LOOKING FORWARD TO SPRING

For those budding gardeners who are looking for a challenge, acquiring a greenhouse and having a go at growing to show or even for pleasure, can be rewarding.  There are many genus of plants that quite happily, with the right care, will thrive in that environment.  This need not be as expensive as it sounds, if one looks around to see what secondhand greenhouses are advertised locally to where you live.  I bought both of my 8' x 12' greenhouses that I use for my Pelargoniums for about £100 each.  Admittedly it was a few years ago now but there are still bargains to be had.  In addition I bought two aluminium greenhouse frames without glass for £15 to use to make into the framework for my staging.  For the slatted top I was lucky enough at a car boot to find enough hardwood for next to nothing.  The beauty of this was I was able to make it the height and width that I wanted to make the most use of the available space.  To me having a greenhouse makes growing plants all year round achievable and can be heated through the winter months by using bubble insulation and having an electric heater that is controlled by a thermostat.  To put it into some sort of context, for less that the price of a packet of cigarettes per week, I can enjoy my hobby and can keep growing outdoors when most of the garden is dormant.

As the night time temperature starts to rise in April it is a cue for me to think about removing the bubble insulation, to prevent the greenhouses becoming too hot.  This is a good opportunity to get all the plants out and clean the staging, glass and frame of the greenhouse.  For this purpose I use Armillatox or Agralan Citrox as I can put the plants back in once it is dry without any fear of fumes that you would get by using something like Jeyes affecting them.

I have to think about shading now as it is surprising just how much sunlight is deflected by the bubble insulation and try not to put the white shading on straight away but use roller blinds that I made from green netting.  When the time comes I use a weak solution of Nixol Weather Sensitive paint-on shading to protect my plants and keep the temperature down, this is increased later when the power of the sun gets stronger.  The hottest time of the day seems to be round about 3-4 pm these days in my greenhouses.

A helpful tip that I can pass on is to double pot your plants in the greenhouse as it helps to keep the roots warmer and encourage them to grow to the edge of pots in winter.  This also helps to reduce watering in the warmer months as plants do not dry out as quick. (It works for me).

Another thing to be aware of with this sudden increase in temperature is the reddening of leaves on Stellars and Zonals with dark zones.  A prime example of this is my young standard of Carlton Supreme, which caught me out, I assume it is due to the stress of being grown this way as I have not had this happen to this cultivar before.  This does not grow out and any affected leaves on plants that are destined for the show bench are removed now, but best not to remove them all in one go as I have had plants go into shock when I have got carried away.  At this time my plants are still being fed on Chempak No 3 with the strength being adjusted according to how often my plants need water.  As a guide if I need to water daily or every other day it is quarter strength, if twice a week it is half strength and if only once a week or longer it is full strength.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PELARGONIUMS & GERANIUMS

For those of you who have difficulty grasping the Pelargonium/Geranium naming issue I will try and keep it simple to explain how this confusion came about.  The Pelargonium belongs to a family that was originally called Geranion which seems to have been changed along the way to Geranium.  This family is divided into five and to make it easier to understand, I will call each of them a tribe.  The five tribes are Pelargonium (storksbill), Geranium (cranesbill), Erodium (heronsbill), Sarcocaulon and Monsonia, as you can see from this one of the tribe, namely Geranium became the name for the whole family.  The word Geranion was derived from geranos which in Greek means crane.  This was adopted because the main distinguishing feature of the whole family is the extended beak-like seed produced by all its members.  At a later date this was deemed wrong and the whole family was duly renamed Geraniaceae.

What you should be able to gather from this is that the Pelargonium is a tribe in its own right and apart from the beak-like appearance of its seed, bears no resemblance to the tribe Geranium.  Where they also differ is that the Pelargonium has a nectar tube, this is joined to and forms part of the pedicel, which in layman's terms means individual floret stem.  The Geranium does not have this luxury and also differs from the way it disperses its seed.  The Pelargonium has a white feather-like end to its seed which allows it to drift away on the wind.  The Geranium seeds once ripe are flung quite a distance from the parent plant as I have often noted in my Geranium bed.  Another way they differ is that the Geraniums, apart from a few, are regarded as totally hardy, whereas the Pelargonium is more tender and needs to be given some protection during the winter months.

An obvious way to tell the two apart is to look at the flowers, on the Geranium the petals give the appearance of a regular formation whereas on the Pelargonium they appear more irregular being of different shapes, especially on some of the species.

When you go into your garden centres and nurseries to buy bedding geraniums you are really buying bedding Pelargoniums which have been raised for that purpose.  The same goes for scented leaf Pelargoniums, these are sold as scented Geraniums, this is so wrong, ok some of the leaves on the Geraniums are pungent such as the Macrorrhizum group which are regarded more as aromatic rather than have a definite smell like the Pelargoniums which can be more pleasant with scents like Lemon, Orange, Peppermint, Pineapple and Ginger to name but a few.  It is a shame that the powers to be do not put this right to stop all this confusion.  The excuse that the public will not know what they are buying if the plants that are indeed Pelargoniums presently being sold as Geraniums are actually called by their proper name is wearing a bit thin in my opinion.   I have been going around the country giving talks to specialist societies, garden clubs and horticultural societies for many years.  In the beginning when I asked how many did not know the dfference between Pelargoniums and Geraniums, virtually everybody's hands used to go up - NOW THEY TELL ME!