pots but only if the pot is full of roots, basics go into 6 inch, dwarfs into 4.5 inch and miniatures into 3.5 inch, when potting I try to pot the plant slightly lower in the final pot so the bottom leaves are just above the rim of the pot I also make sure the plant is in the center of the pot and it is straight as this is the last chance I will have to do it.
(Plants need to be in their final pot for 6 months to make them flower well)
We are now past the shortest day and halfway into the growing cycle so the plants should start to perk up with the better light conditions,I keep an eye out for botrytis and any bugs etc. that can ruin the plants. Any plants not ready to be potted up in December are potted up this month.
even growth showing new growth
FEBRUARY 4th and final stop
As I have no control over the weather I do not know exactly how long it will take a plant to flower, so I grow 3 of each variety stopping them at 10 day intervals so the plants will flower at different times thus making luck an unnecessary word. I allow 18 to 20 weeks for doubles and 16 to 18weeks for singles and miniatures depending on the show date, so for early shows the plants need more time, but as you get to know your plants you grow you will get to know how long they take, so make a note of the last stop. Depending on the dates of the shows it is time to start our final stop and also any cutting back is done to get a good shape. After the cutting back is done, I stop every shoot making sure I don't miss any and after this last stop I stop dis-budding. Plants for shows in July and August do not need such a long time between stopping and flowering because of the warmer temperatures so I adjust accordingly.
For Angels and Ivy leaf I only give these 13 to 14 weeks
This month I make sure the plants are clean and free from pests and diseases, and check on any staking that might need altering as the shows are getting closer. At the end of this month I will give the plants a fine mist spray with Epson Salts added at a ratio of one table spoon to two gallons of water to keep the foliage nice and green
Plants should be growing well by now and they need plenty of room, so if I feel a plant is not going to make a show plant it is put under the bench for the garden
This month and all the next is the time to start taking cuttings for next years show plants from the mother plants I have grown or purchased earlier.
I may find buds appearing in April but it is this month they come in abundance. By the middle of this month I should start to see florets opening to give me the first signs of colour. This is fine and as it should be. I have chosen varieties with plenty of following bud and I know my timing is correct for the shows in June. On the sunny side of the greenhouse I hang some white plastic blinds on the outside of the greenhouse to shade the plants as the sun gets hot but they still let in plenty of light, the roof also gets shaded
I start choosing the plants I want to exhibit and make sure they are clean, removing bad or damaged leaves and any old remaining stipules and top up the pot with fresh soil, if the pot is old or not in good condition I will change it for a new one.
About 16 days for semi-doubles and doubles and 12 days for singles before the actual show date I remove all fully open florets. All the colour I had has gone, just stems with blobs on the end are left. What I have done is to bring all blooms back to the same stage, from now on they will all open together and will be about the same size. I often have to move the blooms about so they are evenly spaced over the plant using the leaves to hold the stems in place or I use stakes but make sure the are concealed beneath the foliage.
After the shows in June I cut the plants back to get fresh growth so I can get some fresh cutting material with non flowering shoots for next years plants. When the cuttings are rooted I give them one stop and pot them up and they are kept under the bench till January. They are then cut back hard so I get shoots coming from the base of the plant. When the new growth has started I re-pot the plants back into the same size pot after teasing away most of the old compost.(These plants will also make very good show plants especially the slower growing varieties and the miniatures)when full of roots I pot them up and these plants will be used as mother plants for cuttings I take in Late April /May. Those not used for cuttings will make a good late display for the Patio or stopped and grown on for next years shows.
cut back hard new growth
The old show plants are either cut back hard and grown for stock plants or are discarded to make room for the fresh plants. I will be trying to use some of the show plants for showing the following year cutting them back fairly hard and when the new growth has started I will wash the compost off the roots and pot them into the smallest pot I can and grow them on for showing
Watering and Feeding
As I am making my own compost and know what nutriants are in it I don't feed the plants untill the pot is full of roots
I use vitax 1-1-1 or Chempack no. 3 as a balanced feed. Vitax 3-0-1 or Chempack no.2 for a high Nitrogen feed. For High potash I use Chempack no.4. A balanced feed is used mostly and a high Nitrogen feed is only used in early spring if I feel a plant needs a boost.
When the plants are growing well plants get one full feed per week, when watering twice a week I use half strength thus making a full feed and when watering daily the feed is given at a quarter strength every other day. I've always fed my plants from the first potting on, but now that I make my own compost I don't feed until the pot is full of roots and only then if I don't have time to pot on, so feeding really starts when the plant is in it's final pot and is full of roots.I do not feed in November or December but I will water the plants if needed. In February if the pot is full of roots I start using a balanced feed as the light levels are better but only at half strength and back to full strength by mid march.In the winter I make sure the water I use is not cold when watering the plants by adding some hot water to it. Ten weeks before the show I switch to a high Potash feed at full strength.