Friday, September 7, 2007

Roundup Time

Many gardening rituals are observed annually at Atlock Farm: potting hardy bulbs in fall for forcing into bloom during winter, removing the perennials and hardy woody plants from winter storage in early spring, and placing winter-weary tropical plants outdoors in late spring, for example. As the Curator of the Coleus Collection (I’m still working on getting the gang to call me that), I’m in charge of one of the most important coleus-related rituals, namely making sure that the entire collection is renewed before the end of summer. If all goes well, come late winter we’ll have vigorous plants for chopping up into plenty of cuttings, which will be rooted and potted up for sale.

I take an inventory of all of the coleus toward the end of July, setting aside three good-looking specimens of every coleus that remain after the spring sales season. If three good specimens aren’t available, then it’s up to me to propagate the missing cultivars and nurture them until it’s time for the big roundup. I allow about a month between propagation time and the roundup.

Here are some of the larger, more established plants in the Ark (the greenhouse we call #10):

And here are still more. This shows most of the recently propagated ones:

Everything came together on September 1 this year, when we potted up nearly 200 hanging baskets (two each of nearly every coleus in the collection). You ask, “Why not three of each, since three are set aside?” Well, I like to have a choice between three specimens, and sometimes one of the three plants peters out before the roundup. Also, it’s enough of a squeeze to find room for 100 baskets in each of two greenhouses, let alone in three, plus the “heir and a spare” approach usually results in at least one very healthy specimen of every cultivar come late winter.

Here’s a cartload of nascent stock plants, ready to be potted up:

Alex (front) and Wilson (back) got the job done in about two hours! Here they are tending to ‘Odalisque’ (a super trailer) and ‘Pele’ (an all-arounder):

While everything is being potted up, the Curator makes sure that everyone remains in alphabetical order. Believe me, it’s worth the effort to keep the plants in alpha order, especially when someone is looking for a specific cultivar in a hurry.

Here’s a good-sized chunk of the collection, all potted up and ready to be watered:

Normally we’d hang the baskets in the two greenhouses immediately after watering them in, but as of now (early September) we have a bit of a space issue. So the plants remained outside over the sunny, beautiful Labor Day weekend, and here’s what happened to 'Night Skies':

The above is a perfect example of what can happen if a plant is not hardened off (acclimated) before placing it outside, whether during the coleus roundup or at spring planting time. But as Ken Selody (also known as El Jefe) says, “They’ll be fine. They have roots.” He’s right: coleus are tough, and it takes more than a bad sunburn to get most of them to throw in the towel.

Yet another reason to love coleus!