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Growing Advice

THE AURICULA YEAR

Spring
This is the most exciting time for Auricula growers. In February, as the daylight lengthens, the plants start to come out of the near dormancy of the winter months. March sees the start of the rapid lush spring growth and towards the end of the month one can look for tight flower buds in the centre of the plants. During April the flower stems start to rise and the leaves continue their spring growth. From about the middle of this month flowering starts, the alpines normally leading the way. Flowering continues through to the middle of May with the Green and Grey/White Edges and some of the Doubles being the last to flower. Once flowering is over plant growth goes into a rapid decline and it is during this time in the latter half of May and throughout June that I try to complete my repotting and take offsets and cuttings.

Summer
The summer, I have found, is the most difficult time to look after Auriculas. Growth stops, they dislike the hot sunny days of July and August and many of the lower leaves yellow and die back. They need plenty of shading and as great a flow of air as one can manage. Do not let them fool you into thinking they need water if, in the heat of the day, the leaves go limp. It is best to water in the early morning or late in the evening when the leaves are not wilting with the heat. Only give the bare minimum amount of water, remembering that the water is not going towards plant growth, but is being used for its survival during the months it dislikes.

Autumn
By the beginning of September, as the weather gets cooler, the plants start to grow again. Not the lush growth of spring, but a stockier rather fleshier growth, (this is a time when I breathe a sigh of relief) and the plants start to look much happier. Sometimes the odd plant will start to flower. By the middle of the month the shading should be removed to let the plants get the maximum amount of light. The plants continue to put on a small amount of growth throughout October until the colder weather and shorter days arrive.

Winter
Over the winter months Auriculas go into a near dormancy period and many of their lower leaves will go yellow then dry out. Carefully remove these leaves to help prevent botrytis, which can cause the plants to rot. In a bad winter the leaves may die back until just the central bud is left and plant pots become rock hard with frost but do not despair. So long as the plants are kept very nearly but not dust dry they will come to no harm.

N.B. I have named months in this resume of the Auricula year, but please bear in mind that how far north or south, and the severity or otherwise of the winter, etc. all make for variations in exactly when one can expect things to happen.

ADVICE ON GROWING AURICULAS

SITE
All Auriculas are completely hardy. Border, Alpine and Double auriculas can be grown outside throughout the year either planted out or grown in containers. A free-draining soil with some summer shade is essential. The Show types (Edges, Selfs and Stripes), however, need some protection from the elements until after flowering to look their best and we recommend keeping them in a cold greenhouse, polytunnel, cold frame or covered Porch with plenty of ventilation from late autumn through winter and during flowering. They do benefit from standing outdoors during the summer in a cool shady but airy position.

SOIL
The main requirement of the compost is that it must be free-draining. The roots will rapidly deteriorate and become black and mushy if left in a wet, heavy compost. We use a mix of equal parts of John Innes No 2, peat based multipurpose compost and Pearlite or 6mm grit. The plants flourish in this mix and develop good root growth. This mix is suitable for either clay or plastic pots. If an adjustment is to be made we suggest it is safer to increase the proportion of grit / Pearlite to ensure good drainage is achieved..

FEEDING
All Auricula growers have their own theories on feeding, and my own thoughts are constantly being modified. As I have no wish to overload a new enthusiast, my guidance for a beginner to produce healthy plants with reasonable flowers would be to give a couple of half strength feeds of a low nitrogen fertiliser (such as Chempac no.8) in the autumn and a weak feed (about a quarter strength) of a balanced fertiliser (such as Chempac no.3) throughout the spring until flowering is over. No plant flourishes better, however, by being overfed though so keep the solution weak.

DONíTs

1. Donít overpot.                      2. Donít overwater.                  3. Donít let them get too hot.


WATERING
The most important rule is never to over-water. It is by far the most common cause of plant loss. During the winter the plants should be no more that just moist, but not dust dry. A little more water should be given as growth restarts, increasing as growth gets more vigorous and during flowering. As the spring growth stops the water should be cut back and plants should be kept on the dry side over the summer months. A slight increase in water is needed in the autumn when they put on their autumn growth.

PESTS
In the Soil Vine weevil is the most serious soil pest for Auriculas with the grubs rapidly eating all the roots and so killing the plant. A sign of their presence is when the adult beetle has bitten notches out of the edge of the leaves. Wooly aphids can establish themselves around the neck and root of a plant that has been kept too dry and scarid fly enjoy breeding in the vegetative matter in the soil. Bio Provado used twice a year (spring and autumn) is the best precaution against these pests, but do use it at full strength otherwise rather than eradicating them you are encouraging the pests to build up a resistance to the chemicals.

On the leaves
Thankfully Auriculas are not particularly prone to all the barrage of sap sucking insects that are around, although it is possible for them to be attacked by green fly, white fly etc. These normally spread onto Auriculas from other plants in the area but a good spray with any one of the range of proprietry sprays available from the Garden Centres will clear up the problem. The biggest problem nowadays, particularly with plants kept under cover, is Red Spider Mite aka Two Spotted Spider Mite, which has a good resistance to over-the-counter sprays. There are predatory mites (Phytosuelis) which are effective when the weather is warm enough. At the first signs of a plant not looking quite right, have a look through a strong magnifying glass and, if there is any sign of the mite, move the plant outdoors. All too often by the time the problem is noticed the infestation can be severe.

REPOTTING AND OFFSETS
Re-potting can be done either straight after flowering or in the early autumn. We take the plant out of its existing pot , remove any loose compost, trim back any excessive root growth and re-pot into a clean pot whilst being careful not to over-pot. Only if a plant shows signs of root-rot do we take off all the compost and cut back the damaged roots as I think this gives the plant a tremendous set-back. If the plant has been trimmed back it will then go back into a smaller pot. Offsets can be taken when you re-pot and any wounds should be dressed with yellow sulphur before the offset is put into a small pot of its own. Keep them cool and be very careful not to let them dry out completely.
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