Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Work-related: Ardisia crenata discoloration

It's generally the case that a plant that's not doing well will become uglier. In fact, that's often enough the rule that I can't think of any exceptions, until this one:

What's going on here is that this particular plant's roots were rotting. I don't know why this would lead to rainbow colors (I've never seen them turn red under any other circumstances), but there you go.

Ardisia crenata (coral berry) was one of the very first things, possibly even the first thing, I ordered when I started work in August 2007: they're maybe not incredibly exciting, but I figured if nothing else, there would be the berries, around Christmas, and that would be interesting to see. Since then, though, we've sold very few, or maybe none, there have been no berries, and the plants have been through a pretty terrific amount of abuse. On the plus side, we've also thrown almost none of them away, so there's still, theoretically, the possibility of making this work out.

The Ardisias have had an especially tough time lately, though, because the tropicals are already getting pushed to the edges of the greenhouse in preparation for spring,1 which left the Ardisias over the heaters, and in a lot of hot, dry air. So the plants on the outside edges of the Ardisia block dry out super, super quickly, and need to be watered all the time. The plants on the inside of the Ardisias never get to dry out at all. They were all planted in really crappy soil when we got them: it's something like a cross between topsoil (heavy, dark, prone to clumping) and peat moss (holds moisture for a long time and then dries out to an unwettable brick). Nothing good about it at all.2 So at any given moment, we've had some plants rotting out and some plants dry to the point of wilting, in the same trays. All the other plants have this same situation to contend with too, of course, but some of them mind more than others.

The plant in the picture was one that was staying too wet, which somehow or another led to the yellow and red coloration in the picture. I finally decided, last Saturday, that it wasn't fair to the plants to be treating them this way, and I moved them all into larger pots, where hopefully they will grow and look nice and eventually, maybe by next Christmas, produce berries and then sell. When I took the one in the picture out of its pot, it was barely rooted anymore. It may or may not survive, but I was potting three four-inch plants, each with several individual stems, together in a six-inch pot, so we can afford to lose a few individuals here and there and end up with a nice group anyway.

WCW says that they won't produce berries until they're a few feet tall, but from what I've seen with my Ardisia elliptica at home, I think there's every chance that they could gain a foot and a half in the next year. So maybe it'll only take two years to sell them.


1 I know, I know. But we're going to be starting Viola seeds in about three weeks: it's really not too early to be rearranging the greenhouse. I never have had a very good sense of what day of the week it is, or even what's supposed to be happening in any given month, but I'm really messed up now, since I have to live a good three months ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to the greenhouse: poinsettias in October, Violas in December, mums in August, etc.
2 And for what it's worth, the stuff we use in the back room for repottings, Ball potting mix, is the best stuff I've run across yet. It drains well, it can dry out and still remain workable, it doesn't break down quickly: it's awesome. It's also expensive, relative to the other potting mixes we sell, but it's the one I always recommend to customers. If they want a second option, we sell a "cactus and succulent mix" from some company, can't remember which, that's acceptable, cheaper, and comes in smaller bags, but I'm a huuuuuuuuuuge fan of the Ball mix, and try very hard to push customers towards it. It's especially good if you mix in a little bit of an "aquatic" "soil" "mix" we sell: this is basically just small pieces of fired clay, about 1/8 inch (2 mm) in diameter. (The scare quotes are because: it's not a mix of anything, it's 100% fired clay; it's not really soil, because it doesn't contain anything organic, and it's only aquatic because it's heavy enough to keep plant roots anchored, not because aquatic plants have any particular need for pieces of fired clay.) That improves drainage even more, and makes it more suitable for cactus and succulent plants -- though for a lot of succulents, the Ball mix can be used as-is.

No comments: