How's it growing?

                                         

Anthurium crystallinum 

                                               

Recent years have seen a surge in popularity in foliage plants. Most notably from the family Araceae or commonly known as Aroids. This family includes Monsteras, Philodendron and Anthuriums amongst other lesser known but equally beautiful genera. The majority of this family is adaptable and perfectly suited to life indoors but they do require conditions closer to their natural tropical habitats to be grown well and realise their full potential. The highest concentrations of these plants is in the tropical regions of the world. Regions of consistent temperatures and high humidity and rainfall. To replicate these conditions we invested in a purpose built greenhouse to give us greater control over the process of source to sale.

                                              

 Seed grown Philodendron plowmanii

We source our plants and propagation material from collectors and growers. They can arrive as leafless stem cuttings or as a single established plant which we designate as a parent plant. Some of our parent plants have provided us with multiple generations of new plants such as our Philodendron 'Pink Princess'.

The next generation of Philodendron 'Pink princess' grown from our 12 year old parent plant.

Growing plants from quality parent plants means that future generations are much more likely to be of a similar standard. Growing plants ourselves gives us full control over all factors involved in the process from where we source the original plant material through to what potting media we use. 
We had a chat with Annie, Our grower about the process of getting these plants ready for sale:

 

1. What is the process for new plant material coming into the greenhouse? Regardless of where the plant material is sourced it is thoroughly inspected for any visible signs of insect infestations or fungal/viral conditions.
All plant material is sprayed with Natrasoap, which is a general broad-range insecticidal soap and is effective and safe for both the plant and humans handling them.

If the plant material sourced comes potted in peat or a potting mix, this is flushed through with a fungicide.
Plant hygiene is critical to ensure there are no contaminants that can affect the existing stock. Therefore, new stock is quarantined for up to ten days.

2. What is the process of getting cuttings started?
Hygiene is the most important aspect of the process. Surfaces are kept clean. Pots and trays (if reusing) should also be washed in hot water and detergent. 
Secateurs should be sterile and sharp to ensure cuts are clean and that stem tissue isn't crushed or bruised.

Steri-prune and /or a hormone stimulant is applied to the fresh cutting.
Steri-prune is a horticultural tar that seals the end of the cutting and prevents die back .A hormone stimulant encourages the plant to produce new roots from the nodes.

A Dibble or sharp stick is used for making a hole in the propagating mix or a clean container of damp sphagnum moss.

After the initial inspection and quarantining the strongest plant material is selected. Material that appears weak or damaged is discarded and composted.


Timing is critical for the species being propagated; a tip cutting, softwood cutting or semi- hardwood material is used depending on the species and season.
The cutting is selected and the steri-prune/hormone applied and the cutting placed in either the propagating mix or the sphagnum moss and watered in.
Preventing loss of moisture from the plant material is critical. Keeping humid high enables the plant to recover more readily and activates root growth.

3. How do you decide on potting up mediums and pot size?
Understanding the origins of the species gives you the best success rate. Cacti etc can be potted into a free draining mix that imitates the drier regions whereas a plant from a wet humid rainforest will need a potting mix that is moisture retentive and imitates the humus rich soil of the forest floor.
We grow mainly tropical, humidity loving plants in the greenhouse so the mix we use reflects this, A combination of coco fibre, activated charcoal, premium potting soil, coco chips, orchid bark and perlite in various measures and adapted to the different species requirements. A slow release fertiliser and neem granules are also added to help feed and protect the plants.

In regards to pot size once again timing is critical. If the plants have been propagated at the start or middle of the season we can anticipate quick root growth a slightly larger pot can be used in this case. Slower or late season propogation may require a smaller pot so roots are not sitting in a colder wet medium. We find most plants are happier if they are allowed to have active root growth which can be seen on the outside of the potting medium before being moved onto a larger size pot.

4. What way is the greenhouse oriented? Do you have varying light exposures throughout the greenhouse? Under benches etc?

Our greenhouses are perfectly oriented to have east and north sun with the hottest westerly sun in summer shaded by a large hedge. Ventilation and spacing the plants is important so they have the best chance for growth. Under bench shelving is generally used for the very low light hardy plants, as many other varieties don’t receive the required light.

5. What temperature range does the greenhouse experience?
The heated benches in the propagation house run at a constant temp of 15-20 degrees. This gives the best and fastest results in stimulating root growth. Once they have started to develop a good root system they are potted and moved to a non-heated bench to harden up. The temp range in the greenhouse is a minimum of 15 degrees and a maximum of 30.

6. How do you maintain humidity? How do you control watering? Is it all automated or do you hand water as required?

We have automated misting systems to keep humidity high but we prefer a hands on and personal style of watering our plants so we can vary as needed. Our stock is checked more than once daily and we can tell at a glance if more or less water is required in an area or for a specific plant. Size of plant /root system/pot size and potting mix/place on the bench/light exposure have to be considered in the watering regime.

7. What pests have you had to deal with and how do you control them?
ARGHHHH PESTS.
Stay vigilant! As a small propagations nursery we have the benefit of knowing each plant we grow, the origin of the parent plants and the treatment given on arrival in the nursery.
Pests are often seasonal, sneaky and can be persistent if not dealt with immediately.
All year rounders.... Scales and Mealy bugs (not too hard to manage but often need follow up spraying. Fungal gnats and aphid, autumn and spring cycles and bloody red spider mites all the year but mostly in dry conditions. Mostly we use barrier sprays like Natrasoap weekly but for other pests we have to vary it. The trick is to check often and treat and isolate as soon as any pest appears.

Our most commonly encountered pests are Mealy bug, Fungal gnats, Scale and Aphid which we treat with a spot treatment of Isopropyl alchohol to get on top of active adults. We back this up with regular use of Eco oil, Neem oil and Neem crystals as a preventative.

8. What plants have you had the most success with? Which plants have been particularly frustrating to grow?
Most varieties of the velvet philodendron family love the humid environment of the greenhouse. Timing the taking of cutting material from the parent plants, treating as mentioned earlier and seeing them successfully produce roots and new tip growth is really (nerdy) but thrilling.

I love the family Amydrium.They have unusual foliage, texture and the most beautiful flowers and are relatively easy.
Some varieties of Alocasia are either really easy or frustratingly hard but the challenge of trying to 'crack the code' for a particular species is what keeps things interesting!

9. How long does the process from source material to saleable plant take on average?
This depends on the species being propagated, time of year and the growth patterns for the season. Some years the growing season starts later than is ideal for getting the plants into the store but a general timeline would be 6 months (quick and easy) to 18 months for the slower or more difficult to reach a good size.
One of the best things about propagating is the constant trial and error and adapting different practices to find the right answer.

10. How do you ensure the plants grown under greenhouse culture will adapt to average house conditions?
The plants we grow here are given everything needed to be strong and healthy and this includes slowly reducing the “pampering” to a cooler and less humid environment. During the warm months plants spend around 4 weeks in the unheated greenhouse at an average day temp of around 20-30 degrees. As autumn temps drop the heaters come on for the night temp which stays at around 15 degrees. These are tropical plants we are trying to grow in a cold Victorian climate so as much as we can toughen them up to some extent they are always going to need a base temp to keep them happy.

11. What are the benefits of growing our own stock both professionally and personally?

Personally there are so many fun reasons! The challenge of trying out one practice and having success and applying it to another variety and it’s a total fail. The pride of picking up one of the plants we’ve grown that has gone from a small cutting to a totally leaf perfect specimen ready for sale is the best feeling. It incorporates years of experience, learning, and trial and error to achieve a small moment of perfection.

For the Nursery it means we can control all aspects of care right up until they go to another home. I know every plant we have here, who the parent is and what growth pattern to expect from it. This means the plants sent in to the store have the best chance of giving the same level of pleasure to the person buying it along with as much advice as the customer needs to help maintain health and growth.

A Philodendron 'Dean Mcdowell' beginning to show some leaf size after arrived as a leafless stem cutting