Thursday, 4 December 2014

It's Christmas time

Christmas is approaching fast, so all the trainees have been invited to help with decorating the glasshouse, while receiving some induction into the process of growing display poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and Chrisanthemum spp.

Poinsettia Christmas tree
It turns out Christmas time starts in March for the display flower grower: that is when one needs to put in an order of your chosen cultivars, before they run out! They are propagated in May, poinsettias, and they come in by the end of June as 2 in plugs that need potting up on a heated bench (under some fleece for a week or so to speed establishment). Pinching straight afterwards to 5-6 pairs of leaves helps the plant bush up, and a very strict regime of watering 3 times a week follows. Poinsettias are short day flowering plants that would normally start changing colours in September: too early for Christmas. To delay the process, during August and September they are exposed to night-break lighting (with energy saving bulbs) at 10 PM and 2 AM, so the bracts only start changing colour at the end of October. There is a video going in the glasshouse, that demonstrates the whole process.

That's how one gets such perfect looking plants for the Christmas tree, made of poinsettias on a special metal frame.

Standard poinsettia towering above the rest

At the end of the season, some of the poinsettias are saved for propagation, and some are grown on as standards. They go through a dormant season in which they do not like water much: it is an art to get the balance right so as to keep them alive!

Christmas chrysants

Chrisanthemums go through a very similar propagation process, starting in June when cuttings come in. This year the chosen cultivars are from the 'Perfection' collection, which is bred locally to Woking. Potted four per pot, they are grown to get a single flower per stem, so thinning is required: 5 times during the growing season!  P&D are always a problem in the enclosed environment that greenhouses are, but chrysants are a particular concern because, on top of whitefly they suffer from white rust. Also, they are subjected to growth regulation treatment to get uniform height and to stiffen the stems that must bear such heavy flowers: perfect displays demand the adoption of rather extreme measures...

Anyway, we all helped decorate the various sections of the glasshouse, where kids activities for Christmas will be inspired by the Narnia world, and I specifically worked arranging the chrysants' display.

The team was impressed how the look and feel of the place changed by the time we finished, and we definitely all left in a Christmas spirit!

Chrysants display taking shape

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