The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

National Begonia Society Champion 12 Cut Blooms 2017
British Begonia Champion 12 Cut Blooms 2017

Episode 7 mid April

Finally, weather conditions something approaching spring arrived in Blaydon on the 7th of April. We were treated to three glorious days then, no surprise, more torrential rain and then for 4 days, the temperatures were back into single figures again; 5C to be precise, with the heaters running day and night but gradually by the weekend things started to improve again. However during those three better days, my pots of cutting tubers dried out nicely and were watered and the plants immediately started to look like they were ready to get down to business. Begonias, more than any other plant I have ever grown seem to respond the quickest to good weather at this time of year. The adult tubers, that had only been potted up for a day or so didnt show any visible signs of growth, but the warm weather must have provided a nice transition for them from the propagator to the staging. 

Tuber update
The adult tubers from the main propagator looked great in terms of root development when they went into their first pots virtually all of them into two litre with a handful of them in one litre, but a few had run away a bit in terms of top growth, however only the biggest tubers were affected by this. In the past, I have had the odd issue with some of the bigger ones being a bit dry underneath when they come out of the propagators and this can result in a bit of root die back but there was only one or two this year and the roots seemed unaffected. I keep a small hand sprayer filled with water to hand when Im potting on the adult tuber to dampen underneath the tuber if required before I move it on, as I do not like to water plants in after they have been potted up. I much prefer to have the plant watered the day before I move it and the moisture content of the new compost just right. I can then go at least a week before I need to water.

Every now and then I have the odd plant that goes blind. It is always a cutting tuber; they usually appear to be growing well at the time and for the last 3 years I have always had a Tom Brownlee do this see below. If it happens early enough the plant will produce another shoot and I have flowered these before but I dont know what the cause is. 

Cuttings update
Its an improving situation with my earliest batch of cuttings that were damaged due to the excessive propagator temperature and although I have had losses of about 30% and they have taken a bit longer than usual to root, they are moving now and possibly because they have been reluctant to produce roots, a quite a few of them have first been forming tubers before the roots appeared see below left. The root movement seemed to coincide with our first taste of warmer, brighter conditions so perhaps the extremely dull weather we have has had an effect. The first of my potted up cuttings had been struggling a bit, even though I had found some space for them on a propagator but with the brighter conditions they perked up and changed to that brighter, healthier looking green that tells you they are growing. They are only in 3 inch pots because of my limited propagator space, but I realised that I can get more of them onto some heat if I keep them in small pots see below right. I have a different approach to potting up rooted cuttings compared to potting up started tubers. With tubers, I ensure they are watered the day before and that the moisture content of the new compost is just right. As mentioned above, this means that I do not need to water in or water at all for usually at least a week. With the cuttings, the new compost is kept a touch on the dry side because then it gets into contact with the roots better. I then give them a light watering in once potted up. As soon as the roots show on the outside of the compost they will move into one litre pots. For those that will be flowered, I will try to find some propagator space to keep them warm at night, any not selected will just go onto the staging. 


After endless hours of indecision, I finally made my mind up what to use for my main batch of cuttings. I have tried out quite a few combinations by using a 3 inch pot as a measure to see which version had the best physical properties for my mix. I wanted to include some fertilizer in the mix because its never caused me any problems in the past however I am now also thinking a lot about the impact of the fertilizer strength of the start up compost for my tubers and specifically the cuttings I am taking from them. Some of the earlier ones were very thick so were they overfed and could this have contributed to the rotting? (even though the high temperature is the obvious contender). I will think carefully about what I start them up in next year but in the meantime I eventually settled on the following concoction for the main batch of cuttings!

●   2 parts Original Humax this contains silver sand and Nutrimate
●   2 parts peat
●   1 part Perlite I had to relent and admit that it has always given me the best results so Ill live with not liking the look of it for now! 

My next dilemma was open bench or seed trays. Probably as a result of my newfound insecurity about propagation, I have been thinking about using seed trays to root in instead of an open bench i.e. the whole propagator my reasoning?

●   As a form of quarantining
●   Better control of watering
●   Rooted trays can be removed for potting up and slower ones left for a while longer 

Eventually, it occurred to me that as seed trays are shallower than the depth of my propagators, the tip if the cuttings would be closer to the cable so there would be an increased chance of hot spots whereas using my normal method allows for a bit more heat dispersion due to the greater depth of compost so I decided not to use the trays, but now that the main batch is in see below left and centre. I will try a few in trays as a trial.

Ive had a couple of cuttings with a small tuber and a few roots when I snapped them off should be a nice head start see below right variety Falstaff


Ingleston plants update
To be honest, after final potting they have just been left to get on with what they know best. There are definitely times when begonias need minimum intervention and this is one of them. I would have liked it a bit warmer and brighter but it wasnt so they ended up with the same conditions as my adults and cutting tubers never allowed to get cold and watering at a minimum until the weather improved and dried them out and then just enough water to wet the expanding root ball. The plants seem to be growing but bud movement is a bit on the slow side but I was warned about this so no surprise. Looking at them today 15th April see below, I am wondering how I am going to have buds big enough to secure by next week but what will be will be this could be a harsh lesson for me to learn! 

A chance purchase of a new toy!
Wandering idly around our local Lidl which is proof as if ever I needed it that Ive got too much time on my hands, I spotted an interesting looking cold frame for sale in their gardening section; aluminium and glazed with clear polycarbonate see below. Looking closer, I checked out the dimensions and realised that front to back it would fit exactly over my big Two Wests and Elliott propagators and although it was only 39 inches long, at 28 I couldnt resist it. It was the last one in stock but after thinking about it that night, the next morning I nipped over to another branch and managed to snap up another two the third one was because I thought that Colin would fancy one as well, which he did. My big idea was that if I had two of them, together they would be 78 inches long. The smaller of my TWE propagators is 60 inches long but if I bought a 20 inch extension for it, with a bit of modification and persuasion I would be able to combine them into a presentable covered propagation unit, or, as Ive been planning, I could just get a new TWE 80 x 24 inch propagator next year and use it on that, or perhaps get a heated mat made to fit them!  If nothing else, puzzling over this little engineering problem was stopping me from fretting continually about my cuttings! 

Its a small world
A few weeks ago, Robert Bryce forwarded an email to me from Peter Booth who is the President of the Auckland Begonia Circle in New Zealand. It turns out that Peter originates from Hartlepool, which is about 35 miles south of Blaydon. This summer he will be back in the UK for a holiday and will be staying near Hartlepool for a few days, so he will be paying me a visit in the run up to the National show. Ill put a report in the diary after his visit.

Whats keeping me awake at night?
It's my first begonia talk coming up in Ayr but Im trying to stay quite calm about it Im saving my fingernails for the next one at the SBS May meeting when I will face Hecklers Corner, something that Michael Richardson seems quite keen to keep reminding me about! In fact right now, I am reasonably happy about everything because I seem to have rescued a decent percentage of my cuttings, which is more that I could have hoped for 3 or 4 weeks ago. 

Next episode general progress report and my first begonia talk at the West of Scotland           


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